The Commute: Riding vs Walking vs Driving

So, @dogandgarden and I have just bought a new house. We take posession on the fourteenth of January, and probably move around the twenty-fifth, maybe as late as the first of February. Once we’ve moved (for me, the “move” is the bed. Once the bed is moved, you’ve moved) I gotta figure out the getting to work thing.
And I’m balancing the cost/benefit of riding again.

Oh, I’ll ride in the spring/summer/fall, for sure.

That’s the new watering hole, not the house. What, you thought I was posting my address on the ol’ intertoobs? Not likely! But, we’re staggering distance (about half a kilometer) from O’Grady’s, so it’s as good a location marker as any. Basically, it’s gonna be about 5.5km walk to work. That’s a pretty long walk in the winter. Google claims about sixty-five minutes. I don’t buy that, I think more like fifty minutes. But, at -30oC, that’s a long, cold walk.

Parking is $10/day. I know, I’ve still got it better than a lot of people, but eighteen months ago, it was $3/day. The increase was “for your convenience”. I’ve seen nothing convenient about it so far, I’ll be honest. That’s an entirely different complaint, however.

And, $10/day is $200/month (assuming twenty working days a month: fair during the winter), and about $800/season. There’s a lot of other reasons not to drive to work (I like the exercise, I don’t like paying for parking, the car doesn’t warm up properly in 5km of running anyway, it’s bad for the emissions systems, costs gas, wear/tear, etc)

Biking is the same basic distance, obviously, but faster: about fifteen minutes. I quit biking in winter about five years ago. I was getting hit A LOT by cyclists who didn’t expect me to obey the road laws (I got rear-ended by bikes at stop lights, often) and by cars who… I don’t even know. The excuse I heard a lot was “I didn’t expect to see you there”. I was in a yellow jacket and on a yellow mountain bike. I don’t know how much more obvious I can be. But I guess you never look for things out of the ordinary when you’re driving, because nothing unexpected ever happens on the road? I digress. So, yeah. When I got hit by the same guy, twice, in a quarter mile, and I tried to coax him out of the car to “discuss” the issue, I decided that was pretty much it: if I kept riding in the winter, I’d end up in jail for assault. Still, it’s always good to revisit your options sometimes.

The new commute is about half a kilometer longer than the forty to forty-five minute walk I used to do from 266 Bronson, to work in the winter.

There is no reason I can’t walk to work. I’ll have to get up earlier than I’ve been used to the last five years, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, if I’m getting ninety to a hundred and twenty minutes of brisk walking every day because of it. The dog is more than capable of “lasting” until I get home half-an-hour later (which is what the difference would be, realistically).


It doesn’t mean I’m not looking for that faster option.

That $800/season I’m “saving” (I was never going to drive to work daily, so I’m not really saving it, this is an exercise… mostly) would buy a lot of bike in terms of a winter commuter to match my summer commuter. (Boy, I really hope @dogandgarden isn’t reading this at this point! She doesn’t understand my having two bikes, never mind three!) If I do go that route, I can do one of two things.

First choice would be to buy a beater bike for a hundred bucks, maybe less, used, and spend another hundred getting it ready for the winter. New tires (at least 2.25″ wide), new chains, etc. Possibly even winter-specific tires.


So, looking at this, there’s a lot more winter tires for 700c wheels than 26″ MTB wheels. I’m REALLY surprised by that. The 700 series tires are cheaper (nearly $40/tire cheaper) for studded winters, too. So, IF I were going to do this, I scratch the typical mountain bike as the cheap used bike, and move up to something with longer legs. Hmmm, technically, these 700×35’s would fit on my old Devinci Stockholm. Doing that, though, I’d have to do some serious work on it to get it in shape, and that’s one of the reasons I didn’t put the work into it last year, and bought a new commuter for the summer. Still, it came with 700x32c tires, which means 35c or 38c will work on it. And I won’t lose any sleep if it takes a beating in the winter, because it owes me absolutely nothing.

Where were we?

So, yeah, fix up a beater, ride it to death in the winter. The second option is a dedicated winter bike. That’s not going to be a thing, but it’s fun to look right? And what we’re lookin’ at, really, for a dedicated winter bike is definitely a Fat Bike. Hey, I mean, go big, or go home, right?

If you ride, you can see the attraction. If you don’t, you’re currently mouthing “WHAT. THE. FUCK.” It’s OK. I did. But then I started to see the benefit of these beasts (and they are beasts). First, they’re great on loose surfaces, because they don’t sink in. Even my cyclocross has trouble in sand: these have double to triple the width of tire. that’s a fine footprint for traction in snow or sand. Big fat tread on ’em dumps snow and mud easily too. Get ’em studded and you’re golden on ice, but even without studs, you’re good, because it’s just flatter and easier to balance in the conditions. Downside? weight. Even the lightest of these are beasts, and the cheap ones run into the 40-50lb range. Cost is a serious issue, as they’re basically $900 and up for a decent one. The tires alone hit the hundred dollar mark, easily.

Which means, cool as they are, they’re not realistic. REALISTICALLY (damn you, real world) it’s a beater or used mid-level MTB, with big knobby (possibly studded) tires. Which is ok. even if there’s a guy at work riding a fatbike to work fulltime right now.

So, why biking again? It’s the time/distance thing. As mentioned, I gave it up because I was either going to get hurt, or hurt someone else after they hit me. And, hey, could still happen. Could happen walking too, and twenty minutes on the bike in the cold is arguably better than fifty minutes walking in the cold. There’ll still be days I drive, for sure. But the route isn’t bad except for the bump on bank street, just north of South Keys. That bit is.. bad. The rest of the time though, it’s really not awful. And as soon as they finally finish the pedestrian bridge at southkeys, I’ll be able to hop over there, and bang up (and down) McCarthy through my old route, avoiding 90% of the traffic. And at that point it’s almost a non-issue.

But at the end of the day, I do kinda miss it. I miss the balls-out approach you have to take to biking in those kinds of conditions, and yes, the look of sheer incredulity you get from people when you tell them you bike to work in the winter.

I know. Masochist. But what the hell, right? Might as well have some fun along the way.


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