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Biking to Work – A Good Idea, But …

by Tom Johnson on Jul 6, 2009
categories: biking

This weekend I attempted to bike to the new location that my work is moving to -- Riverton, rather than downtown Salt Lake City. It's a 15 mile commute from my house in Eagle Mountain, part of it along the Jordan River Parkway trail, which is a scenic, paved route wide enough for a couple of bikes.

The idea of biking to work appeals strongly to me on several levels. If I biked 30 miles a day, I'd be in great shape. Getting more exercise tops of the goal lists of most people. Also, given a sedentary job in IT, where I sit calmly and quietly in a computer chair eight hours a day staring at a screen, an active ride through the outdoors is a constant fantasy. I also don't have a second car, so not buying one would fit right into my current budget.

Last weekend I decided to make a test ride. I actually don't have a racing bike, just a cruiser, but it has seven gears. The Jordan River Parkway Trail extends from Saratoga Springs (near Eagle Mountain) to Riverton and on to Salt Lake City. Unfortunately, the trail has a two mile gap in part of it (the connection between Utah and Salt Lake County) and is under construction in another place (near Inlet Park at Pioneer Crossing).

I started at about 2 p.m., and after some adjustments to my derailer, some trial and error in the route, and conversations with people about the right way to go, I was off to my destination.

The ride along a milky green Jordan river is refreshingly scenic. It winds and snakes around through marshlands, over quarries, under windmills, past hot springs, through golf courses, and beside chirping birds, squirrels, and lizards.

After pedaling for about an hour and a half, I emerged near 12600 Redwood Road to the sounds of laughing, splashing kids at the South County pool. After a bit of wandering around the Riverton area, in which I forgot exactly where the new work location was, and so never formally found it, I zipped back along the trail home, past the marshlands, over little bridges, under the windmills, through the golf courses, and eventually climbed (with a lot of self-encouragement) the three-mile hill back up to Eagle Mountain.

I'd never ridden that far, at least not since a 100-mile scout ride as a teenager. I was surprised I could do it. My quads didn't hurt, but my lungs did. And I was a bit sunburned on my hands (where I forgot to apply sunscreen), and exhausted from the heat.

I'm all for riding to work on a regular basis, but the idea has several problems. First, the bike trail needs some more work. To avoid traffic, I need to go a back route that adds another couple of miles to the commute. But the trail's entry point from the back route has a closure where the city is building a new bridge. The other entry point requires me to cross some unwanted traffic, but it is doable.

Another problem is that about nine miles up the trail, the trail ends for a bit, and I have to reroute along a traffic-filled street (Redwood Road), which has sidewalks part of the way but is mostly under construction. Most of this construction won't be finished until "Fall 2009," which is a vague, noncommitttal date.

Assuming that crews do finish the construction and remove the gaps from the trail or finish the road so that I could ride along its sidewalks after the trail ends, I face several others problems: winter, time, and the carrying of equipment.

During winters here in Utah, it snows frequently. While roads may be cleared, trails aren't. Riding along an icy trail would be dangerous. At some point I'd probably slide off the trail into the Jordan river, meeting an icy death. Additionally, riding in snow and cold wind does not look remotely fun.

Time is another factor. Even if I upgraded my cruiser for a slick racing bike, improving my speed from 10 mph to 15 mph, it would still require at least an hour commute each way. That's a lot of time commuting. Compared to a car that could get me down and back in 20 minutes, would it really be wise to spend so much time on a bike, especially when, according to recent studies, you can get the equivalent exercise in six minute exercise bursts each week?

Also, I'm not quite sure how I carry a laptop and lunch back and forth. The laptop would jostle a lot, and a crash could quickly end the computer. Bringing a lunch would also be somewhat of a pain. I imagine the only way to feasibly carry these items would be through some bike panniers, which would add to the bike's weight and increase the time of the commute.

And there's also the issue of clothes. I wear business casual at work, so after riding hard for an hour, I'd need to perhaps shower and change clothes, which would add some more time. There aren't any permanent lockers at the new work facility -- just your own desk area.

Overall, biking to work could take two and a half hours each day, maybe three. And it would be seasonal only, weather permitting.

I know someone in my neighborhood who manages to bike to work, despite all of these obstacles. He drives to Bluffdale, about 30 minutes away. He then rides 26 miles to work. He's in great shape and doesn't sweat enough to shower (I think). He also rides the 26 miles back to his car and returns home. He only rides to work about three days a week.

Perhaps the practical bike-to-work solution would be a hybrid model of driving and biking, similar to my neighbor's. And a fully stocked work locker with an array of work clothes, deodorant, shampoo, and other items. Given all of this, I think the alternative exercise option -- working out at lunch in the company gym -- is more realistic.

For those of you who bike to work, how do you do it?

About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm an API technical writer based in the Seattle area. On this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, AI, information architecture, content strategy, writing processes, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out my API documentation course if you're looking for more info about documenting APIs. Or see my posts on AI and AI course section for more on the latest in AI and tech comm.

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