Bicycle Commuting: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

On work days, the alarm rings at 5 am, I crawl out of my warm bed, make my coffee, check the morning temperature and then start dressing for my very chilly 30 minute bicycle commute. I’ve been riding my bicycle to work fairly regularly all year round for the past 15 years. Thousands of people all over the world bicycle commute everyday so why not do it in Boise?

The Good
Mild weather, mostly flat terrain and plenty of designated bike lanes and paths make bicycle commuting in Boise easy. I’m addicted to bicycle commuting. Sure it’s good for the environment, it’s healthy or saves us money on gas but I like it because on those cold winter mornings it makes me feel alive. I can’t explain it but when it’s 15 degrees outside with a windchill of -5 degrees or I’m getting drenched by the rain, somehow those days will make me more mentally and physically tough for other uncomfortable challenges in life. Some dark morning I’ve even seen nocturnal wildlife like deer, fox or raccoons crossing the road.

A couple of years ago, I was fortunate to acquire a simple, inexpensive single speed commuter bike. I ride early in the morning by myself when it’s dark and I don’t want to risk a breakdown. Single speeds have just one gear, no shifting or derailleurs to break so they are very dependable. Single speeds are great and we are not talking about the very trendy fixed gear bikes called ‘Fixies’ with no brakes. I’ve outfitted my bike with a bright front light which is required by law, additional flashing rear lights, fenders, a mirror and puncture resistant tires. I use a basic backpack to carry my stuff, nothing fancy. You don’t need to go out an spend hundreds of dollars on expensive cycling clothing. The main thing is to wear something visible to motorists and waterproof for those rainy days. Some days, I look like a Christmas tree with my brightly colored clothing and flashing lights but if it gets me noticed and the cars are seeing me that’s what counts.

The Bad
As if trying to avoid those dreaded goat heads wasn’t enough, Boise doesn’t do a great job of keeping the bicycle lanes clean of debris. I use a helmet light when it’s dark for extra lighting to allow me to dodge obstacles on the road like potholes, broken glass, branches, dead animals (yuck) and runners! Yes, runners. Sometimes early morning runners have an annoying habit of running in the bike lane against traffic when it’s pitch dark wearing no sort of reflective material whatsoever.

People who make rules and designate bike lanes for cyclists often don’t ride bicycles. Boise is getting better but city traffic planners still often focus on separating cyclists and motorists instead of educating both to safely and courteously share the streets. I’ve been lucky to have bike lanes for 90% of my ride but my commute is also on some very busy streets during rush hour. I haven’t had much of a problem with cars since I obey the rules of the road for cyclists like signaling when turning or being predictable. I’ve seen my share of bad cyclists over the years who don’t follow the rules and it’s gives cyclists a bad reputation among the growing population of motorists in our area.

I’ve experienced first hand the most common causes of motorists vs. cycling accidents and usually can avoid them by anticipating them. The first one happens to me almost weekly. Cars will pass me on the left then abruptly turn right at the next street, cutting me off while I’m traveling straight. I don’t understand why motorists try to beat me to their turn and and do this. Luckily, I’ve been able to avoid running into their passenger door. Another common accident is when cars are traveling towards me from the opposite direction turning left at the intersection or street while I’m riding straight. I can’t blame texting or cell phones on inattentive driving because both times I’ve been hit this wasn’t the case and believe me I did everything in my power to avoid getting hit. Some motorists just don’t pay attention and don’t take operating a motor vehicle seriously. Unfortunately this will probably never change. The motorists in both of those accidents were cited for failure to yield and both times they fought their ticket in court…and lost. When are motorists going to take responsibility for their own actions?

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The Ugly

Some days I do drive my car to work but only if the bicycle lanes are covered with slick ice or I’m on call at the hospital. Some people think cyclists should stay off the road, period, since they don’t pay for the roads and their maintenance. Our household owns two cars. We pay vehicle registration on both of those cars and most bicycle commuters also own cars. A lot of motorists in Boise look at people who take alternate forms of transportation as second class citizens or sub-human. I don’t get it? So the days I drive my vehicle I get more respect as a human? Those motorists should be glad those days when I ride my bike since there’s one less car to get in their way. Those bicycle commuters might be that physician or health care provider on their way to the hospital to take care of their family member in a very nonjudgmental sympathetic way.

Overall, I really haven’t had a lot of problems with motorists and most people are very courteous.  I still do get that occasional jerk in a big four wheel drive pickup that intentionally gets dangerously close. Why can’t we all just get along and act civilized? When it’s all said and done, I still like bicycle commuting and plan on doing it for years to come.

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3 thoughts on “Bicycle Commuting: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

  1. Enjoyed your article very much! Love the “lobster” gloves – I hear those really keep your hands warm. I encounter many of the same challenges you do on the road – hang in there! I was born a bicycle commuter in June 2008 when gas was nearly $4 a gallon. Even though gas is somewhat cheaper now, I’m still commuting because it’s just an awesome way to get exercise while getting to work – great, efficient use of time and FUN! Please come visit my blog when you get a chance and keep up the great work!

  2. Justin,
    Lobster gloves are perfect for cold weather, Mine are about 16 years old and still holding up.
    Thanks for the nice comments, I’ll definitely check out your blog. Ride on!

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