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On Commuting By Bike

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Last week, it occurred to me that I’ve been going to work by bike more years than I’ve been driving or taking the train. And that feels awesome! To celebrate the occasion, here are a few pseudo-scientific and very useless calculations that make me even happier.

The first seven years of my professional programming existence, I was a consultant. That meant going to the client, having little say in where to be able to work, and traveling (and sometimes working) long hours. That also meant every year usually equaled a new client, and thus, location:

  1. Year 1: 52 min drive (to/from, single), 55 km = 381.33 h/yr
  2. Year 2: 25 min drive, 20 km = 183.33 h/yr
  3. Year 3: 45 min drive, 39 km = 330 h/yr
  4. Year 4: 90 min train, 87 km = 660 h/yr
  5. Year 5: same as year 4
  6. Year 6: 40 min drive, 32 km = 293.33 h/yr
  7. Year 7: 15 min drive, 6.1 km = 110 h/yr

I realize that for Americans or others who are used to it, these trips seem “short”. The quotes are there on purpose, that’s a very subjective and personal interpretation. To me, they were hell—especially year 4 and 5. That’s why I asked for a transfer closer to home. I got it, but the work was terrible and team atmosphere rotten, so I quit. Note that I use an estimated guess of 220 workdays a year. I didn’t keep track of these commuting hours, it would have driven me crazy.

In total, in those seven years, I spent 109 days commuting (1.69 h a day on average). That is almost one third year. One. Third. YEAR. Of. My. Life. Lost. Now, if you are to suggest that the commute by train isn’t that bad as “one can read a book” or “do some work”, I kindly ask you to take the same peak hour route to the capital of Europe, and you’ll see what I mean.

As for my humble tribute to the ecological state of the world, I traveled 143,484 km in seven years (the comma is a thousand separator here). Most of it is by car, so let’s assume year 4 and 5 were the same, and let’s assume the company car on average consumed 5.5 l for each 100 km: that is 7891 l of diesel fuel. Eight ton! To make matters worse, suppose the car emits 130 gr CO2/km. That’s 18,652.92 kg18.65 ton CO2! At this point, I don’t even want to compare these numbers to something else to see how bad it actually is.

That car emission rate is not exaggerated but based on the actual company cars that I’ve been driving in over those years. Belgium is a diesel country, especially with the company cars. I still do not understand why a car is part of my salary package if I’m not a consultant but just an inside software developer at a company that develops its own product. But hey, that’s an entirely different discussion. A poisoned gift, I’d call it now. Back then I was just happy and bragged about it—just like everyone else.

Luckily, I found a challenging job nearby with a fun team that had me ditch the car and take the bike instead. After four years, I switched jobs again and became an academic, meaning biking a bit further to the university—and also: the first time that I didn’t receive a company car, and eventually had to buy one myself. After eleven years!

  1. Year 8: 10 min bike ride (to/from, single), 2.6 km = 73.3 h/yr
  2. Year 9: same as year 8
  3. Year 10: 16 min ride, 3.5 km = 117.3 h/yr
  4. Year 11: same as year 10
  5. Year 12: 25 min ride, 8 km = 183.33 h/yr
  6. year 13: same as year 12
  7. year 14: same as year 12
  8. year 15: same as year 12

In year 13, COVID changed the world and forced everyone to rethink their work/life balance. For this post, I will ignore this, as otherwise, comparing it with the first seven years is useless. My ex-colleagues nowadays structurally work from home so it would have been radically different too. Also, as a researcher who also teaches, during the summer months, I might work from home more often as the teaching assignment temporarily disappears. But again, let’s ignore that too.

In total, in those eight years, I spent 46.43 days biking (0.63 h a day on average). Writing that number feels radically different than the 109 awful traffic jam laden days. Why go to the gym if you can work out while going to your work? Side note: the Belgian weather circumstances obliges me to calculate the average amount of days I got wet on the bike. I’ll leave that as an exercise to the reader. Hint: a lot.

But what about my humble contribution to not the ecological state of the world but the physical state of my body? I traveled 22,000 km in eight years on my bike. Suppose on average you burn 200 kcal an hour while biking—that’s a very conservative number. That would mean I burned through 222,864 kcal in eight years, about 126.67 kcal extra each day given that I biked on average 38 min.

Two hundred and twenty two thousand. How many Dr. Oetker pizza’s would that be? The spinach pizza is 858 kcal but let’s round that down to 800 kcal. That’s 278.6 pizzas or 34.82 a year or 0.72 a week. If you up the biking burn rate, one Dr. Oetker pizza—a week. Holy shit.

Since a few months, our university is paying out bicycle allowance. That, combined with the ludicrous diesel/gas prices, makes you think twice whether or not to take the car. Since I have to pay for that myself, I’m much more mindful. I still know ex-colleagues who happily burn through 200 km+ daily or go on many “short vacations” because hey, the company pays, right?

Sure. But the world does too. And so does your body.

Here’s to ten more years of commuting by bike! 🚴‍♂️

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I'm Wouter Groeneveld, a Brain Baker, and I love the smell of freshly baked thoughts (and bread) in the morning. I sometimes convince others to bake their brain (and bread) too.

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