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Commuting by car – My ecological balance sheet
All my working life I drive daily from the Ruhr area to Düsseldorf to work and back home again. Anyone who knows the A3 knows what that’s like; this year the A3 was once again voted the most congested motorway in Germany … Congratulations! This costs a lot of nerves, time and, of course, money, because with an annual distance of about 17,000 km (just for the journey to work) it adds up to a lot: Depreciation, fuel, maintenance and inspection costs, wear and tear, taxes and insurance … that was over 7,500€ for me last year alone!!!
Apart from the costs, my ecological footprint from commuting is already enormous. I produce an incredible 3.7 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year just by driving to work!
I am definitely not an “eco-madman” or a “do-gooder”, and I certainly don’t want to proselytise others here, but when you have children, you see the world with different eyes, and that’s why I only want to report on my personal experiences here without wielding the moral club!
And now? Commute by bike?
After riding various types of bikes over the last few years, mainly MTB and RR, I bought a velomobile about 1 year ago. A velomobile (VM) is a three-wheeled, fully enclosed recumbent bike and is powered solely by muscle power; it therefore has no motor! In contrast to “normal bicycles”, velomobiles offer very good weather protection against cold, wind and rain and are therefore suitable for any weather. If you like, you can find more information here or here.
Primarily, I ride the VM in my spare time through my home region, the Ruhr area, to keep fit and to find new material for my blog. But when I bought it, I also planned to commute to work sooner or later.
My employer …
… actively supports the topic of cycling and offers not only attractive “bicycle leasing” but also underground parking spaces for bicycles, changing rooms and showers! Top! So there is no excuse not to use your bike.
No more talking – instead, just do it!
Let’s start with some preparations!
Route planning: With the help of Garmin, Strava, Komoot and BRouter, I planned various cycling routes on my computer at home, superimposed them in GoogleMaps, compared and optimised them. The results are different routes between 42 and 48 km. Since I’m not untrained, that’s not really a problem. I’m more worried about the actual route, because a large part of the route leads through the city!
Packing: It’s amazing what all comes together: cycling clothes for the journey (there and back), food, shower stuff, clothes for the office and of course my laptop and whatever else you need for the job. Since I also work from home, I have to take a lot of things with me all the time.
The first journeys in rush-hour traffic
On the first day, I start from home at 7 a.m. in dry weather and 12 degrees air temperature with my velomobile. I don’t have any early appointments at the office and since we generally have flexible working hours, I can ride without time pressure.
I have never driven the majority of the route (with a car it’s just the motorway), which is why I have to decide anew for each section of the route whether I should use the cycle path or the road. Since a velomobile is a multi-track vehicle, there is no obligation to use cycle paths!
Well … what can I say … whenever I decided to take the cycle path, I was punished for it after a short time! Either the cycle path, or rather the road, was in a catastrophic condition, extremely narrow (oncoming traffic!), interrupted by construction sites or ended surprisingly after only a few metres. But even the road was not always the better choice because of the cars and lorries! Routes with a 30 km/h speed limit are ideal; here you can swing along in the traffic without much effort and without being overtaken.
Despite the sat nav, it took me a little longer at some points to find the right way. After about 2 hours and 46 km I arrived at work and parked my bike in the underground car park. Another 15 minutes later I was showered and changed.
After work I took a different route back home. Again, the question was: cycle path or road? However, I didn’t like this route at all! There were too many traffic lights and you can only get through the green wave at 50 km/h… I always had to stop when I was on my bike. Cruising comfortably is something else, because the pulse rate goes up at every traffic light sprint and the braking down is frustrating because it is inefficient!
First conclusion after a few days
Of course, the euphoria at the beginning is always great and my first conclusion is mostly positive!
The Ruhr area is also GREEN!
What impressed me the most was that even in district cities like Duisburg there is an amazing amount of green and you can cycle away from the main roads in a relaxed way! My route planning and optimisation is far from complete; I am always trying to improve the route and test alternative routes.
Just be in a better mood!
Since I love and enjoy cycling, I am simply in a better mood on the days when I can commute by bike. And when I get back home, I’ve trained enough for the day and don’t cycle again or go to the gym. If, on the other hand, I’ve been stuck in traffic jams in the morning and evening … .
Safely through rush hour traffic!
The biggest concerns I had were about the rush hour traffic and my safety! Almost everyone I talk to about the subject asks me: “Are you tired of living?” or “They’ll drive you to death”. Fortunately, this does not correspond to reality at all. When I drive on the road, drivers almost always keep a sufficient distance. Often they follow me for a long time before overtaking. Of course, this is also because they have never seen a velomobile before and therefore don’t know what is in front of them and how fast it can go. Of course there are exceptions, i.e. reckless drivers! But I always ride defensively and with foresight; so far, fortunately, there have been no dicey situations.
Apart from that … driving on the motorway and in city traffic is not without danger either!
Faster to the destination? No!
It may be different for many bike commuters; but because of the long distance, it doesn’t bring me any time advantage! It takes me 1 to 1.5 hours to cover the distance by car. Even with an ideal route and good training condition, I need about 1:45 hours by bike plus 15 minutes for showering and changing. That’s why I only cycle when I don’t have early or very late appointments!
I think all the other advantages of commuting have been/are being discussed in all media up and down … cheap, healthier, environmentally friendly etc… True!
And what happens next?
Summer is just around the corner and with it my motivation to continue cycling to work is increasing. But only as long as it is compatible with work and family, because as described before, I have to plan about 4 hours of time per day for it. Fortunately, I have the luxury of being able to work from home some of the time, so hopefully in the future I will rarely have to drive to the office. And after the summer we’ll see how it goes, when the weather becomes less pleasant and the days shorter. In any case, I will continue to report!
And you like this?
Of course, I am interested in your opinion on the subject and what experiences you have had. I look forward to your comments!
I am also commuting on a similar distance (2×48 km/day) with my WAW velomobile. As I don’t like being later than 6pm at home, I can only commute 1x/week otherwise I would not work enough. As I am less trained than you, and the route being hilly, I had to install an e-assist on my velomobile. But the motor cuts-off at 25 km/h, so it only assists when accelerating from standstil and while climbing. This results in a much lower power consumption than a regular ebike where the motor works almost continuously. Some of the main roads I take have no cycle lanes and are rather narrow, so it becomes a bit dangerous when it gets dark even though I have proper lights. I therefore only commute from early March till end of October. All in all, I have a lot of fun and I am sad that with the pandemic, I have not been to commute since March last year…