Saturday, November 10, 2012

The 2 Hour Commute

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.

53 comments:

  1. my commute is also 25 miles but the roads are probably safer than you have in Boston. yes, it's a lot but it's become habit and sorta cool at night.

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  2. I've always enjoyed the argument of carophiles that they don't have time to ride their bike to work.

    When I first started, this was sort of true, but after a year of my 15 mile commute, I could essentially "race" a fellow who lived around the block from me. He usually won, but if there was construction or an accident on the highway I'd be faster. Plus I'm getting exercise and saving money. So that extra ten fifteen minutes is really worth it.

    My only problem was that I had no car, so if the snow was too bad I'd have to take mass transit which was an added 45 minutes and stopped running after midnight, when I got out of work sometimes.

    -Patrick
    P.S. Thanks for the sweet blog!

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  3. Re Patrick and Anon both: It depends on the route. As far as safety, I could do the same distance in the direction of Concord MA quite happily. But there is no good direct route in the Framingham direction. As far as bike vs car time, it depends again on exactly where you need to go. Heading north from Boston is faster by car, but in almost every other direction you're better off on the train and/or bike.

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  4. Fortunately, my commute is pretty short (about 6.5 mi): http://bostonbybike.blogspot.com/2011/10/my-commute.html

    I remember my longest commute ever. It was in Berlin, Germany. I left my work and took the train home. Normally, it used to take me 1hour but that one night there were some problems with trains (rare thing in a German city). So that night it took me over 2 hours to get home. Then I realized that it was almost as much time as normally I needed to get to my home town in... Poland.

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    1. When I lived in Vienna, I knew an elderly woman who commuted from Bratislava by bike, once a week. Of course there is a nice bikeway connecting the two cities, but it is still quite far and involves crossing the border!

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  5. Heh, welcome to my commute. I live in Medford; I work in Natick. I tried riding it a few times, but I am horrific at being a morning person, and could not convince myself to ride in the mornings. I take the train most of the time, but the bus-to-train-there-Brompton-home option is becoming my favorite way when there's light. (I've put the option away for the winter; Rte 9 in rush-hour traffic in full darkness is not a thing I enjoy.)

    When I started doing it, it took me a little longer to get home via bike than via train. Now it's significantly faster. Though mostly not due to increased fitness -- the train schedule shifted slightly and the on-time percentage has fallen again. The increased fitness just means I don't feel tired in the evenings from doing it.

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  6. Bay Area: Google = bus = work

    Result? Twitter + FB + start ups --> SF

    Why? Kids want to ride their bikes to work

    Result of that? Huge redevelopment, sky high rent, housing

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    1. Interesting. I need to visit this alleged NorCal place you all keep describing.

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    2. "Bay Area: Google = bus = work"

      Not everyone: http://www.sf2g.com/

      -Lee

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    3. Wow that is pretty awesome.

      But this:
      "distance: 42.5 miles... elevation gain: ~500 feet"

      Is that accurate? Changes my understanding of the Bay area. I don't think it's possible to find a 42 mile route near Boston with that little elevation gain.

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    4. Bay Route = sea level, no cliffs.

      12+mph too slow for that route, 3hrs. flat. oy.

      Skyline much more challenging.

      Bay Area = everything.

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  7. Looking over your blog, going back in the past, I think there is an evolution - a pattern that can be seen. Although a certain style and way permeates all, there has been a change over time.

    Its almost like you're going through the bike from the "outside" (the form and style) to "inside" (the construction, materials and mechanics).

    I'm not putting this into words well, and all parts of this are important and interesting.

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    1. I understand what you mean. I would say that I am interested in both, and I am especially interested when the two coincide. More than anything, I think what changed is that my interest in bikes has become more serious while at the same time my riding has intensified and become more varied. And yet I still ride around Boston in my dress and beret, and can't help but squeal when I see a pretty bike. It's all good IMO.

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  8. I'm pretty sure that 25 miles is not typical. It's surprisingly hard to find plain statements of median commute distance, but I think it is somewhere between 10 and 14 miles (I've seen several numbers cited, and I think it has gotten somewhat longer in the last 20 years).

    And yeah, the no-shoulders-skinny-country-roads suck rocks.

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  9. A 25 mile car commute takes an hour and a half up there? It's not that I don't believe you, I do, but I can't imagine it. I still equate car miles to minutes, one to one plus about 20% for what we call traffic here in Va. In rural Texas we figured it to be one to one MINUS about 10%. I believe that would be a difficult adjustment for me.

    I pity anyone who had to live anywhere that had your traffic and our firearms.

    Spindizzy

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    1. The traffic around Boston can be pretty bad. Oftentimes you just sit in backed up traffic when trying to get out of the city. You rural people are spoiled!

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    2. Spoiled until they want to find a good restaurant or decent cup of coffee.

      I live and work in Chicago, but Chicago is a very large city. Elston Avenue which angles from the Northwest side to the downtown is my route. Normally traffic is light. When there is a problem on the Kennedy, many of the car commuters use Elston as an alternate, making their problems my problems.

      If they lived in the city, they could cycle to work like me ...

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    3. Spindizzy, it's not just weekday commute traffic that's so slow. Even on weekends, the major interstates can become parking lots. We drove 25 miles to a north shore town yesterday to visit an animal shelter, and the trip took us over 1 hour. The trip was 18 miles on INTERSTATE, and only 7 miles on urban/suburban roads with traffic lights. It was dismal and frustrating, and I pity anyone who has to do this regularly.

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    4. As far as Restaurants and Coffee are concerned we don't give up too much here, I've been around a fair bit and when I stop talking for any length of time I'm usually busy eating anything new I can find. I don't think anyone with good taste needs to suffer around here. There aren't a hundred great places to eat but there are more than you can visit regularly and always something new waiting to be tried. If one gets tired of things there is always Charlottesville 45 miles away or D.C. 90 miles away. As far as Coffee is concerned I just don't like the stuff no matter what so if we suffer I'm not aware of it...

      Of course if you don't care WHAT you put in your mouth there's no shortage of Shoneys, Chili's, Ruby Tuesdays, Olive Gardens and that kind of crap right here in town too. Personally I'd rather slip out to the sticks and eat Ponhoss, Grits and Country Ham fried up by a chain-smoking Gran'ma who gets to town once a month on her day off from the gas station in beautiful downtown Fulks Run than that stuff.

      Spindizzy

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    5. I hear you Somervillain, I know we have it pretty good around here and when I visit Atlanta, Dallas or Denver and get a little taste of what you're talking about I try to remember not to take it for granted.

      If we don't give up too much in the Food and Beverage department we do in the Music, Bookstore and General progressive culture arena. Even with 2 university's, various Colleges and research facilities in town, I try to sneak out once every couple of months and spend a little time where you might actually see someone reading an actual book alone in public or hear something other than "ASS-KICKEN" Country at the grocery store.

      So, did'ja get you a dog down at the shelter?

      Spindizzy

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    6. Ah-ha! You live in a University town. Rural Midwest food choices are chains or gas station quick marts. That is until the ride takes you near a place of higher education where more often than not there is at least one pretty good place.

      Galesburg has a pretty good bookstore. Live jazz though usually means heading back to Chicago.

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  10. I assume you mean that in the nicest possible way...

    Spindizzy

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  11. Slightly off topic I know but Ive just bought a Brooks B17 to commute on (a out 15 miles per day). I note that your Rawland sports a handsome sleeker version (B15?) and wondered if they adapt well (better?) for commuting?

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    1. That is actually a Selle Anatomica saddle on the bike. I like it on this bike, because it provides a bit of extra suspension when riding on unpaved roads.

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  12. That route is not the easiest. I road most of that route once during the work week to get my bike fixed. I didn't do it during commuting hours and it was still somewhat busy, although the road is quite pretty, for a numbered route inside of 495. I think I had an easier route out of town. And I didn't do any part of it during a northeaster.

    The traffic in town is bad and it can be very bad along the major commuting routes outside of town. It doesn't take much traffic to make a road undesirable for cyclists at certain times of the day.

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  13. Replies
    1. Not yet. Still need to do the seat stays, braze-ons and then the finishing. Will come back when Mike has a gap from classes in a couple of weeks.

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    2. Good luck. I have thought about doing the Mike route for my next frame since he announced the change in his business. It won't be easy financially or to find the time. Will you get an ANT powder coat or send it down to Circle A?

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  14. Started commuting the 13.5 miles from Barrington, RI to the East Side of Providence last month. It takes a bit over an hour in and a bit less coming home (more downhill). I am very lucky. Aprox. 50% bike path, 25% sharrowed roadway and about 25% "other". Safe, covered bike rack and shower across the hall. Works well. I really like leaving in the dark and arriving in light. Wish I had starting doing this years ago. Best change ever. Feel great at work and the cycle home along the bay and river makes for a great end to my day. My typical excuse in the past was "I'm on my feet all day. I'll be too tired." Turned out to be just the opposite. Will continue as long as roads remain snow and ice free. The upside to climate change.

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  15. My commute these days is only about a ten-minute ride. I keep telling myself to add a few miles in the mornings...

    Speaking of lovely and pretty, I'm digging the way you kitted your Nord. Looks great. (Did I miss the full review of this bike?) I find the perforated Fizik tape in white stays amazingly clean. It's hard to tell from the photo, but it looks like you might be using something thicker like cork. How is it holding up?

    You are lucky to be 25 miles from a great builder who teaches! I looked around my area and there is one guy but he does not teach brazing, only tig welding. I don't want to spend all that money and end up with a tig-welded bike, since it's not my favorite look (and I know how to tig weld, though not bike frames). I realize ANT mainly builds tigged bikes, but teaches brazing as well. I'm considering taking Mike's class, but with the added expense of a hotel, it starts to get prohibitive.

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    1. I have a review of this bike here with different components; my impression is basically the same.

      The Nordavinden is a temporary frame; the components are destined for another bike (possibly the one I am building, but maybe not - I have a bunch of projects in the works). I just couldn't take not having a bike to ride on dirt and having to borrow one every time, so Rawland sold me a demo frame knowing I don't plan to keep it. Is that too confusing?

      The white hbar tape is actually Cinelli cork tape and it is filthy; the picture is deceptive!

      I tried TIG welding, in addition to silver and brass brazing. They each have their pros and cons, as well as their beautiful and ugly sides. I actually wanted to learn primarily TIG welding initially, and it was Mike's idea to focus on brazing. He has gotten more interested in it lately and quite enjoys it.

      Mike's teaching method works for me. How well it works for others I don't know, but it works for me and I've learned more than I expected so far. If you take a class, one thing I suggest is to consider your goals carefully. I am not taking a formal class, and our time is flexible. Those taking a class only have 5 days. Consider whether your goal is (a) to end up with a cool frame that you made under heavy supervision, but could never replicate on your own, or (b) to learn the basics that will allow you to start practicing on your own. Either is a great goal to have, but you cannot do both in 5 days.

      Also, since the cost of travel is a concern, don't discount learning from your local TIG-welding builder. Fusing the joints (regardless of method) is a fairly small part of the framebuilding process. Most of it is about understanding the tubing, how everything fits together, measuring, cutting, filing, shaping, aligning, finishing, etc., etc. Your local builder will teach you these crucial things, and you can figure out how to braze later.

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    2. You could always take a TIG welding course at a local Vo-Tech or Community College, they're pretty common and inexpensive. They are pretty basic classes typically but basic welding skills are what you need for most bike building. Tig welding is usually described by those who do it all(Oxy-Acetelyne, Mig, Tig, Braze et all) as the easiest of all welding methods to learn and get usefully proficient (include me in that group). You can get started building bikes before you dive into brazing.

      The actual welding of bikes is more or less straightforward, you're inside out of the wind, the joints are at eye-level with good access to the whole circumference of the tube, there isn't enough welding to build up a ton of heat that needs to be managed and the materials are similar thickness' except for the BB which is still not too tough. To get really pretty at it you just do a lot of it. Even Aluminum or Ti are only a bit more complicated. Welding was easier to get on top of than woodworking for me, by yards.

      The real challenge is DESIGN. I'm not intimidated by building frames but can't see how I'm qualified to do much more than copy other peoples designs. I have access to a nice Anvil jig and tube mitering mill set-up now so will probably do a little cloning for myself, but don't expect me to hang out a shingle and go head to head with the pros.

      Spindizzy

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  16. My commute is only 7 to 9 miles depending on the route. But I wanted to share my thinking on it. I bike for fitness. My route is 30 to 40 minutes downhill to work and 45 to 55 minutes uphill to home (450 ft elevation change). My drive is 20 minutes to and 30 minutes back. So the way I look at it my hour and a half of exercise really only takes a little more than an extra half hour out of my day. (a little more if you count the extra clothes change). As beautiful as Colorado Springs is during daylight, riding at night with a strong headlamp makes me think of being inder a blanket with a flashlight. The car doesn't, but the bike does.

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  17. My commute is 14 miles which I can do in a vehicle in less than 14 minutes, but I live in a rural setting and the town I commute to does not have all that much traffic. By bike the ride takes more than an hour and it becomes closer to 16 miles because of a needed change in route for safety. I also have to add time to spruce up a bit before starting the work day. I prefer to ride the bike, but it is certainly not an easier mode of transportation in my situation. (there is no public transportation to speak of, so it isn't an option).

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  18. My commute is 32 miles each way, by car. But every so often in warmer months I do a bike-train-bike commute: cycle 6 miles (with hills) from my house to a station (unfortunately, the station a few blocks from my house is on a different rail line) and take a train for a 40-minute ride. Then, it's back on the bike for another 6 miles (and more hills). This all takes around 2.5 hours each way, so it's not something I'd do on a regular basis. Yes, I could move closer to work, but where I work is in a car-centric exurban area, and I'd be miserable living there -- where I live now, in a close-in NJ suburb of NYC, I can pretty much bike and walk everywhere on the weekends.

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  19. The two hour commute is certainly a different animal than the twenty minute variety. With one, you can wear pretty much any kind of clothing and ride on almost any kind of bike. The other begs for a bike of the efficient variety and more sporty clothing. Also, I find it necessary to go the extra step to make myself highly visible since there are stretches where cars are not used to sharing the road and it can get quite scary. Combining mass transit with the ride would be great, if only there were some available :) I find that choosing to do this bicycling thing has changed my life in so many ways I could not have predicted and I'm grateful for this new path.

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  20. On clothing choice: When I rode the Rawland, I wore what more or less passed for "normal clothes" - wool stretchy trousers rolled up, long socks, and several sweaters. I topped it off with a cycling-specific cold weather jacket and clipless shoes. I carried workboots in the saddlebag and changed into them upon arrival. No other post-ride cleanup was necessary, since it was so cold out (it was 36F that morning, I think).

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    1. Yes, stretchy wool is great. How many days did you do the entire ride by bike? Some days one can be covered in mud or salt or just plain sweat and sunscreen. A change of clothes is often necessary. Other days, not so needed but I've found that most along my route are generally wear cycle specific clothes for the long ride.

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    2. "I carried workboots in the saddlebag and changed into them upon arrival."

      Priceless. How much do they weigh?

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    3. "How many days did you do the entire ride by bike?"

      Just 1 day. It is not a safe route, would be stupid to repeat it. No time for a longer route.

      Yes I would def need a change of clothes under hotter/wetter weather conditions, and also if my destination was more formal.

      Mark, no idea how much the boots weigh sorry : ) And I've certainly carried heavier things in my saddlebag!

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  21. Forgive me for picking up on your use of the word "rural". But I don't think any of that area between Boston and Holliston (or sadly beyond) can be considered rural anymore, at all. Density of settlement may be less out toward Holliston but its all suburbs. They simply co-opted the rural road network and use it as a one-person/one-car suburban commute conduit system, serving as feeders into the vortex…, toward or away from Bain Capital, or by way of connecting Dunkin Donuts with Friendly's and/or drive-through prescription drug kiosks. Well I don’t know where they are all going. But many of the roads are still of rural character and many of them are narrow and winding. Autos and trucks travel them at pretty high speeds. There is seldom much of a shoulder and oftentimes zero margin for error.

    The present state of land use and transportation (they go together) in the 495 swath around Boston is a complete disaster. The worst kind of sprawl combined with a completely inappropriate and inadequate roadway system. It’s a hellish auto-centric environment in which to bike-commute 25 miles. At least you are generally outbound in the AM while most of them are probably inbound, and vice versa in the PM. Hats off to you.

    You know a number of towns like Marlborough and Milford and Framingham used to have “interurbans”, i.e. electric passenger trolleys, which connected them to neighboring towns and villages (not sure Holliston). But that was over 100 years ago before we got more civilized.

    Good posts lately. Keep up the good work.

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  22. What? I guess my eyes deceived me. Wouldn't be the first time. By semi-rural perhaps you are refering to "exurban" or that place that exists between rural-residential (the final frontier of epic city commutes) and suburban jungle proper, and that I believe was described well enough in Dante's Purgatorio (somewhere between levels 5 and 6).

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    1. I did not alter the post after the fact, honest. There must be some statistical/sociological definition of these terms, I am sure. For me, Somerville is something like a borough, West Newton is a suburb, and Holliston is definitely semi-rural. I guess the ultimate distinction between boroughs/suburbs vs semi-rural/rural for me is the presence of farms. There are no farms in the suburbs. Of course, I could be wrong. Don't believe anything you read on a blog!

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    2. This is an interesting question. Most of the area that I ride is in the commuting field of Boston or easily in the Boston metropolitan area. Farms are as close in as Concord but Concord see heavy Boston or 128 belt commuting traffic during commuting hours. Some very small farms are closer in (Lexington, Wilson and Busa farms) but these really don't change the suburban complexion of the area. The Route 16 corridor is far from the more rural Harvard area. I have done some rides from Holliston and it seems more suburban than semi-rural or rural, whatever your distinction might be. But there are definitely spots in that area that might appear rural to the unaided eye.

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    3. Sorry, was not intending to imply you changed the post.

      Was going to go into the typologies, definitions etc. of suburban settlement patterns, but on second thought... nah! :]

      Agree with NE Bicyclist above.

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  23. This all reminds me of a ride I did back in '98. The only time I ever rode around Boston. I arrived by plane. My bike had been previously sent to Belmont Bike Works and assembled there, when it was still a standard hole-in-the-wall shop. I planned to ride 115 miles up to New Hampshire and had less than 8 hours to sunset. I also had no good plan for how to escape the city. The guys at the bike shop looked at me like I was completely nuts and were recommending I scrub, take a taxi, anything. John Allis walked in and said "No good route you'll find. Massachusetts Avenue. Then 2A. Lowell. Pelham. You'll find it. Keep the pedals moving you'll get there." Which is what I did. No problems at all.

    Keep the pedals moving. You'll get there. Being afraid of stuff never gets you anywhere.

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  24. 51% of americans commute less than 10 miles a day.

    http://www.bts.gov/publications/omnistats/volume_03_issue_04/html/figure_02.html

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  25. I cannot believe you are getting snow already!!

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  26. My current commute is about 20 miles each way from the DC suburbs in VA into DC proper. Mass transit plus bike (or car) is generally fastest, at ~1 hour 10 minutes each way, door to door, absent delays on transit (which can add substantial time, but are relatively infrequent).

    Biking is most reliable, at ~1 hour 20 minutes in the morning, and ~1 hour 35 minutes in the evening, except in the relatively rare case of snow/ice.

    Driving is the most variable, at ~50 minutes in the morning, and 1 hour 15 minutes in the evening, with a swing of anywhere from -15 to +90 minutes (or more) for accidents, road work, detours, or foul weather.

    Biking is by far my preferred method for reasons not lost on the crowd here.

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  27. I wish I could commute by bike...

    I live in a mid-sized town in East Tennessee, work in a small town in southwestern Virginia. Home to work, 40-miles. Great road, lightly traveled: if I drive it straight, driveway to parking lot, it takes 40 minutes. Most days though, I rendezvous with a couple of others to carpool. Could be worse.

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  28. I feel your pain. My commute, by car, is 23 miles. It takes 20 min in the car on my early days, 40 on my late days. (I live right off the highway and my base is right off of the same highway). There is literally no way to get there by train as all the trains run into the city and none across the country-side. By bus or any combination of public transport/bicycle it would take two solid hours and by bike alone, about two and a half, assuming that I ever made i there alive because, as you noted, any road in the "suburbs' that "goes someplace", no matter how narrow or windy, if chocked-full of trucks and commuters hell bent on "getting there". I attempted to convince my wife to move to a more affluent suburb closer to my job JUST so I could commute by bike. Instead, she settled on a home in a different affluent suburb FARTHER from my job! Women....

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