The good, the bad, and the ugly of bike commuting.

By Kylie Gilbert
Updated: August 23, 2018

I love to celebrate a good arbitrary holiday. Last week? National Foam Rolling Day and National Hummus Day. This week: National Bike to Work Day.

But unlike my built-in excuse to eat a tub of hummus, the idea of biking to work (therefore avoiding the MTA and getting more exercise) seemed like it might actually have a net positive effect on my health and happiness.

Science agrees: A study published last month found that biking to work could help you live longer and reduce your risk of cancer and heart disease by nearly half. Research also shows that biking can give your brain a boost and help with depression and anxiety in the process. In fact, according to some studies, just 30 minutes of moderate-intensity cycling can help regulate stress, mood, and memory. (More on that here: The Brain Science of Biking.)

In addition to the health perks, I'd also never owned a bike as an adult and thought it would up my cool-factor. So when I had the chance to test out a bike from the NYC-based company Priority Bicycles (they're affordable, no-rust, and super-Instagrammable), I jumped at the chance.

That's not to say I wasn't terrified. As someone who never stepped foot on a bike in New York City before this month (nope, not even Citi Bike) the whole idea really freaked me out. Because, buses. And taxis. And pedestrians. And my own lack of coordination on a moving vehicle.

Still, I figured I'd give the whole thing a try in the spirit of my resolution to be more adventurous in 2017. Here, my analysis (and some tips based on my own disaster stories) if you too want to take up biking to work for the first time.

The Cons

1. You need to be extremely alert. If you're used to snoozing or sipping your coffee while you scroll through Instagram, bike commuting will be a bit of an adjustment. Your mind and body are working super hard to keep you alive as you navigate a bike-safe route and avoid buses, cars, and pedestrians. It can kind of feel like a game of Tetris, but with much higher stakes. (Ahem: 14 Things Cyclists Wish They Could Tell Drivers)

2. You'll show up to work sweaty. While my commute was relatively short, I still worked up a sweat. (Not to mention: helmet hair.) Depending on how sweaty of a person you are in general, I'd recommend packing a change of clothes. Which brings me to my next point…

3. Your style will take a hit. You can just forget about wearing all of your favorite spring skirts and dresses because it's all about comfy jogger pants now. (I definitely flashed a few innocent pedestrians.) Ditto for cute sandals and purses since they just make your life way harder. (Luckily I found this performance mesh tote bag that can transform into a backpack. Also, fanny packs. Yes, I'm now a bike person and a fanny pack person.)

4. You'll need to figure out where to actually put the thing. If you're using your own personal bike like I was, rather than a bike-sharing system like Citi Bike, you need to figure out what you'll do with it while you're doing the 9-5 thing. With no bike racks readily available, I was forced to actually wheel mine up my office building's service elevator and into my cubicle area every day. (Luckily, not a huge deal at Shape, but I imagine other places of work might be less open to the idea.)

The Pros

1. Built-in exercise. To state the obvious, biking to work is a great way to get in some cardio before work instead of standing or sitting on the bus/subway. Riding just 15-20 minutes each way didn't seem like much to me at first, but I found that over a week it really added up. (I actually felt that same satisfying soreness I get from a really tough spin class. Thanks, sneaky NYC hills! )

2. You'll be happier and get more sh*t done. Yes, I still got aggravated by things like cars and pedestrians entering the bike lane, but not being stuck underground in a claustrophobic moving car or dealing with manspreading meant I started my day in a much better mood-and felt more productive and energized when I got to work. (It's not just me: Research shows cycling can help improve cognitive function so you really can think faster and remember more.)

3. You'll be way less stressed. Not being able to look at my phone for even 20 minutes was another huge stress reliever. When you work at a job that requires being pretty much constantly clued into what's happening on the internet, getting a break from Facebook and Twitter is a really refreshing way to start the day.

4. Nature! Happiness! Not only are you getting exercise, but you also get all those mental perks of simply being outside. Sure, it may have been NYC city streets instead of a luscious green park or beach boardwalk, but I still felt way calmer as I peddled along the East River. Being able to achieve that without a special app or trip to the meditation studio? Totally worth showing up to work a little sweaty.

The Takeaway

I found that biking to work was trickier to implement into my routine than I thought thanks to my fairly irregular pre- and post-work schedule. For instance, I found myself having to leave my bike at work in order to avoid riding home late at night slightly tipsy after happy hour (definitely not advised), which meant I couldn't ride to work the next morning either. (Again, easily solved if you opt for a bike-sharing program.) However, beyond the slight logistical nightmare, when I was able to make it happen, it was totally worth it. And I found that people have a lot of respect for someone who can navigate around New York City on a bike (which not gonna lie, is a pretty big ego boost and makes you feel sporty and cool in a low-key way). We'll see how long I keep up the whole biking to work thing, but I've already made bike rides on the weekends a regular part of my routine that I look forward to. And I have an arbitrary holiday to thank for it!


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