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August 04, 2005

Bicycling Columbia, SC: A perspective

I recently posted a survey about bicycling and walking that an author was hoping to get responses to for research on a new book.

You can view it, and how to respond, here.

Imagine my suprise, and pleasure, to discover a response in the comments.

And amused understanding as the correspondent, obviously admiring his handywork,  then noticed the instructions for where to send his response, and apologized. :-D

No apology needed.

This sort of response is just the sort of thing I'd been hoping to get from readers of this blog ever since I posted an open invite that can be seen in my sidebar.

I have removed both comments and, since the author gave the OK to be quoted, am giving this fascinating essay ( All 822 words worth! ) an audience it deserves.

Feel free to respond in the comments.

Meet Aron M. Olson, of Columbia, South Carolina:

My name is Aron M. Olson, and I am 26 years old. I live in Columbia, South Carolina. I am a college student seeking a BS in mechanical engineering from the University of South Carolina.

Currently I am working full time at an internship on the outskirts of the city. I live downtown, about 9 miles from work, and I commute by bicycle about 4 days per week. I also run errands on the bike after work, so I usually end up with around a 20 mile round trip. I try to drive my car about once per week just to keep the battery fresh and some oil in the top end.

By bicycle it takes about 35 minutes to make the commute one way. By car it can be as short as 30 minutes, but the time is much less predicatable due to rush hour traffic, etc. Using the IRS standard 37.5 cents per mile and commuting 80 miles per week I save $30.00 per week. I think 37.5 cents per mile is a very low cost estimate for operating a car in heavy stop-and-go traffic. I would guess that $60.00 per week is a more reasonable number. It doesn't take long for even an expensive bike to pay for itself at that rate. During the school year my commute is 2 miles one way, and I can do it in about 15 minutes. The same trip by car is pointless; it takes about an hour because parking is scarce. If the weather is truly horrible I just walk.

I suppose there is a positive impact on my finances due to biking, but that's not why I do it. Sitting in a car in traffic frustrates me terribly, so I view biking as a very valuable convenience. I got started riding a cheap mountain bike about 5 miles total each day to school and was immediately hooked. I have since upgraded to a truly nice road bike, but I keep the mountain bike around for nasty weather and suspect parking racks. I live close to work and school on purpose, and I wouldn't take a job that required a long automobile commute.

I love living in Columbia, but it isn't exactly the most progressive city in the world. There is only a rudimentary mass transit system, and it is totally ineffective. I've never used it. Notions like helping the environment or biking for exercise are greeted with considerable skepticism around here. In Columbia, no consideration is given to bicyclists or pedestrians when roads are designed. Many folks are shocked when I tell them I ride a bike on major roads in rush hour traffic. I am probably accepting considerable risk of injury by biking. Nevertheless, I think commuting by bicycle will soon become a necessity rather than a luxury, and I might as well lead the trend. I'm sure this mode of transportation will become much safer as more and more people discover its benefits.

I really don't think bicycle commuting has much effect on my free time. It generally takes a bit less time to fix a broken bike than a broken car, so I might be saving some time there. Really though, time spent fixing stuff counts as leisure time for me anyway.

The biggest, most unpleasant challenge to bike commuting is a few discourteous or distracted automobile drivers. Most drivers are fine, but occasionally I am run off the road, honked at, cussed at, cut off, ect. I also think its fair to say that drivers and bicyclists in the south are generally less skilled at the art because we never have to deal with snowy weather. Automobile exhaust runs a close second for biggest biking hardship.

Foul weather is of very little concern here in SC. A really cold winter morning might register 20 degrees F, no problem at all with gloves and a hat. You do have to be careful not to overheat in the summer, but a big water bottle banishes that concern. There are few things better than the feeling of a good warm soaking rain on a bike. Its better to walk during cold rainy weather though. I carry a change of clothes in my backpack all the time.

The best part about bike commuting is the feeling of liberty I get from going important places under my own power. Lots of exercise, showing up to work wide awake, and a hefty endorphin buzz are tasty fringe benefits. Biking to and from work definately improves my outlook on life.

Twenty miles per day might be a bit much for a new rider. Many people would be surprised how easy it becomes after awhile though. Anyone with a 10 mile or less round trip should at least try bicycle commuting and see what happens. The benefits vastly outweight the minor expenses of maintaining a bike even if you only use it once a week.

August 4, 2005 in Voices From The Open Road | Permalink


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I am a senior at USC in Columbia SC. I just returned from study abroad in Central America where I biked EVERYWHERE, even though they have great public transportation, it was usually faster. Now that I'm back at school, though for only a semester, I'd like to know where I can get a basic second hand bike for getting to class and work. I don't have more than a 5 mile round trip to any of the above. Suggestions?

Thanks! Betsy

Posted by: Betsy | Aug 19, 2005 11:05:05 AM


I know that The Cycle Center in five points has second hand bikes.

Posted by: Ang | Jul 7, 2006 10:50:45 AM

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