I’ll never forget the best bike ride of my entire life, probably because about eight hours earlier I suffered through the worst bike ride of my life. I was seventeen years old and had agreed to go on a long and intense day of hiking and biking up Mount Angeles on the Olympic Peninsula with my very outdoorsy friend, Dave and a group of hardcore mountain adventurers. I was in pretty good shape at the time but I had no idea what I was getting myself into. We got up at “the crack of way too early,” as Zeke and his girls and I say, to catch the passenger ferry to Port Angeles, Washington with our bikes. At the time I’m pretty sure my bike was the same one I’d had since I was about five years old and probably had about three gears. We spent the next excruciating, leg-busting, heart-pounding hour biking straight uphill until we reached the base of Mount Angeles. To this day I have no idea how I made it up that hill, but it was likely a combination of hating to be bad at anything, stubbornness, shedding a few tears and chocolate that got me to the trail head parking lot.
After that hour from hell we proceeded to hike 26 kms on a dry, hot and challenging trail that included a rock scramble at the end. When we finally made it back to our bikes later that day my tank was hovering somewhere around empty and “oh hell no” which made the bike ride down equivalent to soaking in a hot tub after getting drenched in the rain. The bliss of that downhill trip felt like a montage of all my most happy and care-free childhood moments condensed into 15 minutes. That’s right, it took us an hour to bike up and only 15 minutes to bike down. It was one of those hills where you don’t even have to brake and can let go of your handlebars and you feel like you’re 10 and the world is at your feet and nothing can stop you.
After falling in love with climbing four years ago I came to realize something—I love all sports and activities that make me feel like a kid. I love to run, climb, do yoga (which is essentially what we did all the time as babies and kids), hike mountains, ski, swim (well, really just splash around in the water), horseback ride and bike. Some of my most free and happy moments in life have been during one of those activities.
I leased an ex-racehorse for a while at Providence Farm on Vancouver Island when I was thirteen and on gorgeous summer days I would take him into the enormous field at the bottom of the farm and run him full tilt. It was one of the most incredible feelings in the world to have him thundering at top speed underneath me. You could tell how much he loved it and I would be bubbling over with joy and laughter after each run.
How many adults get to feel just a little bit of that exhilaration on their daily commutes? My dad was the first person to plant the idea of biking to work in my head after he started cycling from Metchosin to his job as the Director of Planning in Saanich when I was in high school. His commute was an hour each way and although he didn’t do it every single day he persisted throughout the seasons—he was hard core.
At the moment I’m biking from East Vancouver to the Museum of Anthropology (aka pretty much as far west as you can get before falling into the ocean) at the University of British Columbia on average four days a week and it’s no walk in the park, or easy, flat bike ride in Copenhagen. It takes me anywhere from 46-55 minutes on the way in, depending on my energy levels, and about 45 minutes or less on my way home with a total of 28.8kms round trip and four massive hills for good measure. For anyone who hasn’t biked to UBC, there is a giant, and I mean giant, series of four hills that bike commuters must face and it never gets easier—you only ever get slightly faster. There’s a moment every single morning that I think, “I just can’t make it today, I’m just going to pull over and walk to the bus stop and take the freakin’ bus.” But somehow I do make it every day and 95% of the time I am so glad I biked, even after dislocating my knee cap biking up that hill years ago. Like I said, I’m stubborn.
There was a day last week that was so wet and disgusting that I arrived at work a drowned and miserable rat. That day, I wish I had taken the bus. But in general, the pros always outweigh the cons and on the best days, I get to feel like a little kid again, whipping down those now wonderful hills on the way home.
What are the best things about biking to work, other than feeling like a kid again?
- Exercise—my workout is built into my day so any other physical activity is an awesome bonus. Exercise keeps me sane and happy and healthy and feeling like myself. I can’t imagine life without it. Times of injury are the hardest for me.
- Cost—it’s free! Well, not exactly, but pretty close. I bought a new bike this fall and with that comes adding all the right equipment and maintaining it, in addition to having all the bike lights and proper cycling gear, but if I average out those costs it saves me so much money. Zeke and I also try to bike everywhere as much as possible and when we need a car we use carsharing such as Modo, or transit when it makes more sense.
- Mental health—have you ever ridden the 99 B-line during rush hour? It may not be the Tokyo subway with “train pushers” who shove you inside, but it’s kind of like being in a crowded, sweaty, moving locker room where everyone is wearing a backpack, you have to change positions every five minutes and the bus drivers are desperately trying to get everyone to move to the back of the bus already, and then someone with a stroller gets on and all hell breaks loose. Fun fact—the 99 B-line is the busiest bus line in North America.
- The environment and congestion—Every time I get on my bike I feel proud of the fact that I’m contributing to less cars on the road and less pollution. I also feel lucky to live in a city that now has bike lanes almost everywhere and an infrastructure that supports active transportation and biking to work. We still have a long ways to go, but compared to many North American cities, we’re doing pretty great.
- Time—Technically I don’t save time on my way in by biking to work, but the fact that my bike commute takes the same amount of time as transit should tell you something. The thing I don’t have to worry about is traffic. It’s one of the best things in the world to cycle past a long line of backed up vehicles, especially on a gorgeous sunny day with the wind at my back and the sun on my pink and happy face. My commute home beats transit every single time and biking downtown always beats transit and often driving as well.
- Nature and beauty—On my ride in I get daylight the whole way at the moment and it’s beautiful. Once I hit the intense hills the natural beauty that flows into the UBC campus keeps me going on the hardest parts of the hill. On the way home when I have daylight the view from these hills is spectacular and sometimes I just have to stop and soak it all up.
With all that said, biking to work every day has a myriad of challenges from having to pack my work clothes each day, getting ready at the office, remembering to charge all my bike lights, going out to an event straight from work on a rainy day with my panniers and bike gear in tow, the sheer physical challenge, almost getting hit by cars on a semi-regular basis—well, the list goes on, but, I absolutely love it and it’s worth all the hassle. If you’ve been thinking about biking to work but are feeling a bit nervous, give it a try! Stick to the quiet or protected bike routes, get a bike with a lot of gears, wear your helmet and use your lights and I promise you won’t regret it.