2011: My Year in Very Casual Bike Commuting

My bike commute route

I live four blocks from Yankee Stadium and work in Midtown Manhattan. That means I have a lot of commuting options: the subway, Metro-North, and the express bus. I ride the train or the bus four days a week. It’s a six-mile walk, and I’ve done that once too. But ever since National Bike to Work Day a couple of years ago, I’ve been trying to bike to work on Fridays, when office dress-down policy and culture means I usually don’t have to wear a suit.

My ride has four distinct segments: The Bronx, Harlem, Midtown, and the longest piece, the full length of Central Park. The exact route is shown in the map. Red lines are streets where I’m riding with general car traffic. The light blue lines show streets that have a bike lane. This is what traffic engineers might call a “Class II” bike lane, in that the only thing separating the bike lane from the car lane is a strip of paint. On my route, these are on Gerard Avenue and Walton Avenue in the Bronx, Seventh Ave./A.C. Powell Blvd. and 119th & 120th Streets in Harlem, and most of Central Park. Cars are prohibited from Central Park’s loop drive most of the time, but they are allowed in during rush hours in the peak direction. In other words, exactly when I commute. The green lines show streets and pathways that are fully separated from car traffic. These are the pedestrian walkways on both sides of the Madison Avenue Bridge, and the southern end of Central Park’s East Drive. The short purple line signifies a small section that has “sharrows” for bikes but no separate lane. This “Class III” bike route is on W. 120th Street, between Mt. Morris Park W. and Fifth Avenue.

The route is not very strenuous. It’s 7.32 miles in the morning and 6.96 miles in the evening. The most difficult traffic is on the Bronx approach to the bridge, but the hardest part of the ride is in the morning, climbing the hill right after entering the park.

This year I made a commitment to try to bike every Friday as long as it wasn’t too cold, too hot, or raining. There were 52 Fridays in 2011, but on two of them I was on vacation, and two of them were non-working holidays, Veterans Day, Nov. 11, and the day after Thanksgiving. So that leaves 48 Fridays where I would have ridden in an ideal world. How did I do?

On nine days, it was too cold and/or the streets had snow and ice on them; all of January, two days each in February and March and one day in November. The coldest of these was Jan. 14 at 21oF. The warmest was Nov. 18 at 37oF. On one day, it was too hot. On July 22 it was already 88oF by 8 a.m.

Rain kept my bike at home on two days, Feb. 25 and April 1. And there were three days when I rode into work but it started raining while I was there, forcing me to leave the bike in the garage and take transit home. That left the problem of what to do with the bike. On June 17, I left it in the garage for a week and rode it home the following Friday. On July 8 and Sept. 23, I went down to the office over the weekend and rode the bike home so it would be ready to go the following week.

There were two days where I set out to ride but didn’t make it all the way because of mechanical problems. On March 11, I got a flat tire in Harlem, locked the bike up on the street and caught the subway. The next day, I walked the bike to local bike shop and had the flat fixed. The following week, March 18, everything was fine in the morning. But in the evening, I felt a kink in the rear tire’s inner tube, but was still able to make it home. I then took the rear wheel off the bike to smooth out the kink. Upon reattaching the wheel to the frame, I didn’t tighten the wheel on tightly enough. So the next time I rode, April 8, I was a victim of this botched do-it-yourself effort. As soon as I put pressure on the pedals, the wheel became misaligned and began scraping against the frame, halting my forward motion. I’d made it five blocks before once again locking up on the street and aborting to the subway.

There were a six oddball days when the weather was fine but I opted not to ride for work-related or personal reasons. On April 29, we were leaving straight from the office to go to Boston, and I was focused on the trip and not in a mood to leave the bike in the work garage for a few days. On August 26, Hurricane Irene was approaching, and while the weather was actually fine that morning, I was too focused on work to worry about riding. In December, there were two days when I had to come in before sunrise and was just too wrapped up in work stuff to worry about biking, a day when I wore a suit, and a day I had to report to work extra early in the Financial District and it was just easier to take the subway the whole way.

That means that were were 24 days, exactly half of all possible riding days, that I managed to ride both ways on the same day. The coldest was Oct. 28 at 37oF. The warmest was 72oF on June 10 and July 29, or 75oF if you want to count July 8, when thunderstorms prevented my return trip. My best time on a morning ride was 37 minutes, 49 seconds on Oct. 21. My worst morning time was on my first ride of the year, 47:58 on Feb. 18. My best time in the evening was 34:58 on Sept. 30. My worst evening time was 43:20, on March 18, the day of the above-noted kink in the innertube.

So all in all I consider this a casual success. Despite the ever-present temptation to just hop on the train or bus, I managed to bike commute for essentially a whole month’s worth of work days. Hopefully I’ll be able to do more next year.

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