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How to beat the bike commute doldrums

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward

Down with the doldrums.
(Photo by J. Maus/BikePortland)

There are few things in my daily life that I avoid as religiously as riding a bus or train with nothing to read, or driving in a car with nothing to listen to.

But somehow, bike commuting in silence seems to be different – for a while, at least.

Longtime Portland bike commuter Ryan Good shared an interesting perspective Tuesday on his Facebook page, which prompted some useful discussion. He kindly gave us permission to share some of it here.

Here’s Good’s original comment:

I’ve been bike-commuting for longer than I can remember, and it’s always been a highlight of my day- both directions. But lately, I am feeling completely unmotivated for it. Not talking about other rides- still stoked for those- only the commute to and from work. Not sure what it is- all the Cat 6 types out there? The weather? Bored with riding the same route over and over and over and over and over and…? Not excited about going to work in the morning + plus feeling lethargic after sitting on my butt all day? I’m almost tempted to just start taking the bus, but that’s probably the worst thing I could do- my body needs the exercise, especially after sitting all day. I guess I’ll just have to grind it out, and hope that I snap out of it soon. Anybody else have a similar experience? Curious to hear about it, and/or how you beat it.

And here are some of the many responses, which constitute a pretty good list of tips for others who hit a funk:

Change the vehicle.

“Do you have a fixie? If not, build a frankenfixie.”

“Switch drive trains for a week. Go geared, or SS, or like I did last week borrow a Nuvinci hub bike. Very fun! Change it up to keep it fresh.”


Add music or podcasts.

“I’m in the same boat. Really awesome podcasts with headphones that allow some ambient sound + a novel bike is all I can think of in terms of remedies. + acid. Drop some acid 45 minutes before you leave. Not too much, though. (And yes, I know headphones are dangerous.)”

“+1 on headphones. I caved this year and got some bluetooth ones. music really helped curb my road rageyness i get from being on congested bike/car routes. Much easier to ignore jerks. I just leave out the left side ear bud. Affected my ability to tell where sound was coming from but could still hear it.”

“I started downloading more cd’s to the iPod and making playlists, it makes it fun. I sing a lot and that makes me enjoy my alone time. Also scares the creepy people away.”

Change the route.

“Sometimes the most enjoyable routes are the least logical- going by a pretty garden that isn’t a bike route, or a vintage store that has pretty windows.”

“I have a few main routes, and try and take some side streets next to my routs [sic] whenever the weather is good and I’m not running late. Also, sometimes you just have to cat six it if you’re feeling good first thing! I also go super slow and really try and look around and sit upright some days.”

“I am always varying my routes. I give myself enough time so I don’t need to be over concerned with time. Sometimes the longest routes are the best. Lately I’ve been heading out to the wetlands north of St Johns and just randomly meandering through quiet neighborhoods. … 22 to 25 [miles]. I give myself 2 1/2 hours.”

Consider when you commute (and its impacts).

“I recommend using one of those wintertime UV lamps connected to a generator hub on your bicycle for your AM commute.”

“if you have the flexibility, trying a commute earlier, or later, can be lovely. the sky and light are different, and the traffic can be less heavy (too much car traffic on our bikeways is the main reason i hate my bike commute). mapping out alternative routes is also a great way to go. and lastly, don’t feel bad about ditching the bike and using trimet sometimes! everybody needs to mix things up sometimes.”

“If it’s any help, today was the earliest sunset of the season. OK. Maybe tomorrow. I’m not positive. Afternoons get lighter from here on. Mornings not so much.”

And our favorite tip of all

“Drive a car for a week. That should cure your funk.”

In all of this, I think there’s a case to be made for one of the benefits of bike commuting that I’ve discovered most recently myself: like showers, bike commutes seem to be one of the few times in my day when I give myself the mental quiet required for coming up with new ideas. Including, most recently, the fact that we should do this post.

Do you ever battle bike commute doldrums? What’s your solution?

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