When his wife totaled his car, Dr. Charles Koller took it as a sign. He bought a bike and rode to work the next day.
That was 21 years ago. He still rides 3.2 miles from West University to the Medical Center and back nearly every day, rain – thanks to rain boots and a slicker – or shine. He doesn’t own a vehicle of his own.
“The only exercise I get is riding my bike to work and back. And it’s great exercise,” said Koller, 60, a leukemia specialist at M.D. Anderson. “I like to see the seasons change. I like to see what people have growing in their yard. I like to see the houses being built.”
Nearly 4,000 working Houstonians, or just .04 percent, ride their bicycles to work, according to a 2008 U.S. Census survey. Pedaling might take a little longer than driving, but the commute is more pleasurable, say cyclists. And when traffic is backed up, cycling can be quicker.
Instead of stressing out in traffic, Woody Spear meditates and plans his day during his 45-minute ride from Meyerland through residential areas, along Brays Bayou, around the zoo, down the bike path on Caroline, and down San Jacinto to Heritage Plaza downtown. When he gets to work at EOG Resources after the 10-mile ride, Spear, director of internal audits, can take a shower. He keeps his wrinkle-free work clothes in a pack that he straps to his bike.
Koller, who wears a dress shirt, slacks and bow tie during his two-wheel commute, said the trick to not getting sweaty is finding a balance in how hard you pedal. “There’s a difference between riding and walking. When you’re riding, if you’re not going too fast, the wind will cool you off.”
He doesn’t worry about getting sweaty on the ride home. “I figure at home they have to take me no matter what.”
Cecilia Blodgett, 56, has an incentive to ride from Eldridge Parkway and Westheimer to San Felipe and Chimney Rock. Each day she rides her bike – or does anything except drive into work by herself – she earns a point from her employer, Schlumberger. When she gets 40 points, she can get a $30 gift card to a retailer or restaurant, or she can collect more points for bigger prizes.
“I was riding my bicycle to work before I knew about the rewards program, but it’s a real incentive,” said Blodgett, a project administrator who started riding to socialize when she moved to Houston four years ago.
Dr. Allison Scott, an orthopedic surgeon at Shriners Hospital for Children, started riding 4.5 miles each way from Bellaire about five years ago for the exercise and because there were more drivers in her house than vehicles.
“I’d have to get my daughter or husband to drive me,” said Scott, 53.
Over the years, the cyclists have learned some tricks. They always wear helmets and attach lights or reflectors to their bikes and themselves. They try to leave before the sun is fully up to stay cooler, and they take low-traffic back roads when they can’t take bike trails. Even bike lanes are often potted and poorly paved, they said.
Spear sticks to roads with speed limits of 35 mph or less. Scott lost skin off her leg when an 85-year-old man backed his car into her.
Mostly, motorists don’t notice bicyclists, the riders said. “So it’s my job to watch for them,” Koller said.
Occasionally, said Blodgett, motorists will pull up close and honk their horns or cut her off. If she catches up at a light, she’ll voice her displeasure. She gives really obnoxious motorists a bicyclists’ rights pamphlet that states that by Texas law bicyclists have a right to use the road (unless trumped by local ordinances, as in some sections of Memorial Villages). The printable pamphlet can be viewed at http://bicycleaustin.info/laws/handout.html.
Vance Muse, 50, not only rides his bike to work, he takes it from his office at the Menil Collection to lunch and meetings downtown and elsewhere.
“It’s so nice to not have to pay for parking or have the stress of finding parking,” said Muse, the collection’s communications director.
“When I tell people I ride my bicycle to work or a meeting, they look at me like I came from Mars,” he said. “Houston is flat as a pancake and has the perfect climate for bicycling. It shouldn’t still be a novelty, but it is.”
Editor’s Note: For maps of on-street and off-street bike trails, visit http://bikeways.publicworks.houstontx.gov/maps/index.php.