Cyclist beats car and bus in commuting race… does it matter?

A press release posted on Bicycle Retailer gives a quick synopsis of a commuting race between a bike, car and bus to see which is faster and, come to find out, a trip that’s less than four miles in rush hour traffic in a major city is fastest on a bike.

I wonder how much this matters to your average commuter? I would say that most bike commuters have a trip over four miles and it takes them longer than it would in a car. At least 19 out of 20 days that I commute I’m slower than if I drove.

Should we be promoting commuting by bike with a claim that it’s faster than using your car when, in most cases, it’s probably not?

In my mind this can cause frustration with people that try it out and realize it takes longer and, people that are smart enough to figure that out beforehand, to scoff at the idea.

I say, promote commuting with benefits that effect everyone who does it. There are plenty… health, money, enviromental, etc. Stick to those promises… the ones we can keep.


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0 thoughts on “Cyclist beats car and bus in commuting race… does it matter?”

  1. keith wikle says:

    For commutes less than 4 miles, I can definitely see where it is shorter. I bike 3.5 every day and do it in 12 minutes. If I drive it’s about 15 minutes. Also keep in mind that I *cough* go the wrong way up a (not very busy) one way street on the way to work to cut some distance off.

    I can definitely see where longer commutes, 10-15-20 miles would not save you time even in a busy city.

    But there are these things to keep in mind.

    I started cycle commuting about 2 years ago. But part of the cycle commuting thing for me was finding a place to live that was 10 miles or less away from where I work in order to keep the commute easy and convenient.

    Our culture is seemingly set on having suburbs, and sprawl rather than vibrant urban centers where less money is spent on energy.

  2. Mike says:

    The area where I live “enjoys” a relatively fast and painless rush hour. Even the non-expressway commute is far quicker than many other similar sized cities. Therefore, the decision to commute by bike is one of saving fuel and the environment as well as improving fitness and health to be able to enjoy a long and fruitful life.
    I think we would be better served to promote the health and environment benefits of cycling rather than competing in “rush hour time trials”. We need to begin seriously moving toward the European mentality toward daily cycling. Maybe when gasoline prices itself out of the pocketbooks of all but the upper class we will finally “get it”.

  3. gazer says:

    One big difference is that my bike commute is far more “stable.” On the bike, I’m not affected by traffic (and my route keeps me off of the bigger roads), so I can always count on just over an hour for my 15 mile commute, give or take a couple of minutes.

    This was my big reason for biking – driving was stressing me out. For some reason, when one is in the car, one feels the need to go faster, and to get annoyed by anything in your way. I was definitely experiencing this, and the bicycle is a nice respite.

    Even the occasional a**-hole driver who tries to run me off the road doesn’t match the stress I had while driving.

  4. Mary says:

    My commute is about 2 miles each way, so it’s much faster than my car. I take a route through shaded neighborhoods with nice gardens, past parks and waterways. Driving those areas with my car would be slow and not as enjoyable.

    Also, I’m forced to park in a garage a few blocks from my office. With the bike I pull right up and bring my bike to an empty cubicle. Much faster, even in rush hour.

    But I agree, speed shouldn’t be main reason for commuting. I find when I’m on my bike, I don’t even pay attention to the time. I’m just enjoying it – I feel better and more energized when I get to the office and look forward to the ride home.

  5. dorkus says:

    for the record, my commute by bike saves me at least 5-10 minutes every morning–on bike I can cut through a large park that cars must go around. it makes a huge difference.

    but i have to agree that it makes more sense put aside the time trial aspect and look at all the other benefits. i had a flat yesterday and while it was kind of a pain in the neck, as i was sitting in the park in the sunshine patching my tube, i though, well, i’d rather get a flat on the bike than in a car. i was just a few minutes late to work, no big deal. last time i got a flat in a friend’s car it meant an afternoon spent at wal*mart getting a new one. ugh, no thanks.

    we need to preach the simple facts: for trips of 5 miles or less, the bike is an efficient and speedy option. it provides physical activity and excercise. it’s cheap. it is no more dangerous than driving.

  6. Jon says:

    I commute 10 miles each way, from Queens to the southern tip of Manhattan. I like to take my time; it’s not a race after all, but even on slow days my bike commute easily beats the subway. It takes me about 45-55 minutes, where the subway is a little over an hour. Driving is just plain out of the question; I can’t imagine what that would be like.

    I agree with the others though – getting there faster is not the point. The best thing about my bike commute is the reclaimed time in my day. Instead of two lost hours in a car or on the subway, I get to spend two hours a day having fun and exercising.

    More free time, with a baby at home, is priceless!

  7. jason says:

    Take a look at the big picture. When you add in the cost of operating a motor vehicle, there speed goes way down. Take a look at
    “Note that in all of these cases, the speed of the automobile is no greater than that of a bicycle.”
    If anyone were to argue with me that driving is faster than biking, I would say; I am going to make it to retirement a lot faster.

  8. nathan says:

    does it matter? well hell yeah it does! bikes are faster dude, put that in your gas tank and smoke it 🙂 of course bikes would still be sexier even if they were never faster, but the fact that they are often times faster? fuggettaboutit. and eff parking too. parking is the biggest waste of human life since the mall.

  9. Galvin says:

    My commute is typically 4 miles on a bike trail, followed by 2.5 miles through neighborhood roads…not bad at all for northwest Indiana. Because the bike trail angles toward work, it only adds 10 minutes to a, would be, 15 minute drive. But the bike trail and major road crossing were closed this week due to railroad repairs, so I had to take the detour roads. I passed 1.5 miles of stand-still traffic due to the backup from the detour. I have never commuted in a big city, but this must be what it feels like to pass all those cars stuck in traffic, it was great!

  10. Paul of N.W. GA says:

    When I work at the closest store (a whole mile) I am faster than a car. A cow-orker left work at the same time I did going to my house, he was surprised! When I work at the store over 3 miles, a big hill slows me down and it may take me two or three minutes longer (I ride a loaded touring bike not a road racer).

    Cars kill and our children will pay for our car-culture.

    Driving a car is like smoking, and I don’t miss either.

    A couple of months ago the local police was threatening me. Now when I see one, I do my best to be the vehicle in front of them.

  11. wolfy says:

    It’s certainly faster than driving to work then hitting the gym for a spin class…


  12. Fritz says:

    In congested city traffic, cycling can be faster than driving.

    For many people who live in typical American suburbs, however, driving will generally be faster, especially for long distances.

  13. Josh says:

    When I had under 4 miles to work, it was about the same amount of time, and I had to bend some rules to make it faster. Now that I’m 8 miles from the office it takes be about a half hour on the bike, compared to 15 minutes in the truck.
    When I tell people about it and try to convince them that bicycles can be used for transportation and not just recreation, I usually make the point that the amount of time is not much more.
    The point is that I get a 30 minute work-out for only a 15 minute time investment.
    The other way to look at it is that you eliminate your commute time and still get your 30 minute workout (twice a day).
    For me, it was really a matter of exercising or not. I have a very hard time working hard to go nowhere, and I really don’t have an extra hour to spend on a single-purpose activity.
    The cost savings is a huge help too!
    To answer the question about promotion, I think it is interesting to show off this kind of race, but not sell it too hard. It’s nice to show that it’s not going to be an enormous time burner or saver for most people.

  14. Tim says:

    I have a 6 mile commute, which takes me about a half an hour, all told. Driving varies wildly, depending on time of day and whether or not there is something unusual happening, like an accident or road work. At the shortest, the drive is about 15 minutes, with no traffic, and the lights going my way. At the longest.. there’s just no telling…. can be as long as 45 minutes if everything goes against me. Average, at the time I would normally be doing it? Probably 20-25 minutes. So while driving is most likely a LITTLE faster, it’s not as consistent, and it’s far more aggravating. And I don’t get to see fox kits when I drive, which I see when I ride. 🙂

  15. Jett says:

    Well, riding my bike is faster because otherwise I would be walking to work ;-).

    As Josh points out, I’m looking to accomplish multiple goals with my commute. Exercise is important to me, so building it into my day is how I save time.

    I’m also having fun when I ride and this is the biggest reason for me.

  16. Noah says:

    My 22-mile one-way commute takes 3 times as long by bike and about 20 minutes longer than if I ride 3 miles to the bus stop and take the bus to work.

    However, when I ride to the place where my monday night group rides happen, I beat the bus by a few minutes, over the course of 10 miles.

    Around downtown, it’s no secret. I’m faster than cars. Whenever my cow-orkers go somewhere and I meet them there, I’m always waiting for them when they pull up in their cars.

    I just do it because it’s fun and I’m losing some weight. Well, and to save money.

  17. John says:

    So many times we read about commuters who take alternate routes to add some miles to their commute. We sometimes stop for a snack, or to pick up some treasure lying on the road.

    The point is, bikes can be faster but it very seldom matters, because we are not in a hurry.

  18. Wiley says:

    I agree that bike commuting often takes more time, and that other benefits than speed are its main attributes, I think such “races” are worthwhile because they show that biking isn’t really that much slower. Some people who don’t bike think it would take days to ride 15 miles to work rather than an hour. I think demonstrations that show otherwise are valuable.

  19. Nacho says:

    It’s a matter of where you commute by bike. Here in Buenos Aires (full crowded and all day traffic jam city) i’m doing my 6.5 miles commute in 40 min instead of an hour doing it by bus + subway. And if would spend the same time, i would still commuting by bike because it’s healthier (mentally, in my case)

  20. Tim Grahl says:

    Nacho, I’m with ya… I have the perfect commuting situation. I can look/smell however I want at my office and I have no set time schedule and I work almost exclusively from my office (or coffee shop or whatever). What I love about commuting by bike is the exercise it gives me and the peacefulness of taking my time and enjoying my surroundings.

  21. Ahd Child says:

    My commute is definitely faster than car or bus. Mine is less than 4 miles, but I don’t think it’s the distance that makes the difference. It’s the fact that I’m riding through a city during rush hour. When traffic is stopped or moving slowly, I fly by, I don’t stop at lights if the way is clear, and I can cut corners.

    In city traffic, bikes are often the fastest form of transportation. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with pointing that out as a benefit of biking as long as you make it clear that that’s not always the case.

  22. Joe G. says:

    I have a short commute, 1.5 miles. But it’s city driving, and it takes about 15 minutes with all the stoplights, signs, etc. to get to my office by car. By bike, stopping at signs and red lights, it takes 6, if I’m in a hurry. I take different routes by bike than by car, much more scenic and less busy, an also much faster.
    I can make more stops and stop in on my friends’ offices on the way to and from work as well.
    When my commute changes to the 42 mile one way trip next week, I will miss my bike extremely, and will be working on finding an easy way to multi-commute (train, bus, bike.) For now though I’m enjoying every minute!

  23. Red says:

    the best part of commuting is getting home and enjoying it as opposed to craving for some movement after a day sitting at the office: i am a loony when not commuting but can relax after riding; that’s invaluable. i don’t always get enough hours in when commuting so when i take the car (sometimes i have to!) i try and put in extra long days. so my commute is definitely longer, but i get to see grass, breathe in fresh air and feel my heart beat.

  24. Mary says:

    I just drove my car for the first time in 5 days (had to today) and I hate it! On top of that, my gas was nearly empty and I ran into tons of construction…bikes are the way to go.

  25. Brian says:

    Yes, it does matter if for no other reason than to show that bicycle commuting can be just as efficient if not more so than driving a car.

    I just got back from Amsterdam. A friend and I rented bikes for our stay and it just became second nature to leave the apartment and get on the bikes to get to where we wanted. Of course, Amsterdam being VERY flat and VERY interesting made it a joy.

    When I commuted to work by bicycle in a big city, biking took almost the exact same time. It took me 20 mins to bike to my job and usually like 17 minutes minimum in a car, if the traffic was good. This was because by biking I was able to move along in traffic while the cars were standing still and also park close by versus having to find parking. It was also possible to cut through some residential areas and town parks. The trip was actually shorter in miles by bike.

    An easy way to encourage biking to work would be to simply “pay” the employee to do it. That is offer to let the biking employee use a small amount of time to put on his biking commute. If it takes 30 minutes by car and 45 minutes by bike, give them an extra 15 minutes at the beginning and end of each day to bike home.

    The other thing about Europe that makes biking easy is that there is also a train that goes to every tiny town there is. It is possible to put a bike on a train and use the bike after the train commute. Of course our train system in the USA is almost non-existant.

  26. Erin says:

    Whether my commute is faster or slower depends on what you’re comparing it to…

    Straight up drive-time is about the same. I commute 3.5 miles each way over a rather hilly area, and am forced to go around the most direct route because of traffic and hills.

    Time from when I step out my door to when I am ready to work, my car is faster. Because of the hills, I have to ride to work in clothes I don’t mind getting sweaty and change once I get here.

    Time driven + getting ready + GYM TIME, bike is faster hands down. When I commute on my bike, I don’t need to hit the gym after work, which not only takes more time but is sooooo bloody boring.

    In regards to how applicable this study/comparison is: I’ve read that 50% of Americans live within 5 miles of their office. OK, so the test was done at 4 miles, but based on that statistic I’d guess that it’s still applicable to a good number of people.

  27. Seeing a commuter challenge for what it is…

    Is a commuter challenge about showcasing the supremacy of commuting by bike or demonstrating how bad traffic congestion has become in the modern city?……

  28. Larry says:

    Like others above, I have a short commute of 3 miles, but it has the luxury of paved bike paths through a green belt area. The stress reduction of not driving is well worth it, and starts my day with a bit of adrenalin. Like Mary above, I hate having to drive because of a vehicular requied errand. I only shave 5 minutes off my driving time of 15 minutes, but I tend to turn my ride into a time trial event. I do this purely for increased endurance. By riding only 3 days a week at times, I save about $100 in fuel consumption costs per month; definately an additional benefit.

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