Saving Money Commuting From Suburbia

I used to live close enough to walk to work every day. And I did, no matter what. In the five years I lived in that condo I only turned around once. It was during a rainstorm where the rain was traveling sideways due to the wind. I got halfway to work and realized that even though I had a raincoat and umbrella, it looked like I had jumped in a pool. Every other day I made it in without any issues. I mean walking 25 minutes outside when it’s -30c is brutal, but you just dress warm and get through it.

But then I moved away from our downtown. Really far away. Suburb far. Why? The same equivalent house in our old neighborhood was in the $1 million range. Out in the burb’s we could get it for $450,000. So we decided to try the burbs. After all that’s where all the kids are and we were planning on having a family so it would be fine we thought.

And it turned out pretty good. I mean when we moved in there was just dirt behind our house for as far as you could see, we were on the edge of the city. After living there for six years we now have the community built around us, a k-9 school within walking distance, a grocery store, ice cream shop and an amazing Indian restaurant a couple blocks away. So when you’re out there, it’s great. At night we take our kids to soccer and there’s an entire field covered in what looks to be 50 kids under the age of 5 and all their parents hanging out chatting away. The suburban dream.

But then there’s the soul crushing commute. It takes about 45 minutes one way if you drive all the way downtown, but parking is $350 a month, which is insane. So I started driving 30 minutes and walking 30 minutes. It took a bit longer, but I felt healthier.

Then I decided to start biking with a buddy. So I bought a Ridley X-Bow Hybrid and a bike rack and we would drive to a bike path and then bike the 15km to work. It still took about an hour all in one way, but 2/3 of it was exercise so it felt better. The most interesting thing was that it made summer feel longer. Instead of being in a home-car-office-car-home cycle I was spending a good amount of time enjoying the sunshine on my way in and out of work.

My Ridley Xbow, now with Axiom panniers. 

My Ridley Xbow, now with Axiom panniers. 

And for the last three years that’s what I’ve been doing. During the winter, which lasts 7 months here, I drive to where there’s free parking outside of downtown and then walk 3km to work. During the summer I mix up the drive/walk with drive/bike from two spots. A nice route I found has a 13km ride and a great route along the river is just under 10km each way.

But this past weekend I went to cheer my friends on at a triathlon. One was doing the Olympic distance (1500m swim, 33.5km bike, 10km run) and two were doing their first at the shorter sprint distance (750m swim, 20km bike, 5km run). They all did amazing and it got me thinking. If they can cover that distance, then surely I can bike all the way from home, I just need to do it.

So I planned to get up early and launch myself on the 25km bike ride from my home to work. I could go a shorter distance if I took a direct path on real roads, but I like the peace and quiet of the bike paths (not to mention the safety). But, I made the mistake of staying up late watching Silicon Valley (amazing show). My alarm goes off the next morning at 5:30am, 30 minutes earlier to give me lots of time to get in. But I hit snooze a couple of times. So now it’s 6am and I’m faced with the decision do I do my normal shorter bike since I haven’t given myself extra time? Nope. I just gotta do it. I rush through a breakfast of yogurt, granola and berries with a glass of water, pack my clothes and lunch and I’m off.

Down the hill and onto the bike path I go, the only rider in sight beside a long line of cars waiting for lights to turn green. Then a few km into the trip I spot a bike. I haven’t taken this route so I ask if I’m on the right path. I am. And it turns out the guy lives in the same community and works at the same place. Serendipity! I follow him through forks in the path, up a hill and beside a golf course. 10km into the ride and I’m on the path where I normally start from. I’m feeling good. Instead of focusing on how far I have to go, I’m using a tip my triathlon buddy told me about. He said it’s not about your speed, you need to manage your heart rate for longer runs/rides. So instead of focusing on speed, I’m trying to keep my pedaling easy enough to feel like I’m not working hard. That means easy gears and slow up hills, but it works. I feel like I can go forever.

It took an hour and five minutes from my house to work, which works out to 23km/hr over the 25km. Slow for a practiced rider, but pretty decent considering some of it is through a path detour where you’re taking pedestrian bridges and having to wait for lights. The way home at the end of the day took an hour and eight minutes. It was 27c outside and there’s more uphill. I burned an extra 1,200 calories and didn’t pay a cent in gas or wear and tear on my car. I won’t end up doing it every day, but I’m glad I can now bike the entire way to work when I’m looking to save a bit more money, or just get a better workout.

Tips for commuting from suburbia:

  • Try parking in a free zone and walking or running from there into work. Start small and work your way up to the full home to work distance.

  • If your joints are hurting get new runners. I can always tell when I’ve worn out my shoes when my knees start to hurt after a week of walking.

  • Download podcasts to listen to during your walk. Radio Lab, Revisionist History, Planet Money, How I Built This, Tim Ferriss and Ted Talks are all awesome.

  • If you’re biking on pathways get road tires. I left my hybrid tires on for three years and just this year got road tires. It makes a world of difference.

  • Pro tip – If you can go wider (28 or 25 vs. 23), they’re more comfortable and actually have less rolling resistance (Check out this GCN video).

  • Get toe straps or clipless shoes/pedals if you’re ride is longer than 10km and you don’t have a lot of stop and go in traffic. They help keep your foot properly positioned for efficiency and power.

  • If your work doesn’t have underground bike parking try another building around you. Or invest in a good lock, this is the one I leave in my parkade, too heavy to ride with, but it sure is a good thief deterrent.

  • If your work has showers awesome, if not take some wet wipes (I find Costco baby wipes are awesome), deodorant and change at work if your ride is long. A desktop fan is also key for cooling off after a ride.

  • And wear a helmet, your hair may not thank you, but I’ve fallen a couple times (this week actually) and every time been glad my noggin was protected.

So get out there and save some money while getting healthy.