Bike Commuting in Houston: Why I do it

In the spirit of TEI’s support of all means of transportation, I’m biking to work and living to blog about it (and getting lots of stares in the elevator thanks to the bike and accompanying attire). It’s a 16-mile trip from my home in Eastwood to the office in Sharpstown. And how’s this for an anticlimax: I’ve already started, and I’ve done it 4 or 5 times. So I can say confidently and enthusiastically that bike commuting in Houston is not only possible, it can be thoroughly enjoyable.

Here’s how I see it: I ought to be getting more exercise as it is. The exercise experts (exerperts?) tell us that we should be doing cardio exercise (jogging, bike riding, that sort of stuff) for at least 30 minutes a day nearly every day of the week. I’m currently getting a whopping 0 hours of it every week/month/(arbitrary time period). That’d be bad enough if I were just a normal living, breathing human being, but I’m also a human being who foolishly signed up for this year’s MS150 – the popular 150+ mile two-day bike ride from Houston to Austin. I like maps, so here’s a useful one:

View Ian Bike Ride in a larger map

Those two little pushpins sitting over Houston are my home and my office. That one in Austin is, well, in Austin. The crucial take away is that the one in Austin is a lot farther from either one in Houston than the ones in Houston are from each other. So, getting between those pushpins in Houston better be a cakewalk before I try to get to that one in Austin. (Not shown on map: the trip from Houston to Austin is neither flat nor downhill.)

Now, I could do what I imagine many exercising Houstonians do: load into the car, drive to the gym, and hop on the stationary bike. But that seems redundant and inefficient. It takes me 5-10 minutes just to get to and away from the gym, and then there’s the 30 minute routine itself. That’s upwards of 45 minutes for the gym experience. I also have to drive to and from work: 25 minutes one way, 50 for the day. So commute + gym = 105 minutes every theoretical day I go to the gym, with 50 minutes of wasted commute time.

The alternative: combine commute and exercise into a single bike commute. For me, that doesn’t necessarily work into a time savings because of the relatively long distance I have to ride (I do get more exercise though, which I’ll appreciate on my way to Austin). But for lots of other people, there are definitely some potential time savings. If your theoretical daily gym/commute time is similar to my 105 minutes, then you could very possibly save time if you work less than 9 miles away and can maintain a modest 10 mph pace. Nine miles can get you from Bellaire to Downtown. . .or from the Heights to the Medical Center. There are a lot of people making those trips every day; what if they hopped on a bike just once a week?

  1. Frank Tamborello says:

    I like biking to work, but I still hop on the bus frequently due to inclement weather. Weather is a factor for a couple of reasons.
    1. I carry a laptop between home and work. I’ve figured out how to protect it against the shock of running over bumps but protecting it against water is not something I’ve figure out.
    2. There are no showers in my building, so clean-up is limited to what I can do in a bathroom stall. So large amounts of rain or sweat may be more than what can be handled with the package of body wipes and deodorant I keep in my cubicle.
    Do you know of anything to address those two issues?

  2. Ian says:

    I don’t think there are any secret magic bullets, Frank. I haven’t had the pleasure of getting soaked on a commute (yet), but I imagine having a towel and a change of clothes at work might make make the experience a little less miserable. I’ve been bringing my work clothes/shoes in the previous driving day anyway because riding in khakis and a dress shirt is only tolerable for so long. Now that you’ve got me thinking about it, I’ll have to start leaving a towel at the office too.

    There’s also no shame in not riding every single day. If it looks like rain or snow or Armageddon, I’d say drive or take the bus (or call Bruce Willis).

    As for the laptop, have you tried a waterproof pannier? Maybe like this: You’ll just need a rear rack if you don’t already have one. Not a big deal.

    The Energy Corridor has done a lot to improve cycling conditions on the west side of town, and their website has a lot of good information and ideas dealing with the issues you bring up: Check it out.

  3. Woody Speer says:

    I found the best thing for staying cool is to lose the backpack and go with a rack. No bike gloves as they trap heat. Buy only wringle free pants and shirts and roll them in a back pack that fits on your rear rack. Keep an extra pair of shoes at work so you don’t have to haul your shoes back and forth. Put ice cubes in your water bottle and suck on ice cubes as you bike. Slow your pace the last few miles to start cooling off. On arrival use that waterless alchol based hand cleaner on a paper towel dampened with water to go over your body.

    Last but not least, petition your company for showers as that beats all of the above.

  4. Jeff Gifford says:

    I have always used unscented wet wipes and a towel at our office. Have never had the luxury of a shower – but nobody has complained….. yet.

  5. Bart Leimer says:

    Hey, great point. Posts like this post are why I read your blog. Have a great 2010!

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