Why I Bike to Work

Nathanael Yellis By Nathanael Yellis • Last Updated April 11, 2020

In 2016, I moved to suburban Atlanta. Suddenly, I vaguely wanted to buy an SUV. A lot of people had them, and the idea of sitting in a leather recliner while driving at or above everyone else’s eye level sounds nice. If you’re going to be a road warrior, you might as well drive a tank.

Instead, I bought a bike from the 1970s.

I’m legendarily cheap, and the idea of skipping out on tens of thousands and spending tens on Craigslist is cheap ($85, including spare tires and a helmet). But this purchase was more about what I want to aim for than what I want to skip out on paying for.

I wanted to be the kind of person that bikes to work.

Biking to work isn’t really a statement about the planet, nor is it about health. Breathing in the exhaust of idling traffic probably isn’t great for me. But as someone who spends life on a screen, I need some time to see things through air, not glass.

Instead of seeing the world from a climate controlled box, through glare resistant glass, I like feeling the air. Bugs could and do fly into my mouth. Once, early on in my bike commute, I hit a squirrel. Instead of pressing a pedal to burn some gas to fly up a hill, I like pressing pedals with my legs and burning muscles to inch up a hill.

There’s something good about it not being fast or easy. I know the hill better for the act of pedaling up it. I know my four and a half mile commute better. I treasure more arriving at work or arriving home when I’m a bit hot and out of breath from the getting there.

There’s no magic to biking places. It’s hot, it takes longer, cars could crush you like a bug. But human beings were made for work. And it’s not real work to drive places.

More than the act of biking, the state of mind it brings is what I’m after. The kind of person who embraces work, who enjoys the going, the process, the becoming — that’s who I want to be. And each day that I bike to work makes me feel a little more like that person.

Commuter Bike Parked in Office

Biking to work is an act of simplicity. It's choosing a calm lifestyle, instead of an efficient one. While life seems to accelerate, I think you can choose an alternate path. A longer, manual commute is one way to do that. Using a machine that you can repair yourself is another. Biking to work is both, and thus almost a bit radical in its simplicity.

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