Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

Bike comes out ahead in morning commute challenge

Posted by on May 1st, 2008 at 9:42 am

Bike - Car Commute Challenge-4.jpg

Rob Widmer finished ahead of his
brother Kurt — who drove the silver
Acura in the background.
(Photos © J. Maus)

May is National Bike Month and this morning the City of Portland’s Transportation Options Division kicked off their festivities with a bike/car commute challenge.

The event pitted Rob and Kurt Widmer (founders of Portland-based Widmer Brothers Brewing) against each other to see who would get from NE 18th and Broadway to City Hall — a distance of about three miles — first.

Rob rode his bike (a well-used Trek mountain bike), Kurt drove his car (a shiny newish Acura sedan).

Each competitor took the exact same route (down Broadway to Madison, see map below), they followed all traffic laws, and they had to park their vehicles upon arrival at City Hall (where Transportation Commissioner Sam Adams greeted them).

Bike - Car Commute Challenge-3.jpg

Kim Seymour pedaled a comfortable,
low-traffic route and was only two
minutes behind the car.

Rob Widmer came out on top, arriving to City Hall by bike a full five minutes ahead of his brother Kurt (16 minutes vs. 21 minutes).

According to Rob, he never even saw Kurt. Apparently Kurt (in the car) got caught up in traffic on several parts of Broadway and Rob was able to pedal ahead of him right from the start.

A third competitor, Kim Seymour, pedaled on an adjacent, low-traffic, bike boulevard street (Tillamook) and finished only two minutes behind the car.

In the U.S., 40% of all trips are two miles or less. In Portland, and other cities where its relatively comfortable to go by bike, more and more people are realizing that bikes aren’t only cheaper and healthier, they’re also faster.


Here’s the route map:

Rob Widmer pedaled this route (in morning rush-hour traffic) five minutes quicker than his brother Kurt (who drove a car).

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan

  • Jessica Roberts May 1, 2008 at 9:52 am

    Congrats, Rob! Have a beer to celebrate your well-earned victory.

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  • brewcaster May 1, 2008 at 9:59 am

    That is way awesome. I have found it to be true also with trimet vs. bike. I guess that might be obvious though. I can shave off up to 30 minutes from my commute home.

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  • Qwendolyn May 1, 2008 at 10:03 am

    Oh! The bike is faster than the car!

    That\’s just science, people.

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  • toddistic May 1, 2008 at 10:05 am

    its even faster if you disregard traffic control devices! mwhwhwhaaa

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  • Chris Leonardo May 1, 2008 at 10:10 am

    Riding in a bike lane past 50 cars backed up at a light during rush hour is a great feeling too! Save for freeway/highway driving, bicycles are often much faster than cars.

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  • nahbois May 1, 2008 at 10:11 am

    Was there any question?

    Even riding from Vancouver in the height of traffic congestion, my ride was comparable to the drive time – sometimes faster – always consistent, rarely stressful, and parking is a snap!

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  • Mmann May 1, 2008 at 10:12 am

    \”bikes aren’t only cheaper and healthier, they’re also faster.\”

    And a lot less expensive to park.

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  • Steve Hoyt-McBeth May 1, 2008 at 10:23 am

    Thanks Jonathan for the coverage. The Widmer Brothers and Kim Seymour were great sports. We hope everyone will join us for some of our Bike to Work Month events. You can see many of the events here:

    -Steve Hoyt-McBeth
    Portland Office of Transportation

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  • Cmy May 1, 2008 at 10:23 am

    I ride from 40th and Killingsworth to OHSU and back every working day. My ride in is about 10 minutes longer than driving and my ride home is about 10 minutes faster than driving. I take roads with the least amount of traffic I can find.

    Side note: At least 3 days a week traffic is so bad that it backs up from PSU all the way onto the OHSU campus. Last night I passed roughly 200 cars sitting in traffic as I casually pedaled off the hill. That\’s 200 cars jammed onto one mile worth of roadway.

    I figure that I save roughly $12 everyday that I ride to work instead of drive. That includes not paying for: fuel, vehicle maintenance, parking, gym membership etc… Not to mention all the environmental benefits!

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  • Diogo May 1, 2008 at 10:24 am

    toddistic (#4) – you\’re totaly right. We should start a movement to legally exempt bikes from traffic control devices, since they were created for cars and bikes do not pose the same danger to others.

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  • Opus the Poet May 1, 2008 at 10:49 am

    Diogo #10

    The only thing I have against that is by following traffic control devices we are somewhat protected from physically interacting with cars. I\’m willing to wait for a red light if it keeps me from hitting or getting hit by a car. What bothers me is having to wait for a car to pull up and trip the sensor so the light changes to green in my direction. I have sat through multiple light cycles where the light on my side of the intersection did not change while vehicles going the opposite direction, and vehicles turning left next to me, got the green.

    Death to eddy current sensors, and pressure sensors! Can\’t someone make a traffic light sensor that can detect an 8 1/2 foot long recumbent without having to walk over to the pole and trip the walk signal? And if it won\’t detect my honkin\’ huge steel frame bike with aluminum rims, how are they supposed to detect a carbon frame bike with carbon rims?

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  • toddistic May 1, 2008 at 10:51 am

    i\’d back that! idaho style laws!

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  • Icarus Falling May 1, 2008 at 11:08 am

    Pipe dreams….

    The way the Yield legislation was presented here seems to me more like \”Idaho Style Flaws\”.

    If properly worded and applied, as in regards to safety and not convenience, the ability to yield at stop signs would be good. Yield as in slow, and only progress forward without stopping if the intersection is clear.

    But a disregard for traffic control in general is not a \”Idaho Style Law\”, it is instead just foolish, and deadly.

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  • Bob_M May 1, 2008 at 11:14 am

    A personal interview with Ms. Seymour revealed that Kurt\’s car parked in a \”Quick Park\” spot that would not be used by a driving commuter. If he had parked in a long term lot and walk to the end point, his loss would have been that much greater.

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  • Brian C May 1, 2008 at 11:23 am

    I regularly beat my girlfriend home she uses trimet from 1st and Madison to Sellwood, it drops her off a block from our home. I often see her board her bus while I pass the stop. and I\’ll beat her home by like almost 10 minutes. I rub it in often and goad her to ride her bike.

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  • Lazlo May 1, 2008 at 11:30 am

    My 10 mile commute home from SE to St Johns can take nearly an hour on a bad traffic day; by bike it\’s 45-50min. Going in it\’s 25-30 by car, 35-40 by bike.

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  • baheuh May 1, 2008 at 11:32 am

    Opus..lay your bike down above the sensor real quick like…that should trip it.

    just unclip one foot and dip the bike over…it should work 99% of the time…more difficult with aluminum or CF, yes. typically just tapping the crosswalk button works though..

    Diogo…running red lights and stop signs is stupid, btw. real genious move….you deserve whatever ticket or collision that brings to you in the future. sorry. part of the perception problem in this town by motorists is just that…morons who can\’t seem to recognize the color red.

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  • Steven B May 1, 2008 at 11:53 am

    I ride in every morning from Sauvie Is to the Portland Building. Today my boss honked and passed me on Hwy 30, he in his minivan, me on the Street Dog. I was deep into a spreadsheet when he finally walks in. OK…yes… he was carrying a coffee.

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  • El Biciclero May 1, 2008 at 11:56 am

    opus #11 said, \”Death to eddy current sensors, and pressure sensors!\”

    This is one of my biggest pet peeves ever. I mentioned in another post that I wonder how many motorists would accept having to pull over to the right and roll down their passenger-side window, then reach through and push a button to get their light to turn green? It is especially bad if I have already pulled into a straight-ahead lane to the left of a right-turn lane; am I supposed to wait for several cycles, then haul my bike across the right-turn lane up onto the sidewalk, push the button and then cross in the crosswalk at risk of being run over by right-turning vehicles?

    I always try to situate myself over the most sensitive areas of the sensors (just in from the right corner of diamond-shaped sensors, or at the intersection of the side lead and the circle of round sensors), but many (most) times that doesn\’t do it. Laying the bike down, as baheuh mentions, is a great trick–unless I\’m on my way to work with loaded panniers on the back, which is the situation for 95% of my bike trips.

    Shhh! Don\’t tell anyone, but I ran a red just this morning after waiting for several minutes/cycles at a light that would not change. Of course I waited until the immediate vicinity of the intersection was deserted…

    We have a couple of intersections out here in Beaverton (e.g., Millikan/Hocken) that seem to work for me regardless of accompanying car traffic, and there are no discernible sensor tracks in the street. I do notice camera-like devices on the light stanchion across the intersection–are there such things as camera-operated signal sensors that recognize bikes?

    Sorry for the side-topic rant.

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  • Pete May 1, 2008 at 12:28 pm

    I can\’t wait until they invent carbon-fiber sensors… 😉

    The Millikan/Hocken sensors are angled in the lane leading up to the light – that\’s my favoritest intersection as the sensors control traffic there well (except when Max comes).

    My old roommate and I would \’race\’ from Scholls to Nike on Murray at 8 AM (he in his truck, me on MTB w/pack). Despite a reasonable hill climb I\’d almost always catch up before TV Highway, and one morning a train was parked there so I waved to him as I rode back around to circumnavigate it.

    He rode Reach the Beach one year without ever training and swore he\’d never get on a bike again. Ironically he lives in Amsterdam now…

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  • Zach May 1, 2008 at 2:00 pm

    I remember seeing the start of one of these well over a decade ago when I was in High School – it left from 24th and Fremont. I rode the bus with Avel Gordly, (I believe) Earl rode his bike, and Monte Sheldon beat him by a couple of minutes in his Ferrari.

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  • John Russell May 1, 2008 at 11:32 pm

    Up North in Vancouver, I ride my bike a short two miles to school every day. I almost always see a friend or two along the way, but the best part is I usually beat them to school with traffic and all that. Thank you for bike lanes!

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  • Gavin May 2, 2008 at 12:46 am

    I bet Kurt only lost because he was trying to find a place to park downtown!

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  • […] Bike comes out ahead in morning commute challenge In the U.S., 40% of all trips are two miles or less. In Portland, and other cities where its relatively comfortable to go by bike, more and more people are realizing that bikes aren’t only cheaper and healthier, they’re also faster. […]

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  • KT May 2, 2008 at 9:29 am

    During the school year I can always get to work faster by riding than I can by driving.

    During the summer, it\’s generally either an even split or faster by car. But during summer, I\’m not exactly motivated to book it to the office to sit inside at a desk all day. 🙂

    Side note on the traffic sensors: I\’ve had the best luck when I sit dead center on the circle or diamond. I\’ve heard that\’s the most sensitive area (forget where I heard that, tho).

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  • Options Guy May 2, 2008 at 10:24 am

    Bravo to les freres Widmer for stepping up to the Challenge! Likewise Ms. Seymour for showing the beauty of B2Power ( http://bikeportland.org/2007/12/04/bta-unveils-bicycle-boulevard-b2-power-infomercial/ ).

    For help on getting traffic signal sensors to work in your favor, read this article by a friend at PDOT: http://www.portlandonline.com/shared/cfm/image.cfm?id=145110

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  • Diogo May 2, 2008 at 11:06 am


    Running stop signs and red lights is not stupid; stupid is to give up using your senses and you brain to correctly perceive and judge at every moment the real, concrete elements that surround you and what the appropriate response to these elements are. I can see and hear perfectly well – and it takes a fractions of a second to see if there\’s a car, a bicycle or a pedestrian coming and if I should stop, slow down or go faster to avoid collision. By the simple use of my brain and seses, I never got into a collision.

    On the rare occasions that I wait for the red light to change even though there\’s no incoming traffic – I feel stupid, humiliated, for giving up my intelligence and acting like a robot, or a domesticated animal, programmed or trained to give specific responses to specific stimuli, regardless if such reaction makes any sense in the giving situation.

    When people give up these inherently human capabilities, they became less than humans – they act like an elephant that has been chained to a tree all his life and now, even though the chain is not there anymore, he won\’t realize that he can move freely.

    Think about it this way: thousands of stop signs and lights have been installed in Portland. Do you think the crew that decides where they should be installed are thinking judging the need for such devices based on bikes? No, they are not. They are thinking about cars. Cars should stop on those corner because they pose real danger, not bikes.

    It\’s just unfair that I should give up my intelligence and weaken the efficiency of my biking transportation because some people have such veneration for rules or are so immersed in a fear culture that they come to believe that if we break some stupid rules the world will turn upside down and everything will be chaos and death.

    Relax and use your brain.

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  • Robin May 2, 2008 at 1:13 pm

    It\’s true! I beat my roommate from SE to the pearl all the time. It\’s a nice feeling and I save nearly nine dollars in parking alone.

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  • Jennifer May 15, 2008 at 9:11 am