I believe I’ve achieved a new level of bike commuting: commutosis

Lately, I’ll be sitting on my butt at a computer — like I am right now, and you probably are too. But I’ll be working away, and I won’t remember immediately how I got to work.

Commuter AmnesiaDid I drive?

And I’ll think for a couple of seconds and remember, Yes, I bike commuted today. But nothing notable happened.

Those of us who have car commuted for any length of time know this phenomenon. I Googled “commuter amnesia” and all the top references described it as a horrible affliction.

Commuting Really is Bad for Your Health” from HP News:

”This is time lost out of their lives,” explains psychologist Dr David Lewis who analysed the study’s findings. ”Since many people spend at least a working day each week travelling to and from their jobs, it means over a working lifetime commuters could be obliterating some three years of their lives! People suffering from even small levels of stress and discomfort during their journey will experience Commuter Amnesia and unless something remarkable occurs they will remember absolutely nothing about their journey.”

3 hidden health risks of long commutes” from HR Morning:

People’s brains develop a coping mechanism for handling the stress — the scientific term for it is “commuter’s amnesia.”

Ever driven somewhere and, upon arrival, had no recollection of the drive? You’ve experienced it.

Apparently the main proponent of the idea that it’s an alarming problem when a commuter zones out is Dr. David Lewis. I don’t want to bash another doctor today, because I did that recently. I do believe that commutes can be stressful — car commutes in particular. It’s just a bit of an overreach to conclude that commuter amnesia is always a symptom of stress.

I look at bike commuter amnesia as a good thing. It doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m unconscious or not alert. It means that bike commuting is a low-drama part of my day. I’m not struggling or suffering through it, I’m just doing it. It’s my new normal.

I’ve been a bike commuter for my whole career — although in some jobs I was more dedicated than others. But before I started with Bike Shop Hub, I worked from home for a few years as a consultant. I usually biked to meet with my clients, but that didn’t happen every day. So I’ve only been bike commuting consistently — daily — for about a year now. It seemed normal to me already. But there must have been a part of me that was whispering to myself, Way to go, bike commuter!

Now that little voice is saying, Whatever.

So I guess I’m now congratulating myself for ceasing to congratulate myself.

I decided to start running again for some cardiovascular exercise. I expected the first time to be a miserable experience, because in my mind, I hadn’t been getting any exercise. I only ran about four miles, but was pleasantly surprised not to end up curled up on the floor with stitches in my sides. This bike commuting — the only exercise I consistently get — has ceased to seem like exercise. It has ceased to seem like anything other than getting to work. But the treadmill’s failure to inflict suffering indicates that my commuting really is exercise.

Today I tried to add a little excitement to my commute by riding one of my three project bikes into work; this slightly menacing Diamondback Sorrento from the ’80s.

Diamondback Sorrento Project Bike

This is the bike I bought for my stepson as a joint fixer-upper. It needs a lot of love, but I wouldn’t expect him to ride a bike that I wouldn’t ride myself.

I still spaced out.

Do you experience bike commuter amnesia? If so, how many months did it take before you reached this level of enlightenment?

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20 thoughts on “Commutosis”

  1. I think that I experience my commute. I’m either mentally preparing to go in or as a time to unwind before being at home. Sort of keeps me from kicking the dogs. I have had the experience of looking for my bike and then forgetting that I drove, however. Does that count. After 3+ years of bike commuting it has become a “whatever” in my life and I sometimes feel a bit annoyed when others respond to my transportation choice as if I am another Mother Theresa.

  2. BluesCat says:

    Well, see, now, whenever I bike commute, I solve at least one of the world’s most pressing problems. I’ve either cured world hunger or solved the energy crisis or formulated a solution for global warming or something of similar importance.

    At the end of the ride, I can never remember WHAT the solution was, but for the rest of the day I’m ruminating so much about it that “commutosis” presents no problem: I KNOW I have bike commuted that day.

  3. Rob E. says:

    I do sometimes space out, which I find kind of alarming because frankly I have no idea how alert I’ve been. On a bike, this is something I’ll mostly notice partway through the commute when I suddenly take stock of my surroundings and try to remember the ride up until then. When I used to commute by car, sometimes I find myself at work with no ability to recall any detail of my commute, but maybe that just means my commute was entirely uninteresting.
    Now forgetting whether or not I drove to work, that is something I’ve done at least one memorable (in retrospect) time. Having driven to work for the first time in ages, I finished the day and walked or bussed home. Coming up to my front steps, my heart skipped a beat as I saw the empty spot where my car was supposed to be. As the panic began to rise, I suddenly realized that my car was in the parking garage back at work and that I was definitely not meant to be a car commuter.

  4. Tom Bowden says:

    I don’t remember how I got to this page – must be htmlmnesia.

  5. Carliss Wanabe says:

    I have not experienced this. Most commutes have some issue that I remember. Not life changing occurrences, but still something interesting happens.

    I’ve seen deer, skunks, opossums, racoons, coyotes, mice, vultures, fish jumping. I’ve seen wrecks, fires, all kinds of police action, people broken down in their cars, people asking for directions.

    I’ve had people honk or do other mischievous things. I’ve had people do very courteous things (yield) and people encouraging me, and stopping to ask about my bike or my lights.

    I’ve seen shooting stars, lightning (fortunately, this hasn’t threatened my safety), eclipses, and countless full moons.

    I’ve had every kind of weather, from perfect riding conditions all the way to perfectly awful, and everything in between.

    Often I have a side trip or change my route to save time or see something new.

    Many things happen, and I can’t once remember saying, Gee, I can’t remember my ride at all!

  6. Julian says:

    Usually it’s just one pedal stroke following the next, and I’m there. I can’t say that I have amnesia towards the ride because I’m fully aware of the traffic and the autumn foliage around me. But yeah, there is a certain amount of partial zoning out that happens during my commute. Being that I work in a bike shop, it usually concerns possible changes to my commuter bikes. Today’s thoughts were on whether to keep my 27″ wheeled bike as a fixed gear or turn it into a 6 or 7 speed by using one of my vintage road derailleurs with a thumbie and a Jones Bar setup. Hmmm….I’ll continue that on tomorrow morning’s ride.

  7. mombrakesforbikes says:

    My commute is relatively short, but because I have to go through a fairly busy area it’s hard to space out. I have to watch for not only aggressive drivers, buses that pull out while I’m passing them, and the occasional pothole or pile of trash left on the bike path, but homeless guys who suddenly lurch front of me (I pass a soup kitchen on my way to work), lost tourists who do the same, and stray dogs who think a bicycle is a fleeing animal. If I was sleepy when I hit the road that morning, by the time I reach the office I’m wide awake and sometimes in need of a Valium.

    My doctor however says I have the heart of a 20-year-old, so that says something for an exciting bike commute.

  8. Mikey Bikey says:

    I get spaced out riding my bicycle, where am I going = ). Old age, I guess.

  9. Ray says:

    For me, I’ve been bike commuting for a few years now. I have a 5 mile route I take, a 7.2 mile route I can take, and a 10.75 mile route. Remembering which route I’m doing is the challenge.

    My test is tryign to remember where I parked the car each day.

    Haven’t goofed up yet, but it’s always on my mind.

  10. welshcyclist says:

    I certainly don’t suffer from “commutosis”, the question I want to ask all of you, who do, is “Where do you cycle?”
    My commutes are always full of incident, and things to be seen, my camera phone is always on hand to record them. I’m with Carliss Wanabe, even though the sights and scenes in my part of the world are much more mundane in comparison, no I shouldn’t say that, lets just say the fauna isn’t as varied.
    You commutosis sufferers need to wake up and smell the roses and quick, you’re wasting a fantastic part of your lives, that time when you’re pedalling.

  11. norm says:

    I’ve been biking my current commute route for >11 years now, so yeah, it runs together a bit. However it is stimulating as a lot of it runs along an estuary and creek area that is well-populated by interesting birds. What’s more, because of seasonal migrations they change. Commuting by bike allows me the time and the relaxation to look for interesting wildlife along the route, something I can’t do when stuck in a car on a road or freeway. If you care: herons (2 species), egrets (2 species), raptors (about 8 species), warblers, the usual city birds (crows, sparrows, barn swallows galore), ducks (seasonally about 6 species), shorebirds (about 5 species), geese, gulls, terns, cormorants, grebes, and (my favorite) kingfishers! On the ground there are squirrels and bunnies. And the occasional bobcat or coyote or high school cross-country team.

  12. Tom Bowden says:

    Seriously though – I don’t space out on bike commutes – I do smell the roses, say hi to strangers, wave at babies, ride under lawn sprinklers if they spray into the road, pick up lost cell phones (and return them to owners), give out-of-towners directions (usually accurate) and also meet other bike commuters. I have met the head of the Econ department of a local university, a member of the Virginia Supreme Court, the membership director for our local art museum, and a number of other interesting folks. That prompted me to start the Virginia Bike Commuters LinkedIn group – which is an open group if anyone wants to join. You can be a Virginia Bike Commuter in spirit if not in fact, and we appreciate your participation. We even tolerate bleeding heart liberals, so BluesCat, perhaps you would like to share your experiences with us once in a while. Actually, for all I know the others are all liberals of various persuasions, but when it comes to bike commuting, we are one big tent. Bike commuting can connect you with your community in ways that driving never will, and your life will be the better for it. One of these days I am going to get local Congressman Eric Cantor to ride with me and see if I can’t do a little attitude adjustment in the conversation (his not mine). Wish me luck.

  13. You really ran on a treadmill, in Flagstaff, AZ, where the running is world class?

    1. Ted Johnson says:

      Well, it was one of those parenting things. Stepdaughter wanted to swim at the Flagstaff Aquaplex, I didn’t just want to sit and adore her; I wanted some exercise too. So I ran on the treadmill.

  14. BluesCat says:

    Yeah, Tom, I really like some of your comments and I intend to use some of them and claim them as my own:
    “Actually, for all I know the others are all liberals of various persuasions, but when it comes to bike commuting, we are one big tent. Bike commuting can connect you with your community in ways that driving never will, and your life will be the better for it.”

    Seriously, I AM so connected to my environment when I bike commute — hearing all the sounds, smelling all the aromas, seeing all the sights — that it becomes impossible to zone out for me with commutosis.

    Also, I’m in Blacksburg, VA, for the next week; helping my wife’s folks celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary. So, since I AM a bike commuter, and AM in Virginia, I can easily justify checking out the Virginia Bike Commuters LinkedIn group.

    1. Ted Johnson says:

      Blacksburg, VA? I’ve got kin in them parts–including an eight-year-old nephew who still can’t ride a bike. I hang my head in shame.

      However, those winding country roads have too many blind corners, so his momma just don’t feel right about sending him down that steep driveway and into Route 8. Perhaps this is why God made reckless uncles.

      They live the town of Floyd, in Floyd County, just a few miles from Floyd’s Barber Shop on Floyd St.

  15. iambikeman says:

    I have experienced this several times in fact I’ve actually fallen asleep on my way home. As for how long it took I’d have to say it started about 3 months after I bought my house. I had up until then only been commuting about 5 miles round trip. but when I moved my commute was 30 miles. Quite a jump I know, but within 3 months it wasn’t a chore any more. I started to “zone out” pedal with out thinking about it. just going through the motions while I thought about the day to come or days gone by,or just sung the part of a song I remembered or hummed the rhythm. I don’t think this is harmful to my health.or even stressful,at the most it is anti stress like rem sleepwalking or sleeprideing as long as I still pay attention to traffic no problem.

  16. Gene @ BU says:

    To follow-up on the HP News article “Commuting is Really Bad for your Health”.

    IBM is now in the business of selling technology solutions for all of the worlds problems – traffic management included. They publichsed their 2011 IBM Global Commuter Pain Survey which is interesting reading.

    As I was reading the comments I remembered a statement from the IBM survey –

    “In many cities, the survey recorded significant increases, when compared with last year, in the number of respondents who said that roadway traffic has increased their levels of personal stress and anger and negatively affected their performance at work or school.

    “Commuting doesn’t occur in a vacuum,” said Naveen Lamba, IBM’s global intelligent transportation expert. “A person’s emotional response to the daily commute is colored by many factors – pertaining both to traffic congestion as well as to other, unrelated, issues. This year’s Global Commuter Pain survey indicates that drivers in cities around the world are much more unsettled and anxious compared with 2010.”

    The IBM survey points out that commuting stress has a direct effect on worker productivity.

    From the survey commuting is continuing to add to stress levels –

    Despite improving traffic conditions, 12 of the 15 cities surveyed in both 2010 and 2011 reported year-over-year increases in respondents who said that roadway traffic has increased their stress levels, with several cities posting substantial increases. For example, New York (45% in 2011 vs. 13% in 2010), Los Angeles (44% in 2011 vs. 21% in 2010), Toronto (40% in 2011 vs. 14% in 2010), London (33% in 2011 vs. 19% in 2010), Milan (61% in 2011 vs. 38% in 2010), and Johannesburg (52% in 2011 vs. 30% in 2010).

    Eleven of the 15 cities surveyed in both 2010 and 2011 reporter year-over-year increases in respondents who said that roadway traffic has made them angry, with several cities posting substantial increases. For example, New York (35% in 2011 vs. 14% in 2010), Los Angeles, (29% in 2011 vs. 14% in 2010), and Toronto (29% in 2011 vs. 14% in 2010).

    Eleven of the 15 cities surveyed in both 2010 and 2011 reported year-over-year increases in respondents who said that traffic has negatively affected their performance at work or school, with several cities posting substantial increases. For example, New York (28% in 2011 vs. 8% in 2010), Toronto (29% in 2011 vs. 17% in 2010), Madrid (30% in 2011 vs. 21% in 2010), Paris (35% in 2011 vs. 26% in 2010), Milan (40% in 2011 vs. 21% in 2010), Stockholm (25% in 2011 vs. 14% in 2010), and Moscow (34% in 2011 vs. 25% in 2010).

  17. Ted Johnson says:

    @welshcyclist re. “Where do you cycle?”

    I think I cycle in my head. Now that I have my primary route down — and it’s pretty calm in terms of car traffic — my mind wanders.

    I stop and smell the roses in my mind.

    Sometimes I listen to podcasts on my iPod. (I never said I was a role model.)

  18. BluesCat says:

    Ted, we have tentative plans for dinner in Floyd this evening. My in-laws still own 30 acres just outside of Willis, VA, which is also in Floyd county. Beautiful country, worthy of consideration for a summer home when retirement comes.

    We went into Blacksburg yesterday, to the campus of Virginia Tech. Like most college towns, parking is at a premium. Not only was I struck by the number of bicycles on campus, but the VARIETY of bikes. I saw everything from an inexpensive Huffy cycle, locked with a sturdy U-lock, to a Specialized Tarmac Compact secured with nothing but a cheapie cable lock.

    And talk about commutosis! A lot of kids were obviously riding around on automatic pilot; gawking at the cute coeds as blatantly as Ol’ BluesCat was!

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