There's nothing quite like the feeling of putting your bicycle helmet in your inbox. There's also nothing quite like the feeling of throwing your sweaty bicycle clothing across your boss's desk, but that's another story. Here are a few of the many benefits of bicycle commuting:
- Benefits for employers. Employers are beginning to recognize the benefits of having employees that bicycle to work. Studies show that people who bicycle to work regularly are both more productive at work and take off less sick time (plus employers know you'll be awake once you arrive!). If employers encourage bicycle commuting by providing incentive programs, they are perceived as environmentally conscious, which is a big public relations boost these days. Also, many (enlightened) cities now have incentives for businesses to reduce traffic trips per employee and get rewarded for doing so.
- Reduced pollution. I don't really want to get on my soapbox, but obviously bicycling to work reduces air, water and noise pollution. Let's face it: Motor vehicle emissions are a big piece of the pollution problem, and bicycles emit none.
- Creative stimulus. Those familiar with the work of William Wordsworth may recall that much of his verse came to him as he took long walks. Bicycling stimulates stream-of-consciousness thinking that leads to creative ideas, no matter your profession. Some of my best story ideas come to me on my way to work. For those with less RAM than Wordsworth (who apparently could remember long sequences of poetry at a time), be sure to carry a pen as I've found that pencil on wet cocktail napkins (or other pannier detritus) quickly becomes illegible.
- Bird's eye view. As a bicycle commuter, you get a great view of things from your bicycle that you would completely miss otherwise. I was able to observe the installation of Seattle's Olympic Sculpture park piece by piece. Bicycling through Hemp Fest is always a hoot. There are many interesting occurrences that just aren't visible from the window of a car or a bus.
- Meet people. When you see someone else out on his bike at 8 a.m. on a rainy day, you immediately know that you are simpatico in at least a few fundamental ways... And there's a certain camaraderie to being out on your bikes together, especially in Seattle (where you're often in the pouring rain). It sure beats meeting people online. Seattle topography is such that you need to be in decent shape to maintain a conversation (up certain hills, anyway), but after a few months at it, you will.
- Stay in shape without even trying. I find that I stay in at least a modicum of shape without even having to think about it. Bicycle commuting is an easy way to incorporate regular physical activity into your every day. And--bonus!--people who perform aerobic exercise such as bicycling tend to have lower blood pressure
- Internal time. Unless you're lucky enough to work from home, you have to spend a certain amount of time commuting anyway so the time spent as you bicycle to work is really internal time. For example, it takes me twenty-five minutes to bicycle to work; it would take me twenty-five minutes by car and even longer by bus. So might as well be getting some fresh air (and fresh thinking done) during that twenty-five minutes of internal time.
- Clear your head. It can be so hard to get out of heads and into our bodies, especially after a long day of work. The physical exertion of bicycling helps in this regard; bicycling is the perfect transition from our workaday worries.
There are, of course, the occasional embarrassments and inconveniences. I once lost a bra somewhere between the company bathroom and my desk (which I never recovered). In Seattle, we have to wrap everything we carry in our bicycle panniers in plastic so it doesn't get soaked. Occasionally it's hard to differentiate between the various plastic bags in the panniers; one time I put my bag of clothes in the refrigerator thinking it was my lunch and then became confused about how best to wear my spinach salad. But there are far more upsides than downsides.
If you need to get from Point A to Point B anyway, consider doing it by bicycle; might as well be releasing a few endorphins while you're at it! Even if you're not going to be bicycle commuting every day of the week, it's nice to have commuting by bike within your repertoire. That way, when you get a flat tire or need to bring the car in for some work, voila la bicyclette.