For the past week I have been spending every day at Mike Flanigan's workshop in semi-rural Holliston, MA. The place is 25 miles from my house and I decided to experiment with getting there by bike. This took about 2 hours, which is a pretty long commute. I then tried using other modes of transportation. To my surprise, the trip ended up being the same in duration. Here is a comparison:
Somerville-Holliston, via Roadbike (a loaded Rawland):
I left the house at 6:30am. The route I planned was a direct one, which I figured would be low traffic this early in the morning. And it was, for the first, suburban leg of the trip. After that I expected the road to get even nicer, as it grew more rural. What I did not count on, was that it would also become narrower and busier. Riding through Wellesley, Natick and Sherborn via Rt 16 in the morning was terrifying; I would not recommend it. The winding road is one lane in each direction with no shoulder. Lots of trucks drive at high speeds. I tried to stay calm, kept my line, and hoped for the best - but I would not repeat this trip intentionally. There are alternative routes that are longer and hillier, but safer. Once I entered Holliston, things improved and the last mile of the trip was pretty nice. I arrived 2 hours after I left the house, including a coffee stop along the way.
Somerville-Holliston, via Brompton + Train:
I left the house at 6:30am and cycled to the closest T-Station. From there I took the subway to South Station in Boston and the commuter rail to Framingham. The commuter train takes about 40 minutes. There is WiFi, and I used it to check my email. I disembarked in Framingham, and from there it was another 6 miles to my destination. I cycled on the main road again, simply because I had no time for a more circuitous route. This road actually wasn't too bad, save for one chaotic stripmall-esque intersection, which I walked across. There are a couple of climbs on the way, but they felt fine in my bike's lowest gear. I arrived at Mike's shop 2 hours after I left the house.
Somerville-Holliston, via Train + Car:
When a snowstorm descended upon us, Mike suggested I take the train without my bike, and he would pick me up at the station in his van. Weakened from all the sawing and filing I'd been doing, I wimped out and did just that. I left the house at 6:30am and walked to the T station, then took the subway and commuter rail to Framingham. The train was late and slower than usual, as tends to happen in bad weather. When I arrived, Mike picked me up in his warm and cozy van. There was some commuter traffic on the drive from the station to his workshop. We arrived over 2 hours after I left the house. Later, I spoke to an acquaintance who commutes from Holliston to Somerville by car. In theory, the drive should take about an hour. But in practice, the traffic in the morning and evening is so bad that it takes at least an hour and a half each way, sometimes longer.
If I had to deal with this commute on a regular basis, I think my preferred mode of transport would be train + Brompton. This would allow me to remain self-reliant, to carry a huge amount of stuff in my front bag, and to get some work done on the train while still squeezing in 12 miles of riding in the course of the day. Every so often it would also be nice to do the roadbike trip, but it would mean setting off even earlier in order to do the longer, safer route. Driving for 1.5+ hours in a car each way would be my least preferred method, but might nonetheless be necessary in winter: I am not tough enough to cycle on those hilly, narrow rural roads in snow and ice, especially in the dark.
A 25 mile commute is not abnormal in North America; in fact it is probably fairly typical. It's hard to believe that 7 years ago I was doing it myself, spending hours a day in my car. Doing it by bike would have been unimaginable back then, an absurdity. Now? Well, to tell the truth, it did not feel normal commuting for that long on a bike. But neither did it feel normal any other way. It's just too long of a ride/drive to be doing twice a day, every day, out of necessity, in all weather conditions. That's my take on the 2 hour commute. I am grateful to not have one these days.