Bike commuters are rolling proof that the busiest people can find the
time, or make time, for something important to them.
Driving the 11 miles from his home in Holden to his dispatching job at Apollo Motor Express in Shrewsbury takes Scott Cobb 20 to 25 minutes, vs. 40 to 45 minutes by bike.
But at the end of the day, he views the bike commute as a timesaver. "If I had to drive all the way home, it'd be 6 or 6:30 by the time I got there, and then there isn't enough time to change clothes, get out and get a quality ride in," he said.
Cobb, 36, commutes on his Trek 1000 two or three days a week, depending on the weather and his evening schedule.
"It's the only form of stress relief I have," said the father of 2-year-old twin boys. "It gives me that hour where I decompress and try to blow off steam."
Cobb figures he's saving $8 to $10 in gasoline each week but probably spending more on bike maintenance and gear. But he doesn't bike specifically to save money or reduce air pollution. "I'm doing it because it's what I enjoy."
Some days Cobb carries three or four days' worth of clothes and lunches in his panniers so that he can bike without any extra weight other days. While he works, his bike is secure on the loading dock.
There's no shower at work, Cobb said, but washing up in the bathroom seems to suffice. "Nobody's said anything to me," he said, noting that some co-workers get just as sweaty loading trucks.
Still, biking style can clash with trucking culture. "I've gotten all the comments," Cobb said. "One person called me 'Speedo' because of the shorts."
Craig Donnelly, a mechanical design engineer who commutes six miles from Westboro to Quantum Corp. in Shrewsbury, said he gets no such guff. Quantum has its own fitness center, with showers, and plenty of Donnelly's co-workers work out at lunchtime.
Donnelly, 46, said in a good year, he'll bike to work three or four days a week in the summer. It takes about 15 minutes longer than driving, he said.
"It really is a good way to start off the day and get some exercise without having to schedule it in," he said. He takes back roads with little traffic, and locks his Miyata to an outdoor rack at work.
He leaves his shoes at work and carries his work clothes in his panniers. "I have gotten very good at folding them so I don't look like I spent the night in the office. And I bring my lunch and have gotten very good at packing that so I can still recognize it at lunchtime," he said.
Rain may or may not stop him from biking, Donnelly said, but "cold stops me somewhere around 35 degrees. And the biggest absolute stopper is daylight. I can come in later or leave earlier, but not both."
Darkness does not deter Cobb. He wears a reflective vest and has two headlights, one on his handlebars and one on his helmet. One time, when he had to cover an early morning shift, he left home by bike at 3:30 a.m., and "it was one of the best rides," he said. "There was no traffic."
The League of American Bicyclists has designated this week Bike to Work Week, with Friday as Bike to Work Day. Traditionally the big push for bike commuting has been the third Tuesday in May, but this year the League hopes to take advantage of "casual Fridays" to encourage two-wheel commuting.
"Of course, you don't need a casual day at the office to bike to work," said Elissa Margolin, acting executive director of the League. "Starting your morning with an invigorating ride is second nature to many bike commuters."
Estimates of bike commuters in the 1990s ranged from 3 million to 7 million Americans. According to Rodale Press, publisher of Bicycling magazine, as many as 29 million Americans would commute to work or school by bike if bicycling facilities were safer and more prevalent.
One popular enabler of bike commuting in famously bike-friendly cities, such as Seattle, is bike racks on buses. The Worcester Regional Transit Authority won approval for a $59,000 federal grant in 1998 to put bike racks on all its buses and finally got the racks installed this spring.
A rider can hoist a bike onto the rack and ride the bus for no extra charge, then take the bike off and pedal away, said RTA administrator Mary MacInnes. Commuters can combine suburban cycling with urban bus rides this way, or take the bus for the long haul in from the suburbs and then have the bike for getting around town.
In Massachusetts, Bike to Work Week has become just plain Bike Week, with emphasis on all forms of cycling, not only commuting. A calendar of special events is at http://www.massbike.org/. The kickoff is the fifth annual Bike Week Party at Redbones Barbecue, 55 Chester St., Davis Square, Somerville. Chester Street will be blocked off for the indoor-outdoor bash from 5 p.m. to midnight tomorrow. Admission is $10 and includes a sandwich, a beverage, valet bike parking and a raffle ticket for bike merchandise. Proceeds benefit the Somerville Community Youth Program's bike project and the New England Mountain Bike Association.