Health, Urban ecology

Commuter cycling – how I started and… maybe you’ll like it too?

First, a little story.

After approx. 4 years of commuting by bike in France, Calgary, Montreal, Spain and Poland, – I think back – how did it all begin?

la maison du vélo

I first entertained the initially scoffed-at idea of travelling by bike in Calgary (and for those that don’t know it, this hilly Canadian city in the foothills of the Rockies is one of the worst cases of urban sprawl in North America) after returning from my exchange in Bordeaux, France.  In Bordeaux, I had borrowed a bicycle from the “maison de vélo” (litteraly: “house of the bike”) where the municipal governement had funded city bikes for long-term rent to its inhabitants.  With a proof of residency and a French bank account (in case of theft the renter owes 200 Euros) you could have a free bike.  During my four months there I did nothing but bike and walk everywhere.  It was an enjoyable, fast and effortless way to get around the flat, condensed and relatively small city.


I returned to Calgary in May, the time of the year when warmth finally makes an appearance, snow melts and dry, sunny summer saunters in.  My French biking had become a habit, and it wasn’t one that I was ready to smother…so I asked myself – could it be done in hilly, expansive Calgary where for every kilometer I had been doing in France I would now be doing ten?

It wasn’t easy to transition to Calgary riding nor did I know any other cyclists at the time who did it, but I eventually adapted to the new biking situation.  I learned primarily through trial and error.  It took a long time to learn my routes and to build up my stamina to being able to do up to 60 km daily, but I loved, and still adore, the discovery and the physical challenge of it.  Looking back, it was in that summer of 2008 that a new chapter was born: that of my adventures as an official commuter cyclist.

a guide to the bike paths in Calgary

I cannot speak for those commuting with children, for I have none, nor for anyone with a debilitating disease or disability, for I am extremely blessed with excellent health and mobility.  I cannot side with the pretty-girls who would never dream of prancing around all day with helmet-hair (5 min. shower and a dab of mascara will do just fine!) or with the suits that revel in their coffee-sipping and music-jamming morning car commute.

I was looking for something exciting, fun, challenging and, obviously, more eco-friendly than guzzling fuel while idling at the 100th set of traffic lights.

And I found it in the most marvelous two-wheeled invention of all time: the bicycle!

So how does it all fit in with urban Permaculture?

Just as every element in a well designed Permaculture system is multi-faceted (meaning it answers more than one need, or plays more than one role), so too is commuter cycling.

In fact the best thing about it, hands down, is the multi-funcionality of bike travel.  Let’s take my old morning commute to university as an example.  Spending an hour in transit, numb, barely awake and surrounded by other zombie-like people simply pales in comparison to ripping up the pavement as I ride through the city with my chronometer ticking – I’m timing myself and I know I can make it up the huge hill faster than yesterday.  After a quick shower and a change of clothes I get to my class still invigorated from it, fully awake and ready to take on the world!! 

It’s hard to beat exercise, mental boost and eco-friendly transportation from A to B all in one package!

As for whether it’s the right choice for you, give it a try if you :

  • like fitness and the challenge of pitting your body against fatigue, exhaust fumes and – you guessed it – the elements
  • love being outside
  • love cycling
  • want to get to know your city better (all of those side roads, bike paths and alternate routes are going to astound you)
  • are looking for an ecological alternative to the car
  • are tired of paying so much money for fuel to run that car!
commuter cyclist

Just have a plan B in case your morning commute tires you out for your return trip home 😉

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