Commuting 101: Learn your local "village"

I personally think that commuting by bike is more than just the to-and-from work daily grind. It’s about cycling for transportation in general: Utility Cycling, if you will. A while ago, Warren introduced us to Clif Bar‘s 2-Mile Challenge. To those of us who live in suburbia and are in the process of reducing our car usage as newer bike commuters (like me), it can be temping to drive to places that you are used to going to simply because those are the places you go, and they’re too far or too inconvenient to get to by bike for what they offer. Often, there are similar places close to home that you don’t even know about yet. Or, maybe you do, but as a creature of habit you’ve have passed them by.

I can only use personal examples in my own life, but I’m sure they apply to many newer bike commuters. Instead of driving to the place I usually get my hair cut (about 8 miles from home), I could try one of the several barbers that are a lot closer. Instead of going to the big, fancy market grocery store with all the premium deli brands, I could try one of the budget stores down the street. My favorite Buffalo Wing shop is quite a ways away, but there’s a local bar just a few intersections away that makes some decent wings. My old primary care physician is almost 15 miles from home now, but the organization has a small branch practically sharing a parking lot with my apartment complex. I’d need to switch physicians, but then I can walk to the doctor’s office.

Day in and day out, I would drive past countless little strip malls. They seem to be peppered around the Kansas City suburbs, spread out in one- or two-mile intervals. Take the time to ride through and really look at what types of shops are close to home. Almost anything that I really need or want can be had within a two mile radius: Dentists, post office, a branch for my bank, doctors, dining establishments, grocery stores, a coffee shop, electronics and clothing stores, and even a big discount club (like Sam’s Club or Costco).

Learning your local “village” is a big step towards using your bike more and your car less. It will also allow you to make a few quick stops on your way to work or home to run quick errands, saving you even more time since you’re already out and about. You don’t always need to give up things that seem too far for a bike. You can probably find something a bit closer to home that meets your needs.

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0 thoughts on “Commuting 101: Learn your local "village"”

  1. K6-III says:

    …or one could live in the city, where many shops located within reasonable distance, and a proper street grid makes for safer riding and multiple route options.

  2. Noah says:

    Of course! Because anyone can simply get out from under their lease or mortgage and cram their family into a loft downtown. Why didn’t I think of that?

  3. Quinn says:


    You hit it when you said “Utility cycling” I have always looked at my bike(s) not as a toy or sports equipment, but as a tool.
    Since I don’t own a car, I often refer to it as “life-style cycling” rather than “utility cycling”.
    One other thing, get to know not only your neighborhood villiage, one thing thay has helped me many times is getting to know the area around your work.

  4. Kaz Kougar says:

    LOL. Ya, I’m with Noah on this one. K6-III, the concept of your idea is a decent one but to add to what Noah said, many of us with families don’t see the city as an ideal place to raise children and the negatives of such an idea may outweigh the positives (for some of us). The suburbs are plenty convenient and I agree with Noah on the idea of making some sacrifices to reduce your car usage. It all comes down to what we really need not what we want or prefer. I would love to have an acre or two but in order to do that it would most likely require moving out to the country, putting nearly everything further from my reach thus increasing my dependencies on a car which has played a major factor in my decision to remain in the ‘burbs.
    So what do I have to say to those living in the country who don’t have the luxury of bike commuting? You could live in the suburbs, where many shops are located within reasonable distance, and a proper street grid makes for safer riding and multiple route options.

  5. Noah says:

    Indeed. A lot of times, lunch is a good time for recreational riding, errands, riding your bike to lunch of all of the above. Not to mention the places you might want to go on your way into or out of the office. And to K6’s point, I do work in the city core where everything is pretty close. But whereas I have four grocery stores within 2 miles of my apartment in the suburbs (two Hy-Vee’s, a Price Chopper, and a Dillon’s a.k.a. Kroger) there are ZERO grocery stores within five miles of the lofts and apartments in KC’s downtown loop. Right now, those people have to go to the Westport area, Roeland Park or North Kansas City to get groceries. Fortunately for them, a reasonably reliable bus service is available so they still don’t need cars to get groceries.

    Since I have a 14 mile ride each direction, I have also learned about some cool places along the corridor which I use to get back and forth. There’s a decent bike shop within two miles of my place, but there’s an even better one just off the beaten path I use to get home in the evening. There’s also a decent bike shop a mile from my office, which is easily walkable over lunch if my bike is having problems.

  6. Thomas Brock says:

    And sometimes, living in the city actually takes you further away from the places you can go.

    For example: I lived in a suburban neighborhood in North Carolina and could walk or bicycle to a grocery store, nice restaurant, post office, Court House, etc (practically everywhere I’d need to go except my office). I’ve recently moved into downtown Jacksonville and can’t safely walk or bicycle anywhere except a Court House and post office.

    That doesn’t stop me, just makes me more cautious. And more active in getting some city-smart urban planners into the local government.

  7. db says:

    Right on, Noah. Glad folks are thinking about stuff like this. One idea to add to the original post: explore the community around your workplace, too. You spend so much time there, why not take advantage of it?

    A couple of lunchtime leisure rides around my office opened up an easy route to a Target, a grocery store, and some great restaurants that I thought I’d never be able to get to on a bike without risking life and limb on an expressway.

    For years, every time that I’ve switched my job, I’ve also switched my dentist. Currently, my dentist’s office is right across the street from my office. It’s great. And if I’m going to put up with the pain and agony of a dental visit, the least I can do is miss some work.

  8. Fritz says:

    Great post, Noah. Riding a bike enables me to discover things close to home that I likely would never notice otherwise. Think back to when you were a kid — you know *all* the secret hideouts and places. As adults, we know eight different routes to work in case there’s a traffic jam somewhere, but I think we’ve lost a lot of the local knowledge.

    Sorta related — navigating all of those local streets also makes you smarter.

  9. Badger says:

    You make a great points there. Especially noteworthy would be for people to think about the “savings” of driving to the MART stores….to buy milk instead of the corner gas station. So you save .50 cents a gallon on milk; did you spend .50 cents on gas? Could you survive by shopping a bit more often at the corner grocery and doing it by bike instead of loading up the SUV with a month’s worth of supplies? Ah…soap box time done. Hopefully more people will start to see the light.

  10. Jett says:

    Great idea Noah. There are all sorts of ways to increase the number of trips by bike and this is one I want to work on more.

    I was thinking about sponsoring a recurring “scavenger hunt” sort of ride that would locate themed destinations such as “Best place to get a gallon of milk” or “Best Appetizer Value”. Bonus points awarded for bike racks.

  11. Mark says:

    Yup, it can be a discovery process to find your local village. I just moved across town from a third tier suburb (where there were no sidewalks and only highway and two-lane county roads in and out) to a second tier suburb where dang near everything I want can be had within 2 or 3 miles. It’s also in the middle of a great trail system so I can often ride with very little road time if I want. Nearly everything was impossible to walk and too long bike ride to be practical. I know everyone can’t up and move but you don’t have to live downtown to be close either. Just for kicks, here’s my before and after distances:

    Before – what – after
    4 miles – Barber – 3 blocks
    4 miles – Post office – 4 blocks
    3 miles – Vet – 4 blocks
    8 miles – LBS – 1 mile
    2 miles – Grocery store – 1.5 miles
    25 miles – CostCo – 2.5 miles
    8 miles – Menards – 2 miles
    8 miles – Home Depot – 2.5 miles
    8 miles – Target – 2 miles


  12. Noah says:

    I moved about 9 months ago as well, but for many reasons, moving to the urban core wasn’t even close to a viable option. I moved 9 miles closer to work, but basically just to a different suburb of a similar size that’s further north.

    The place we were living was undergoing massive development. Before this development, there were a few banks and smallish shops within two miles. Within three miles there was a Target, best Buy, border’s my bike shop and some other good stuff. Moving put me closer to more amenities and reduced my “epic” 50 mile round trip (ridden in its entirety only on occasion, I mostly did bike/bus commuting) to a daily-ridable 28 miles.

    There’s a lot of good brainstorming and idea building among you guys. I like it.

  13. Eric Rogers says:

    Great post Noah. While I’d love to have cool people like you here in the core of KC, I understand everyone has different circumstances. Although I have to say I managed to find a three bedroom house with large yard and two car garage in a great urban neighborhood outside of Downtown. Not all of the city is high rise apartments.

    Anyway, the point I wanted to make was that even the burbs there are often opportunities for a pedestrian lifestyle. Most cities have original streetcar suburbs with compact downtown areas, surrounded by single-family housing. Further out, many of the newer suburbs are former small towns that still have downtown or Main Street area with shops and services.

    Going forward, the 20-mile American commute is going to become a lot less sustainable. We have to make some hard choices about the geography of where we live, work, and play. At least are there often more options than we sometimes realize.

  14. AKAMIE says:

    Lucky for me ATLANTA is set up great for local ‘villages’ every neighborhood has what you need for the most part, groceries, pet stores, post offices, home depot! They are moving towards live/work communities which make ‘life style-cycling’ much easier!

  15. AKAMIE says:

    Oh yeah, and I did MOVE so that I would be in the ideal car free area. It’s all about choices, that’s what I always say.

  16. Bill says:


    Out of curiosity, what general part of ATL did you move to that is ideally suited to a bike?

    It seems a little difficult to find areas over here on the East side which are low on hills and high on amenities.

    Are you somewhere along or close to one of the MARTA rail lines? I find that the MARTA buses are waaay to unreliable and slow.

  17. Darrin says:

    Wow! I want to move now. I work 2 miles from my home, any kind of shopping I could need. Movies,food stores, clothing stores, hardware, discount stores, anything! I got it too easy, sorry folks. I feel bad now. I thouhgt I was doing soo good by riding everywhere I went. Not bad when it’s only a 7-8 mile round trip. some folks have it hard. I really am thankful for what I have at this point in my life. Life on a bike can be a great joy.

  18. clemone says:

    all of these places are within a 2 mile radius

    a large park, a couple smaller parks, five museums, two grocery stores (one of which is 24 hours), eight corner stores (three of which are 24 hours), five cafes (one of which i work at, nine if you want to count starbucks), a teahouse, three pizza joints (one which is only open from 5pm to 3am), five adult/headshops (one open late another is open 24 hours), four 24 hour restaraunts, 20+ restaraunts with normal hours, five bars, countless gay bars, three bike shops, five thrift stores, an art supply store, a hardware store, three universities and one community college, four tattoo parlors, four upscale boutiques, a couple of venues etc. etc.

    this is just the stuff i can remember off the top of my head, i am missing plenty. this is what happens when you do not have zoning laws in a city. i love houston.

  19. Joe says:

    Great blog. I live in inner-city Minneapolis and commute everywhere on a bike. Moving to the inner-city urban America makes much more sense than many realize. And it doesn’t necessarily mean living in a loft. Ours is a two-story house from a century ago. And, oh yeah, I have a wife and two kids, who attend the local public schools.


  20. TB says:

    I agree with the article. I live in the “older” part of my city (close to the downtown) and I used to drive out to the suburbs to go shopping at all the fancy new big box stores. Now, I find I do most of my shopping locally. It’s amazing to realize how many cool and unique little shops are right under your nose! Some of them have been around here for over 100 years! I feel good about supporting them.

    I certainly wouldn’t bike 5 miles anymore to the Home Depot, just to buy a wrench and a half-bag of nails … there’s a much closer local hardware store for that. But sometimes I still have to drive a car to those places because I’m buying bulky items.

    It’s funny because if I’m in the car, I’ll go straight for the Home Depot 5 miles away when the local hardware store is right around the corner. I can’t really explain it.

  21. Adam says:

    I’ve managed to give up my car for all but journeys that are really out of biking range. Hairdresser visits are now on foot and Supermarket vists are by bike (using a backpack for the shopping, except when they have Ben and Jerrys on offer….then it’s the car :))

    I used google earth to plot a radius for a Saturday bike ride, then rode around that raidius ( about 6 miles) and seeing what local shops..etc I could easily bike to.

    Once you get to know your local biking area you never have to use the car for the “Just popping down to the store” excursion ever again. Loads of people laugh at me for giving my car up but each month I’m laughing when I’m not paying for 4 petrol fill ups.

  22. JD says:

    I rode around my town for a few days and located every establishment that had a bike rack. I tried to go to only these stores. But on Nov. 4 the wise folks of El Cajon, California voted us a sale tax increase that makes us the town with the highest sales tax in the nation. I guess I’ll have to start riding to the three surrounding towns and find their bike rack establishments.

  23. rodney says:

    Another good tool for the “villages” is Not really for biking, but give you amazing detail for grocery, inconvenience stores, retail businesses, and such. I scored a 55 out of 100 for my location. Its 100% bikeable for me. 85% of all I need is with a 2 mile radius and no more than a 30 minute ride to the farthest place.

  24. The Opoponax says:

    This is something that can be an issue for us urban dwellers, too, and I don’t think it’s as simple as “city = close to everything”, “suburbs = a million years in the car”. For one thing, everything in the post is spot on. When I visit family in the suburbs, it kind of weirds me out the way that they’re willing to drive further just because they think someplace is “better”, when it’s usually pretty much the same as everywhere else.

    Also, in a suburban landscape, too, you can have some neighborhoods or homes that are further away from the places you, yourself, like to go. And, yeah, that should be a priority when looking for a home. Why live across town from your whole life, just because this house had 3 bathrooms or a slightly bigger backyard?

  25. Allie says:

    This is an awesome concept! Echoed by a lot of initiatives going on out there now…

    Ex. Trek’s non-profit is encouraging people to pledge to go by bike for any trips less than two miles.

    Incredible to see and track the difference you make!

    If more people can be introduced to this notion, it might motivate a bigger change…

  26. Katie says:

    Ha! Great comment. As soon as I read it I was reminded of the meeting points my friends and I had as kids: the Rock, the Tree and the Other Tree. I’d forgotton all about those places. And about riding via the fish and chip shop, buying 50c worth of hot chips (giant parcel in those days) and balancing them on the handlebars down the Other Tree, where we’d sit on branches overhanging the river and have a little feast. Awesome. I wonder if it’s still there…

  27. Awesome read, and great idea. i live in Knoxville, TN and taking a look around a whole lot of things are so close to bike to it’s store , dentist,the pub. not to mention we have about 12 bicycle shops in Knoxville.

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