I (don't) want to ride my bicycle
September 9, 2008 3:00 AM   Subscribe

My cycle commute has halved in distance and quadrupled in frustration - how do I stay fit?

I'm not a gym fan and my favourite way of keeping fit has been through cycling to work. However, I recently changed jobs and it's more than halved the distance I pedal each way. Instead of 8 miles of a mostly traffic-free, fairly hilly cycle route, I now crawl for 3.5 miles on the flat through very heavy, stop-start traffic in central London, fighting for road space with other cyclists and commuters and being thwarted by red lights at every turn. Also, as I am conditioned to the longer distance it feels physically frustrating to have to stop at the point where I was previously just getting going. Adding to the hassle is that I no longer have anywhere safe to leave my beloved bike once I'm at work and the lock's been mangled by a recent theft attempt.

The increasingly attractive alternative is to take the bus door-to-door instead and have a good read for forty minutes (yes, the traffic is that heavy!) - beneficial to my head but not really my bod and I can feel my fitness level dropping a lot. As part of the reason I took this job was to have a shorter commute I'm now feeling a bit jipped!

So I'm trying to figure out if the health benefits of cycling this route are worth dealing with the new stress. Or could I just embrace the bus and work out some new programme of daily excercise which would give me the workout of my former route? Any tips gratefully received!
posted by freya_lamb to Health & Fitness (24 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
If there are sidewalks along the roads, could you jog or run to work instead?
posted by needs more cowbell at 3:05 AM on September 9, 2008

Is there a longer, more circuitous route you could take?
posted by rhizome at 3:20 AM on September 9, 2008

Response by poster: Both good points although jogging is out, I have way too much chest to cope comfortably with high impact exercise!

Rhizome: I thought about this, the problem is that I'm at the busy end of town so any route is is hard work traffic-wise and I find that really stressful.

I guess my main question isn't clear enough. What I'm really asking is: is it possible to keep fit on just 7 miles of slow cycling in city traffic five days a week? If so, I'll suck up the frustration and just get to it.
posted by freya_lamb at 3:35 AM on September 9, 2008

Peculiar suggestion -

You could commute on a BMX - it's more work to cycle than a regular bike so you'd get more excercise that way, and at lights you could practice wheelies and hops onto the kerb, which would also be good excercise.

posted by Cantdosleepy at 4:01 AM on September 9, 2008

One: I"m a guy, but married to a very chesty gal, and she's recently discovered that there *are* bras out there that can do the job.

Two: Like can'tdosleepy says, try a BMX. Or at least, single-speed adult bike. Hell, maybe even a fixie!
posted by notsnot at 4:13 AM on September 9, 2008

Good ideas above - a fixed gear is a cool idea if you're interested in trying it. Are your hours flexible? Maybe the same route is less congested an hour earlier in the morning. Can you get up early to go for a more enjoyable bike ride, and then ride the bus to minimize the hassle of your current commute?

However, none of these change the fact that you're cycling half the distance at lower speeds than before. Unless you can find a longer, more pleasant route, you simple aren't going to get the same amount of exercise unless you add in additional workouts or distance.

Can you take your bike on public transport? If so, consider finding a route to your job from some other point in the city, take your bike there, and then enjoy the ride in.
posted by bassjump at 4:27 AM on September 9, 2008

take the bus to work and walk home.
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:34 AM on September 9, 2008

The first 2 things I would consider:

1- As rhizome suggested, try a more bike-friendly route. Even in my little city, I use Google Maps to plan my routes. Street view is the next best thing to being there. A longer route through residential areas might be just the ticket, if such a route exists. (My biking routes are never, ever the same as my driving routes.) Maybe try the new route on a weekend when there's no deadline to get to work.

2- It sounds like you enjoy biking, and doing something you enjoy is the best form of exercise, since it doesn't seem like work. Continuing your frustrating commute will result in you hating biking. Perhaps you can just commute by bus, and leave the biking for after work and weekends. Then you can choose more accommodating route for exercise, of perhaps just run all your errands via bike, again taking a more bike-friendly route. It's amazing how quickly short errands add up. I rode 10 miles on Saturday running just a couple of nearby errands. It didn't feel like I had ridden over a couple miles, but that's what it's like when you are enjoying the ride.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 5:19 AM on September 9, 2008

Have you scrutinised the route and variations carefully? I live in Manchester and had a similar problem. Over a few weekends, and after some google maps satellite view prep, I took a map, and a gps and found a longer route that employed almost no roads. I had no idea that this would be so *possible*!. I managed to use canal towpaths, footpaths, and various previously unknown routes into town. I cross one (quiet) road now when changing canals!

That may be just manchester and the area though, the local councils have done sterling work tidying up the cycle routes, and towpaths, old railways etc.

I lived in London for 10 years but only really used cars/public transport so never got to see behind the main roads but I imagine most UK urban areas actually have far more 'non tarmacced' and relatively traffic free areas than you think.

It total bliss and I love my journey to work now - I actually look forward to commuting
posted by daveyt at 5:21 AM on September 9, 2008

"7 miles of slow cycling in city traffic five days a week" is better than nothing, but I doubt that you will maintain your current level of fitness on that alone. And I don't think a fixie would help you get more of a workout because the benefit of a fixie is that you must keep pedaling and can't coast. If you're in stop and start traffic, this won't apply. A fixie sounds like a hell of a lot of fun, and I'd like to try one myself, but I don't think buying a new bike is the solution. Same with the BMX: if you want the time, space and confidence to learn more about what a bike can do, the place to do it is probably not stressful London congestion.

If the route leaves you frustrated and miserable, then you're not getting any psychological benefit out of it, either. If you're worried about bike theft, that's a downer, too. So certainly do your best to find an alternate route, but if after all your efforts you can't find one, you may have to save your long, fast, fun cycling for early mornings, evenings and weekends. During the week, try taking the bus to work and walking, or walking/jogging home. At breaks and during lunch at work, hit the staircases, if applicable.
posted by maudlin at 6:06 AM on September 9, 2008

You could add in another workout by grocery shopping by bike and buying heavy fresh foods (esp at outdoors/farmer's markets). Whole chickens, melons, big huge zucchinis...all healthy and quite a challenge to bike home.
posted by melissam at 6:16 AM on September 9, 2008

I have been going through the same scenario with a greatly reduced ride.

What I've come up with so far is changing the ride itself, either by starting an hour early and riding an elongated loop to get to work or else taking transit past my workplace and then biking back. I've combined this on some mornings with riding with friends which is great if you know any early birds. Also, don't underestimate the brisk morning walk. Is that doable?

I think daveyt is right on with the map suggestion, what a great way to explore.
posted by quarterframer at 6:38 AM on September 9, 2008

Take the bus from home to point X, where X is a nicer ride to work. Bike to work, then back to X, then bus home.
posted by theora55 at 7:21 AM on September 9, 2008

Couldn't you just walk to work? 3.5 miles should take about an hour. That's a good workout.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:25 AM on September 9, 2008

Single speed coupled with a new lock... :)
posted by tomw at 7:36 AM on September 9, 2008

I ride my singlespeed/fixed gear bike when I don't have as much time but want more of a workout - you can obtain the same results by simply not shifting, though. :)

For what it's worth, I do all my cycling for fun, 30-50 miles at a time, and take the train to work because it's only two miles or so and that's just not worth the effort.
posted by kcm at 7:37 AM on September 9, 2008

Those of you suggesting that she take the bus to work and bike home: this works if your public transit system lets you take a bike on vehicles during rush hour(s). Toronto doesn't allow it, nor do our regional Go Trains, so if London is similar, this may not be an option.

And looking at their web site, it seems as if a folding bike is her only real option on buses, albeit not guaranteed:

London Buses will take folding bicycles at the discretion of the driver. This is consistent with rules for pushchairs and other larger shopping and luggage.
posted by maudlin at 8:03 AM on September 9, 2008

Best answer: Many of the easily-folding bikes (which are more likely to be bus friendly) are also less efficient and will therefore give you more of a workout. Perhaps a Strida will at least give you some workout, let you take the bus if you feel like reading instead of cycling, and let you (potentially) take your bike into your office (preventing theft) will help?

It's still no substitute for a nice, long ride on good roads, but life is a series of compromises.
posted by JMOZ at 8:19 AM on September 9, 2008

Also, as I am conditioned to the longer distance it feels physically frustrating to have to stop at the point where I was previously just getting going.

Get up earlier, do your 8-mile bike ride, then bus it into work? (or same thing but after work)

Being allowed on a London bus during rush hour with a (folding) bike seems kind of a gamble.
posted by ClarissaWAM at 10:02 AM on September 9, 2008

Another vote for walking, which would likely burn just as much energy as your hilly biking.
posted by randomstriker at 12:22 PM on September 9, 2008

Best answer: It's flat? How about blades or skates?
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:09 PM on September 9, 2008

Response by poster: Wow, fantastic responses, thanks very much all. I'm thinking I have to accept that I'm not going to be getting the same workout with my bike - I can't see me getting up earlier voluntarily, and although I'd love a fixie there's barely room at home for me to store my hybrid and I don't want to swap for now.

But some good alternatives, I'm considering the folding bike as I've always coveted one and you can take them on the tube (as far as I'm aware?) but I have to say i_am_joe's_spleen's suggestion is total genius - walking doesn't float my boat but skating sounds like fun, I never thought of that. I'll check out blades this weekend.

posted by freya_lamb at 2:23 PM on September 9, 2008

Hey freya_lamb - fancy posting an update on your eventual solution? I'm thinking of starting cycle commuting in London and it would be interesting to hear how you tackled this issue.
posted by Happy Dave at 1:09 AM on October 15, 2008

Response by poster: Well, I bought the blades but chickened out of in-line skating the whole way ;)

In the end I got back on the bike, I worked out a new route using tfl's cycle route maps - printed road maps of the entire city colour-coded with quiet routes, they're absolutely brilliant and free of charge, if other London types are interested you can order them online:

I also blagged my way into more secure bike-parking further up the road so all is well. It isn't the work out I used to get but is enough to keep me happy. Thanks all.
posted by freya_lamb at 7:14 AM on October 15, 2008

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