Friday, May 13, 2011

What You Miss by NOT Biking to Work, a Civic Soapbox essay by Tim Godshall

Tom Godshall's well-traveled bike
In 2002, I bought a new bike, hoping to ride it across the U.S. Although that trip never happened, my bike has logged more than enough commuting miles to reach the west coast.

At first, biking to work was an obvious choice. In Washington DC, it was the fastest and cheapest way to get to my office. But when my wife and I moved to Harrisonburg and I got a construction job, I questioned the feasibility of bicycle commuting in my new work situation -- hauling heavy tools to far-flung job sites in the hilly Shenandoah Valley. Even so, I gave it a try, and two years later, I’m still at it.

Here's how it works: I carry all my hand tools in saddle bags made from plastic buckets. My co-workers carry the power tools in their trucks. Most jobs are within 10 miles, but sometimes I catch a ride if we're working farther away. And occasionally, I drive our car. Yes, we own a car. So why not drive to work every day?

First, biking saves money – not only in fuel costs, but by allowing my wife and me to avoid the expense of buying and maintaining a second car.

Second, when biking, I feel more connected to my surroundings. There's nothing like the sunrise over the mountains on a cool morning ride. Even when weather makes riding unappealing, there’s something exhilarating about engaging the cold, heat, rain, or wind. I also gain a truer sense of distance between points, and a greater respect for hills that I would ignore in a car.

Third, bicycle commuting builds the health benefits of aerobic exercise into my week. Reaching work after a bike ride, I feel far more alert. Returning home, I feel the satisfaction of a good workout.

But isn't biking on the road dangerous? Like any form of transportation, cycling has risks. However, a recent study showed that transportation cycling increases life expectancy, through good health, far more than it lowers it through injuries. Freak accidents happen, but the overall benefits of bicycle commuting outweigh the risks. I also choose to focus on the risks of not cycling. What are the costs of a car-dependent society? What sort of world do I want my daughter to inherit?

Ultimately, I commute by bike as one small way to bring about the world I hope for. Each revolution of my pedals is one step toward paying the full cost of my transportation, rather than passing environmental debt to future generations. It's not enough, but it is a start.

And if this inspires you, there's no better time for you to start than the beautiful month of May. In fact, next Friday, May 20, is National Bike to Work Day. Look online to find events in your area. If nothing is organized in your town, don't let that stop you from peddling to work! You'll join tens of thousands of bicycle commuters across this country, and add your heart, soul and legs to this human-powered movement. It will enrich your life, and may just change the world as well.

 -- Tim Godshall lives in Harrisonburg.


  1. Love the bike and the buckets! For years in Boston and DC I commuted by bicycle and regret my present location and occupation preclude this, at least at my present age of 65 yrs... but I am totally impressed by Tim's bike and his message.

    Sorry I let this one by last week, but kudos to Tim for taking the "human powered movement" to incredible heights!

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