Why you should care
Because sometimes the carpool lane — or bike lane — doesn’t cut it.
Unfortunately not everyone gets a seat on the Google bus. By the time most folks fight the slog to work, they feel run over by it. We’ve all heard about studies showing that extreme commuters are some of The Most Unhappy People in the world. (And according to the U.S. Census, there are about 10.8 million of ‘em with an hour commute or longer.)
No wonder. Spending five mornings and evenings a week staring blankly at clogged lanes of traffic, scheming of ways to move to New Zealand — and getting fatter, lonelier and more depressed by the mile — is no way to live.
But feeling the wind, sun and water on your face as you paddle — or pedal — downriver or across the glistening ocean bay? A better start to the workday, wouldn’t you say?
He has literally been making waves with his new mode of transportation: a water bike — a mountain bike perched over a pontoon.
“Much better,” says Judah Schiller, CEO of AIKO, a San Francisco design and innovation agency. He has literally been making waves with his new mode of transportation: a water bike — a mountain bike perched over a pontoon that turns Judah into a virtual (and gainfully employed) Jesus. The father of three from Marin County has been commuting to the city for years, sometimes battling car traffic, sometimes biking across the Golden Gate Bridge, but more and more he’s cycling across the San Francisco Bay.
“Which would you pick? Fresh air, adventure, a great workout and beautiful scenery or sitting behind a bus or an endless stream of red brake lights?” he asks. “No cars honking or risking my life on crowded streets with narrow bike lanes.”
And no helmet necessary, just a personal flotation device around his waist. He’s been using the Italian Shuttle Bike kit, but plans — and Indiegogo crowdfunding — are underway to build his own. He’s calling it the BayCycle Project. His ultimate dream? “To see bike commuters around the world take to the water as an inexpensive, sustainable and human-powered way to cross the water,” he says, “in SF, NYC, Shanghai, on any of the thousands of waterways around the world.”
In the meantime, people are paddling their own canoes. And kayaks. On a nice day, Yu Kuwabara, a chemist at GoodGuide, stuffs his work clothes in a dry bag and commutes alongside harbor seals from Oakland to San Francisco, dodging the massive shipping boats by pulling up to buoys and playing in the wakes of ferries. Zack Schwitzky and his girlfriend, Milhelm Calderon, do an almost daily commute from Hoboken, New Jersey, across the Hudson River to Manhattan, dragging their boat 10 city blocks from the pier to the office. Even in winter. “We just bundle up and enjoy the ride,” says Milhelm. “Once you’re in the water, you don’t really feel the cold anymore.”
Healthy, car-free, low-tech commutes are possible.
Commuters are not only getting more creative but also crazier. I saw a 10-foot-tall unicycle cruising through San Francisco’s SOMA at rush hour the other day. “Oh, I used to ride one of those when I was 20,” says 31-year-old Benjamin Kieffer, a director of equity derivatives at BNP Paribas in Manhattan, who now rides a regular-sized unicycle two miles from the Upper West Side to Midtown a few days a week — dressed in a suit and tie. “I always get the, ‘Hey, somebody stole one of your wheels!’ comment,” he says. But his favorite ride is across Central Park, with the skyline as a backdrop. “It totally puts you in a good mood before a day at the office. Nobody on the subway can say the same thing.”
Other creative approaches: Commuters paraglide in China, cross-country ski and ice skate in Canada and stand-up-paddle-board in Portland. Two British guys just took off in the Paravelo, the world’s first flying bike — which is not quite ready to tackle the daily commute, but we can dream. Companies such as Terrafugia are working to make George Jetson’s easy-breezy sky commute a reality in real life, with self-landing and self-driving flying hybrid cars.
But in the meantime, healthy, car-free, low-tech commutes are possible. No bike? No boat? No gear? No excuse —as long as you’ve got your two feet. Run commuting is all the rage. The second annual Run to Work Day is slated for this spring. Stuff your suit/hoodie/skirt into a backpack — and start training now.