Cycling to work: a question of time and preference

It's one of the favourite media stories of recent years: "Let's get people to travel into town using various forms of transport, and see who gets to the final destination first."

I was thinking of this trusty formula when I saw national Ride2Work day on the calendar this week, and wondered how many people might be contemplating cycling to work on Wednesday.

Such multi-modal races are usually somewhat contrived, of course (especially if Top Gear is involved), but I am almost always delighted by how well the humble bicycle performs.

Such challenges can also deliver some surprising outcomes – such as the recent one from the City of Wyndham to the Melbourne CBD, as reported on by The Age. Bicycle-assisted commuters took out most of the top spots, while one (admittedly speedy) bloke who did 30 kilometres on a treadly beat a motorist covering the same ground by more than 30 minutes.

Of course, there are a lot of variables, and I'm thinking that if we're going to turn the transport race into a regular event, there needs to be a formula.

Firstly, anyone using a vehicle should have to find parking on arrival, even if it's just temporary. 

Secondly, races shouldn't be between landmarks, but rather from door to door, or even from bed to desk, to stop people saying, "but when you arrive on your bike you have to shower and get dressed". Maybe, but that's probably what the other participants did, too - just at the other end of their commute.

Time bonuses could be included for the financial costs involved in the choice of transport, and any savings on time spent exercising.

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On the flipside – why should getting to work be a race, anyway? Commuting can easily be more about the journey than the destination - part of a health regimen, a way to fire up for a busy day, or blow out stress on the way home. A time to put the smartphone away. 

It can also be an urban adventure - a chance to connect with the elements. As wind, rain and hail pounded on my windowpane on Tuesday night, I reflected on a favourite saying of Dutch commuter cyclists, who ride in all weather: "You're not made of sugar."

Happily, by morning, it was just another drizzly, blustery day in Sydney (I understand Melbourne had a better time of it, while Brisbane was, of course, perfect). There was a bit of branch-dodging and a stiff headwind on the Harbour Bridge, but apart from stopping to blag a free brekkie, my transit time was unexceptional.

Even more fun was the spirit of camaraderie with other bicyclists – not something you often get with other transport modes.

I've heard of many people who have found taking part in Ride2Work has motivated them to get into regular bicycle riding, and the publicity and resources deployed can be encouraging (especially the free coffee).

Often, the most challenging aspect is finding a friendly route. Head off down a busy main road as a novice and you might never want to get on a bike again - but how to find a way that's tailored to your needs?

Melissa Heagney of Bicycle Network points to her organisation's resources, including online maps and a national list of bicycle user groups, whose members tend to know the ins and outs of local bike routes. Meanwhile, Bicycle NSW has a clickable map of the BUGs in Sydney and beyond

But back to the rat races. Last week, the City of Sydney issued a press release saying: "If you live within five kilometres of a busy city centre, riding a bike is usually quicker than other forms of transport."

The catch-word there, of course, is "usually". Some urban dwellers have buses or trains that take them from door to door. But for many others, the time savings are significant - only this week I spoke to a bloke who told me that travelling to work on a direct bus through the CBD can easily take him twice as long as going by treadly.

So, never mind the one-off stunts – what's your real-life experience? Do you find it quicker or better to go by bike? Or, what would it take for you to ride to work?

To encourage constructive debate, this blog will be carefully moderated; please stay on topic.

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