Frugal Living Podcast: Biking to Work
In this episode of Frugal Living, host Jim Markus talks with Michael Ahene about biking to work. You can listen to Frugal Living with Jim Markus on Apple Podcasts, on Spotify, on Anchor.fm, or anywhere you go to find podcasts.
Mike is an editor at Brad’s Deals and has been biking into the office for as long as many of us can remember!
Table of Contents
- Biking to Work Is Easier Than Ever
- Cycling Considerations
- Cut Your Commuting Budget by Switching to a Bike
- Read a Brief Transcript from This Episode
- More About the Frugal Living Podcast
Once, finding a good cycling route was a matter of trial and error. Knowing which streets offered good road conditions, favorable visibility, and general accommodation to riders was a thing cyclists had to find out for themselves. That’s still true to a degree, but between more cities putting in bike lanes and Google Maps offering cycling as a commute setting, it’s easier than ever to commute by bike.
Obviously, biking to work isn’t going to be an option for everyone, Mike explains. If you live 30 miles from your office or in a place where you know drivers aren’t generally very accommodating to cyclists, then biking isn’t probably a great choice. But Mike offers the following considerations for the rest of us:
- How active of a lifestyle do you lead and how active do you want to be?
- How far would you need to ride each day?
- Is your area accommodating to cyclists?
When Mike first started riding to work, he was able to save about $50 per month on train fare. If you’re switching from a car to a bike, that savings will be even more significant. Mike points out that you don’t need a top-of-the-line bike for commuting. In fact, the most expensive bikes aren’t usually the best choice for your day-to-day ride.
Craigslist is a great place to get your first (or even your second) commuter bike. As hobbyists trade up to newer and more expensive bikes, they’ll be looking to sell their current and still perfectly rideable bikes. Generally, mountain bikes make good commuter bikes. Straight handles let you sit up and see around you, and larger tires are good for riding over rough streets and potholes.
If you’re not sure you want to make the investment in biking to work, a lot of cities have bike-share programs that let you rent bikes for only a few dollars per ride. That may not be more economical than riding public transit to work in the long term, but it is a low-stakes test to see how you feel about riding every day.
Jim: In this episode, I talked to Michael Ahene. He’s a coworker of mine and he’s an avid cyclist. When I say “avid cyclist”, I mean, he takes his bike every day to the office. Even in the winter. Even in Chicago. I can’t think of a better person to talk to about this.
Here’s our conversation.
Mike: It’s the perfect city bike, but I also have a road bike, a carbon fiber road bike, but that one only gets ridden on the weekends.
Jim: Nice, so it’s like a treat to go out on this carbon fiber bike.
Mike: Oh, yeah, if I could ride that one, if I felt comfortable riding that one for work and not worrying about, you know, damaging it or you know, potholes and crappy roads and bad weather yeah. I’d ride that bike.
Jim: You’ve got a bike that’s rugged and built for salty roads potholes.
Mike:Yeah, it’s my beat-em-up. It’s the workhorse bike.
Jim: That’s awesome. When I biked everywhere, and this was only for like one year because I started biking down Ashland and it was the most terrifying moment of my life. Buses. Taxis.
I wasn’t built for it, but I think I also didn’t realize what I was doing because I was riding down Ashland. There’s better places to ride. Any experienced rider would avoid that street.
Mike: I feel like everyone’s built for biking but you have to learn which some roads are just not bikeable and Ashland is one of them. Yeah. You’re asking for an accident.
Jim: Lesson learned.
Mike: I’ve seen the city transform from being pretty hostile towards bikes, expecting bikes to only stick toward certain roads or paths, to being a lot more accepting.
There are so many more bike lanes than there were a decade ago. It makes the commute so much easier because your route is already pre-planned. You know the bike lanes that are the easiest, that are straightforward. This can be the least amount of interference of people in cars or whatnot.
Now you can just Google Map and check which lanes you can take the whole way. Before it was kind of trial and error. It’s like, “okay, I took this route yesterday. I’m talking about before bike lanes. I took this route yesterday and I almost got killed two times so maybe I’ll try this route. Maybe it’s better at this hour.”
You know it made things a lot easier. Taking back roads is great when you’re not trying to be at work or you’re not on like a time crunch or a deadline or anything like you don’t be at work. Because you can see a lot of parts of the city that you normally wouldn’t see but you know, if you’re trying to get to work before nine o’clock or whatnot, or you’re trying to get home before rush hour starts. . . Yeah. Backroads are not the best route.
Jim: I think one of the things I like about biking you touched on right there. It’s kind of nice to be able to take a meandering route. Like, it’s the same with running, right?
Jim: When the goal isn’t to get somewhere. Some of the most fun you’re going to have is taking those weird routes. . . so I can turn right here and I’ll just see where it goes for a while before I turn back. And you end up in places you never would have seen before.
Mike: Yeah, that is one of the absolute best parts about 1). Biking and 2). Biking in the city. Because you discover so many cool places. Cool places to get a drink. Yeah, you see you can see neighborhoods like change before your eyes. It’s really cool.
Jim: I love that.
Jim: Do plows create space for you, or is it assumed that bikers are just not going to care as much or there won’t be as many in the winter?
Mike: Wait, say that again? Sorry.
Jim: Do plows clear bike lanes?
Mike: No. For the most part, no. Through the loop? Yes. Through major streets? Sometimes it’s accessible. Sometimes the concrete barriers, the protected bike lanes, they have, I don’t know what those little poles are, but sometimes the plows can’t get in.
So a lot of times I guess, winter in Chicago, it’s a whole other conversation in and of itself. But a lot of times they don’t clear the bike lanes, they just ice over and you end up riding through the rut. Sometimes you’re lucky enough for where you know the salt melts it down. If there’s been enough bike traffic, then it’s not that bad but some become totally inaccessible in the winter because the plows don’t plow them or that’s where all the ice from their plow is gonna push into.
Mike: So yeah, so you find yourself taking the streets a lot more often or taking the path, if that’s available to you in the winter.
Jim: How much time does that add to your winter commute. It’s probably significantly longer than your summer commute.
Mike: Yeah, you’re riding slower because you’ve got more layers on. You’re avoiding black ice.
To hear this entire episode, and for more tips and considerations from a year-round Chicago bike commuter, check out this week’s episode of Frugal Living.
Frugal Living is a podcast for smart consumers. How do you spend less and get more? The show, sponsored by Brad’s Deals, features interviews, stories, tips, and tricks. Jim Markus hosts season two, out now.