Friday, November 11, 2011

The 45 Minute Mystery

Bella Ciao, Charles River
The furthest I typically travel for transportation is about 10 miles from home, and over time I've noticed something kind of funny: It takes me around 45 minutes to get there pretty much every time, no matter what bike I am riding. I have done the ride on several upright bikes, road and touring bikes, mixtes, single speeds - and it's always the same. If I happen to be a little slower or faster on any given day, it seems to depend more on traffic patterns than on the bike I am riding.  

This is not to say that some bikes are not faster than others; clearly there are enormous differences. But when riding for transportation through densely populated areas, I find that more often than not these differences simply do not matter. Because I follow traffic laws and stop for red lights and stop signs, being on a fast bike just means that I am riding faster between those enforced stops. Maybe once in a while I'll make a green light that a slower cyclist would not, but somehow it averages out and in the end I don't really "win" any time. 

Of course there are other benefits to being on a faster bike. Hills are easier. Accelerating is easier when going around obstacles or starting from a stop. All things considered, I prefer to commute on a bike that is fast - as long as it's also upright, comfortable, and fully equipped for transportation. But the faster bike does not deliver me to my destination any sooner; the 45 minute rule always applies. 

45 comments:

  1. 45 minutes for 10 miles is 13 miles/hour, which is a pretty respectable speed, I'd say, especially with traffic. You must be going something like 15 miles/hour or more between lights and stop signs. I'm impressed. It's not surprising that a faster bike doesn't help that much. I would imagine any faster and you'd start hitting the point where you'd be going faster than traffic, which has to impose some sort of limit.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Is this really surprising? If you commuted by car do you think a Ferrari would get there quicker than a Mini Moris? Perhaps 5 minutes earlier, if that.
    I find it hillarious how much importance people attach to the type and weight of their bike instead to it's usefullness, robustness and utilitarian value. Compared to time we spend stopped at lights the gains you get from lower weight and some such are negligible. Plus a heavier bike means you actually burn more calories and get more exercise.
    I'd never swap the comfort of my heavy english roadster for a roadbike even if it got me to work 10 minutes earlier. And I must say when I did have a road bike my commuting times were almost exactly the same, just much less enjoyable.

    ReplyDelete
  3. ndru - Hmmm I've never tried to commute on a Ferrari vs a Mini Moris...

    Jon - I am an average cyclist, at best. A well made Dutch bike can easily go 17mph on flats with fairly little effort.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I have a Sella Italia Novus Ferrari saddle you could try.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Ah, flats. I keep thinking Pittsburgh. But still, you have to start from each stop sign and red light. Still impressive.
    Also, BTW, stop thinking of yourself as an average cyclist. Seriously, remember when you were riding with the introductory racing team? What group were you in? An average cyclist would not have been able to keep up with the slow group.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Not surprising since you ride in the city. Try the same in the countryside where traffic lights are rare.

    ReplyDelete
  7. To those who think that this is a "well duh" kind of issue - You have no idea how many cyclists out there believe they must ride a roadbike +lycra to work, because it's faster.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Unrelated to the topic...what bag do you have on your rear rack? I'm in search of good panniers, and obviously, the style is important to me. While the picture doesn't make the bag's appearance super clear, it looks cute from here.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Something similar happens on my commute. It's 25 miles, about ten of which are through urban streets/traffic and the rest is open road. Some days there's a difficult head wind to deal with, some days I'm feel tired and sluggish, some days I'm strong and have a tail wind. . . .But it always takes me the same time!

    ReplyDelete
  10. You may have run across this real but tongue-in-cheek experiment in the BMJ:

    http://www.bmj.com/content/341/bmj.c6801

    When I drive ten miles in Los Angeles during business hours, it normally takes me between 30 and 45 minutes. My car's computer tells me my average speed at any given moment. It rarely exceeds fifteen mph.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Brittney - It's a Po Campo pannier, reviewed here.

    ReplyDelete
  12. So there.

    This just shows how different commutes are.

    Lately I've been doing a 28 mile RT errand run on the fast bike. Boom! It's like being teleported. This isn't meant to brag but illustrative: 14 miles, 46 cyclo-puter minutes. Real time a few minutes more.

    The same trip on the big bike takes so long I need to pack lunch, dinner for me and the dog, and a sleeping bag.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I think it depends, abstractly, on the number of stops in a given segment with identical cyclists under identical conditions.

    Consider a ten-mile segment from point A to Point B. If there are two enforced stops between A and B, the faster bike should complete in a shorter time than the slower bike (everything else equal).

    Now, consider the very same segment but with 100 enforced stops. Everything else equal, the faster bike's advantage in terms of completion time should diminish.

    Correct?

    And where this leads, I have no idea.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Tru dat. Actually, I think the biggest variable is weather: in winter I push hard to stay warm and in summer I take it easy to avoid sweat.

    ReplyDelete
  15. That is interesting and I have found pretty much the same thing. Additionally I have found that I take routes that seem to be about the same distance, Inevitably my rides on the weekend work out to 31 to 32 miles, despite attempts to take little detours that I think will add 4 or 5 miles, the alternate route sometimes appearing longer, inevitably saves time somehwere else.

    I don't think it's fair to compare to cars, because they are going to be reasonably regulated by speed limits. Reasonably the percentage difference between say 10mph and 13mph is rather large so one would expect to arrive 30% or even 20% earlier at worst, so I hear where you are coming from!

    MASMOJO

    ReplyDelete
  16. Btw - I cycle through London, plenty of stops. I usually catch up with people who overtake me on traffic lights. My commute is about 12miles each way. Time 50 minutes.

    ReplyDelete
  17. I'd think the mass of the bike would make a significant difference in the effort of the commute, if not the speed. Urban commutes have a lot of stop lights and other stops. The more stops you hit, the more accelerating back to speed you have to do. A lighter bike means less mass and therefore effort accelerating from a stop.

    But, of course, most of my weight is on me, not the bike. I weigh 175 lbs, my bike weighs (with racks, etc.) 35 lbs. If I became a weight weenie and got an unobtainium frame bike with no rack, etc., and got the bike down to 20 lbs, my total mass would only change by only 7%. If I went Dutch and got a 50 lb bike, it would only increase my total mass by 7%.

    So I guess in the big scheme of things the weight of the bike is low on the scale of easy and/or fast commuting.

    If you are a 100 lb woman this might work out a little bit differently. There the weight of the bike might make a +/- 15% difference. Not huge, but probably noticible.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Over a year ago there was a study that proclaimed that in a major city, durring rush hour, all traffic goes a little over 10 mph on average. No matter the mode. :)

    ReplyDelete
  19. My experience is similar: singlespeed v. IGH v. folding bike with derailleur gears. My commute time over 12 miles is about the same. I think it's either traffic lights/ patterns or just an average speed I adopt without thinking about it because it feels fast enough. One of those bikes would probably be faster than the others if I were really making an effort to go fast, but I rarely do that.

    ReplyDelete
  20. When it came time to speed up my commute, I went the opposite way - moved from a 23kg cruiser bike to a 32kg velomobile.

    My 15km commute is about 50% suburban/urban and 50% highway, and the change saved around 7 minutes. This seems to be largely because the velomobile has a competitive streak - when it sees a "fast" bike 3-400 metres ahead then it instinctively wants to catch and pass.

    I have also noticed a 3kg personal weight loss since the switch, which I attribute to accelerating an additional 9kg of bike from standstill.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Interesting that your experience is that cyclists think that they need a fast bike and lycra to get to work faster, because I don't think that's been my observation. I have one coworker who rides in yoga pants and whatever she was going to wear to work on top. But that's more because she has a semi- diamond frame bike with a top tube that she doesn't feel comfortable riding in a skirt.
    Now, she may well have bought that bike, instead of a step through frame because she thought it would be faster, or at least easier to pedal, and now finds herself having to change her clothes to ride.

    I think that a lot more cyclists wear lycra, or at least goretex because they think they'll get too sweaty/ muddy/ wet in their normal clothes. And I will say that driving rain is one of the conditions in which I hesitate to ride in, because normal clothes do no protect well in a riding position. If I wore goretex gear I probably wouldn't be so reluctant to ride in the rain.

    Of course if you have to spend 10 minutes changing your clothes at your destination (not to mention remembering to pack it all before you ride) that throws your overall travel time off more than a faster or slower bike ever would.

    That said, I rode a faster bike to work on Monday :) and I did make it through a pair of lights which on an upright bike I can never make it through! Overall I probably wasn't any faster, but it WAS easier to climb the hills.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Hubby has noticed something similar. Using a weight weenie bike cuts 7 minutes off his time every day, but those 7 minutes are spent changing clothes. Nothing gained.

    When asked if it's worth it though, he says yes because the faster bike is more fun and exciting. The zoom zoom is worth wearing lycra for.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Since you try so many cool new bikes, how's about trying an electric assisted bicycle sometime? I see more and more of those around town and the bikers I've talked to just luv them.

    I know I'd never buy one, (because I like the exercise instead of the convenience), but someday it might make for an interesting LB review.

    Just a thought...

    ReplyDelete
  24. That is so funny! I have a similar experience. It always takes me 28 minutes to get to my friend's house, unless I ride like a maniac and then I might make it in 27 minutes (rare to get the minute). Doesn't matter what bike I am on, or if I feel sluggish and tired or fast and energetic, perceptions don't matter. It takes 28 minutes! Perhaps the 27 minutes happens on days when I am traveling multidimensionally!

    ReplyDelete
  25. My observations are similar to Cycler's, which is to say the majority (maybe 90%) of those using a bike for commuting or errands seem to be riding in everyday clothes no matter the bike. On closer inspection a lot have some sort of special riding clothes (wool products) but I'm guessing that's about 20% of the population -- but increasing. Also, many of us will often meet up at the same stop lights as we travel through town, playing a sorta leapfrog game :)

    ReplyDelete
  26. "The 45 Minute Mystery"

    I thought you had discovered an unpublished Agatha Christie manuscript... Like a few others here, it takes me always 45 minutes from my home to my university but 1 hour in the opposite direction. Also like Anonymous at 4:25 I often meet the same cyclists.

    ReplyDelete
  27. I usually don't ride at the same time of day, so I don't often see the same cyclists. I see lots of roadies training in the middle of the day though, which makes me wonder what they all do for a living. Are most roadies de facto freelancers? Could be.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Freelancers... or out of a job? I know a few people who sold their cars and bought bicycles for economic reasons.

    ReplyDelete
  29. Lunch rides, flexible schedule for some.

    ReplyDelete
  30. "I know a few people who sold their cars and bought bicycles for economic reasons."

    Um not the bicycles I see them riding. For sport, and not as car replacements, I might add. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

    ReplyDelete
  31. Many sell their cars and buy multiple bikes -- sport and transportation -- and still save money over the long run. Of course gas and insurance budget disappears, but food budget increases!

    ReplyDelete
  32. Not exactly related to today's post, but appearing in today's paper...
    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/11/us/cyclist-fashion-is-diversifying-way-beyond-spandex.html?_r=2

    ReplyDelete
  33. also -- grad students or other academics.

    in my experience, riding in the city, regardless of the bike, I didn't have to make any special accomodations in my speed to let silentq keep up with me. When we were both on hybrids, we were pretty evenly matched with respect to speed. When I started riding the Club Racer and various fixed gears, I would always pull ahead, but we'd usually get to the same lights eventually. In times where I left her behind, the overall arrival time difference was usually less than a minute or two.

    When I used to have a commute out to the suburbs, and a large chunk of that ride was on the Minuteman or 2A, I'd find that being in peak condition would consistently shave off about 10 minutes from my commute time. That was on a 13+ mile commute, where my overall average speed (not moving average) could go from 13 mph to 16.

    It was neat to see, but in the overall scheme of things, 10 minutes just falls into the range of being approximately the same. If my commute ranges between 65m or 55m, I still say it takes me 'about an hour'. I would've had to crank my overall average to 18mph in order to get the commute down to 45 minutes, which is when it would feel substantially shorter. That's nearly a 40% increase in overall speed.

    ReplyDelete
  34. oh yeah, and from my anecdata riven observations of commuting via Hampshire between 8:30 and 9:30, 75% of the people that I see are in street clothes. 20% are in lycra and 5% split the difference (ie. bike jersey + blue jeans).

    There are also a not insignificant population of urban commuters who wear jerseys and bike shorts and pedal big tank mountain bikes (that they're pedaling the living hell out of, you can be assured)

    ReplyDelete
  35. Great observation! Hopefully it serves as a permission slip to folks to relax and enjoy the ride rather than trying to tweak every little variable to shave off another minute of their bike commute time!

    ReplyDelete
  36. You've uncovered a solid and mysterious truth! I commute 5.5 miles to work each day. Recently, an officemate and neighbor joined me, and asked as we began how long it would take.

    My answer: 25 minutes if we hurry and 27 minutes if we don't. This holds true regardless of which bike I use and even when I very deliberately take it slow and enjoy the scenery. To make this weirder, 95 percent of this commute is on the bike trail, with no intersections, stops, etc.

    ReplyDelete
  37. When I first switched from my Raleigh Sports to my mixte, I was a few minutes faster to work. My commute was a whopping three miles, but for significant portions of it I didn't have to stop.

    It was only a few minutes of time, but the perceived exertion was also less.

    In general, the road bikes I've owned have felt faster, but mostly because it's less effort to accelerate/go uphill than with the Raleigh.

    But on rides with more stops, it might feel harder to ride the Raleigh but it's not any slower, really. Maybe I push myself more on the Raleigh to compensate? I'm not sure.

    ReplyDelete
  38. Pretty much the same on the times. I have only noticed timing variation under three circumstances: winter is slower than summer; fat tires were faster than skinny tires (this is what eventually led me to compare rolling friction in a controlled test); and once I was coming down with a horrible flu (didn't know it at the time) and was very slow. But cleats (eggbeater, SPD) versus not, no difference. Even wearing flip-flops, I logged a good time home (which is why, comment on previous post, I don't pay much attention to footwear anymore).

    What's peculiar is that my top speed is somewhat lower than it used to be, but the overall times are unchanged. Not sure if it is the IGH, or if the brake is dragging slightly in the rear, or if my posture is too upright now (could certainly be that). I DO know the lights very well, so I will try to coast up just after it goes green so I don't have to fully stop.

    ReplyDelete
  39. Big cultural differences here. In Chicago no one stops at stop signs, at lights it's optional depending on cross-traffic. Any number of riders I've known have announced loudly they're obeying traffic laws, a month later they're like everybody else. How fast your commute is depends on how much you let it hang out.

    Same in New York. About the same in S.F. Run a stop sign in DC, you're a terrorist. I've only visited Boston a couple times, in many ways it's more a foreign country than most Canadian cities.

    ReplyDelete
  40. I see commuters on racy roadbikes in full lycra, but with a stupid backpack on their back, all the time, especially in the La Jolla / San Diego area. My take has always been that they abhor getting on a bike in anything other than their "full kit," so they just do that automatically (and then pretend their fredly backpack is not really on their back). It always cracks me up. Why wear a jersey, especially, when wearing a backpack and doing a short ride??? The "aerodynamics" of the jersey and the usefulness of the jersey pockets are totally mitigated by the backpack.

    Now, up in Marin County, I've seen plenty of roadies and fancy mountain bike riders out commuting in more-or-less street clothes, but with usually Sidi or other fancy brand bike shoes on. That's pretty cool, I think.

    ReplyDelete
  41. Most of my commuting is about the same, I average around 13mph in suburban/semi-urban traffic no matter which bike I'm on, because of all the stop and go.
    My Saturday commute is different, it's a 20-mile trip each way, and after the first ten miles I get away from traffic and stoplights, so it's rural roads with rolling hills. I've definitely noticed a time difference between road bikes and commuter bikes there, also with a bit faster bike I tended to feel fresher when I got there (which didn't hurt when I had to spend 8-hours on my feet and then pedal home).
    Bike weight seems to matter less than riding position, at least on days when I'm not doing the bike-train-bike route.

    ReplyDelete
  42. My commute is 12 miles each way, flat to gently rolling terrain and a mix of urban/suburban road and traffic conditions. I always ride the road bike and never my DL1 for this purpose. I suppose I could but I prefer the nimble qualities of the road bike for covering the distance at a fairly brisk pace, interacting with traffic and having IMO a better range of maneuverability. For example I can easily bunny hop a road hazard or curb on the road bike if necessary. As I’m sure you are aware the Raleigh DL1 has the turning radius of a truck. (In defense of the DL1 it handles potholes like a truck too, which can be an advantage)

    Everyone’s commute transect presents its own conditions and challenges but in my case I would be able to cover this distance quicker and with less energy on the road bike. My DL1 is more for fun rides and also running errands closer to home, and I love it for that purpose. I suppose if my commute was more of a pedestrian distance like say 10 miles RT I might take the DL1 and, who knows, possibly even prefer it. But I beleive my 24 miles RT on that bike each day would become a bit of a chore, where on my road bike it’s no big deal.

    ReplyDelete
  43. Where does this expression "fredly" or "nufred" come from? As a relatively "nufrieda", love reading your blogg and comments Velouria, I'm learning so much!

    ReplyDelete
  44. Kyklos et al, RE: "Fred"

    For those of you unfamiliar with the term, it is cycling's only generic derogatory appellation, akin to being called a "Barney" in skiing or surfing circles.

    I actually once published an article on this subject:
    http://www.adventurecorps.com/way/freds.html

    ReplyDelete
  45. No big surprise that the right bike for the commute depends on individual preferences and conditions. I agree that shorter distances in dense urban conditions (if you obey traffic laws) makes bicycle heft less of a factor. I usually ride a heavy Dutch bicycle and yes, it's a bit of an effort to get over the bridge from Brooklyn to Manhattan, and I might not be as quick to accelerate, but I actually like the effort. With a lighter bicycle, I might save three minutes on my 45 minute commute. However, I like feeling visible on the streets, and I like the stability that comes with the long wheelbase and large wheels; NYC streets can be extremely rough and pot-holed and when I've ridden touring bicycles or a Brompton the stability factor is very noticeable. So that trade-off is worth it for me. In the summer when I'm usually on the greenway with minimal stopping, a lighter bicycle is nice (though like Velouria, I find that the momentum on a heavy bike makes it easy to maintain a good speed "on the flats") but on city streets, I'll take big, heavy, visible and stable.

    ReplyDelete