On two wheels

Faculty saddle up for the April Commuter Challenge

April 21, 2014 | Tina Underwood

IMG_8792sm
IMG_8792sm
IMG_8792sm

For the third year running, Sociology Professor Ken Kolb, Ph.D., is leading the April Commuter Challenge. The challenge is simple: each week, replace one driving commute with a biking commute.

So far, 16 faculty and staff members have joined the peloton. Most of the riders have participated in the challenge in previous years, while about a third are new to the game.

What motivates Kolb to head up the program goes beyond obvious environmental concerns. “I’d like the challenge to be seen as a cost-saving measure for the entire institution. Riding to work saves parking space, improves health, and creates a sense of community for those who take it on,” says Kolb.

The case for bicycling to work, or bicycling in general, is compelling. For every mile pedaled versus driven, one pound of greenhouse gas-producing CO2 is blocked from our atmosphere, according to the Bikes Belong advocacy group. As for health benefits, the group reports that biking three hours per week reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke by 50 percent; and women who bike 30-plus minutes each day have a lower risk of breast cancer.

Besides environmental and health reasons, faculty and staff sign up for the challenge because they have the equipment and the inclination to commute by bike, they just need the little push they get from the program itself (if you build it, they will bike) and peer group dynamics.

To keep challenge takers motivated, Kolb set up a Google doc whereby bikers can post days and miles traveled, calories burned, and gas and dollars saved based on individual mpg ratings. Kolb says the spreadsheet is useful not just for the bikers, but also for reporting results to the greater community.

But Kolb knows that for some, the challenge isn’t as easy as hopping on a bike and pedaling away. In recent years, he has witnessed some emerging patterns that gum up the works.

He says the two biggest road blocks are childcare and wardrobe issues. Add a child or children to the mix and suddenly the bike-to-work proposition becomes more difficult as mom and dad juggle childcare duties or daycare drop-off and pick-up routines. And packing a day’s attire in a backpack with other belongings presents yet another set of obstacles.

Commuter challenge devotee and Mathematics Professor Sarah Frick, Ph.D., has about a seven-mile one-way commute. She says childcare concerns crop up when her husband is out of town. On those days, she opts to drive so, if need be, she can quickly get back to her young children who are in the care of a sitter.

Time is a factor in warmer weather, says Frick, since it takes more time to shower at work than at home. On the other hand, cycling to work saves time in other ways. “It might seem that I lose time by biking to work, but when you take into account the 70-80 minutes of exercise I get, and the 20-minute drive to work I save, it only costs me 40 minutes, so I’m saving time,” says Frick.

With her commute almost entirely along the Swamp Rabbit Trail, Frick also relishes the fresh air, beauty, and solitude the ride affords. “I spend much of my day indoors . . . when I arrive at work, I already have a sense of accomplishment, and that helps to set the tone of my day.”

To those who are on the fence about the challenge, Frick says, “Just give it a try! What’s the one thing that could fix the rising costs of health care and dependence on foreign oil in one fell swoop?”

Apart from helping to stem skyrocketing health care costs, ozone depletion, and dependence on foreign oil, biking to work is simply good for Furman. Says Kolb, “A healthy workforce than can connect with one another about issues bigger than work is good for morale, and beneficial for institutional health care expenditures.”