Not as slow as you'd think

I ran a whole bunch of errands back to back tonight.  It was a pretty low-mileage day, with 3 errands strung together for a grand total just a little over 4 miles.  Something interesting happened on the way home.  You see, I was on a relatively empty road in the evening.  There were no traffic jams.  No psychopaths hell-bent on running me off the road.  It was my bike (with about 50 pounds in the panniers from grocery and electronics shopping) and a sporty Audi sedan sharing some main thoroughfares.  No one else on the road to speak of.

Through six traffic lights spanning two miles, I consistently kept pulling up behind the Audi.  And it’s not that I’m fast.  It’s that when you’re in the industrialized suburbs, you might think you’re going 45 MPH, but you’re more than likely averaging less than 10 MPH in a car.  In an urban setting, I’m used to being faster than traffic.  There are side streets, alleyways, and routes that are perfectly clear but that most drivers wouldn’t bother using.  It was interesting to see that even on arterial roadways, I manage to keep the same pace as traffic, even if I can’t go half as fast as everyone else once things get moving.

Next time someone says that riding a bike somewhere close would take too long, tell them that they might be pleasantly surprised.  Traffic signals: The grand equalizer.  Sometimes they even give you a water break.


Sign up for our Adventure-Packed Newsletter

Get our latest touring, commuting and family cycling posts and sales delivered to your inbox!
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

0 thoughts on “Not as slow as you'd think”

  1. This is the tortoise and the hare all over again – it happens all the time, and always makes me laugh so hard that I can hardly ride straight.

  2. anakcu says:

    On my ride to work in the morning, the last stretch is on P Street from Georgetown to Dupont Circle in DC. It is early, there is no traffic and so cars typically get it up to 45 mpg between lights (there is a 25 mph speed limit). What I love is that the lights are perfectly timed for me doing 15 mph on my bike (thanks Mayor Fenty!). Most amusing are the drivers who really gun it to get past the pesky cyclist who keeps catching them at each light.

  3. Ira says:

    I think most of us who ride in traffic have this experience and love it. I have found, however, that it can get to be disconcerting when the same car has to catch up to me over and over again after gunning past me. I begin to notice an almost imperceptible but definite increase in aggression in each gun of the engine going by. Once in awhile I hang back and refrain from making one more pass, allowing said driver to enjoy his/her seeming satisfaction. It’s not worth riling the beast.

  4. Noah says:

    Very rarely does someone pass me twice while “sharing” a lane with me. I don’t filter. So I just eventually catch up with them.

  5. Cafn8 says:

    It’s true about average speeds. My wife just got a new car with one of those newfangled trip computers. I was fiddling around with it one day, and flipped over to the “average speed” screen. Traveling to work on streets which mostly have 35-45MPH speed limits, she was averaging 16MPH. I calculated my average for my ride to work and found that it was within 1 or 2 MPH of her. It made me just that much more smug.

  6. Rick says:

    I used to have a job that would take me 20 minutes to drive to or 15 minutes to bike to. On a bike, I would cut about 5 miles off the trip because I could cut through an apartment complex and use a bike path.

    Right now, if I drive it is a 15 mile/25 minute trip. If I bike, it is a 10 mile/40minute trip. If traffic is bad, it can (and has) taken me upwards of 60 minutes driving.

  7. Quinn says:

    I used to be a multi-modal commuter, Until I had the gearing chained and learned I could keep up with the bus and/or cut my travel time in half or more by going totally by bike. Instantly gaining an hour and a half a day to do other stuff.

  8. Kyle says:

    I’m with you all. My commute one way is a little over 5 miles. When I get off BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), the bus and I leave pretty much at the same time. Most of the time, the bus and I are within 200 yards apart when I arrive at work. I see the same people getting off and on the bus everyday. Wonder if they notice the only cyclist on their same bus route?
    On my way back to BART, there is a 3 mile stretch that I do the tortoise and hare scenario with traffic. I think people are amazed I get to where I’m going faster or at the same speed. My average is about 16mph with stop lights. I agree with Cafn8!
    Of course if you get open roads we cyclists get smoked, but within cities or congested roads: we are the winners.

  9. Kaz Kougar says:

    This is an excellent write up that I plan on sharing with everyone that I can.
    My bike ride to work is just around 8 miles. I can make it in about a half hour normally, averaging around 16mph. Funny thing is that by car, driving through town, with luck on my side, I may make it in 20 minutes on a good day but on the freeway, it can often take more than a half hour, much of which is spent in the last mile from the off ramp to my office due to the bottleneck of traffic at that stop. Wager in the stress and frustration of such driving conditions and the bike commute wins, hands down!

  10. Mike says:

    When used to ride 5 miles to work, I would pick out a recognizable car early in my commute and mark it as I rode to work. More often than not, I would be ahead of it by the time I got to the final turn that took me to my office. It became my commuting game. Fun.

  11. Cte says:

    For many years I rode a motorcycle as my around town vehicle. I installed a bicycle computer after the speedometer died. The computer had an average speed function, and I tracked the average speed on a per tank of gas basis, about 200 miles. For the year I measured it, the average speed was amazing consistent. No matter where I was riding, or how aggressively I rode, I would average very close to 25 mph. Traffic moves pretty well in Eugene and my regular routes include lots of 35 and 40 mph roads. This bicycle computer only averaged speeds when you are moving so all the stoplight time was not included in the average, so it is easy for me to believe that trip averages are in the 15-20 mph range.

    Of course this begs the question of why are there 40 mph roads in town, and why are cars so bloody uncomfortable to drive at 20 mph? So much waste!

Leave a comment.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

×

10% off Apidura Bikepacking Bags Shop Now

Scroll to Top