Making Time for Exercise with Active Transportation

A week ago, I attended an event sponsored by Florida Hospital and the Winter Park Health Foundation to kick off Healthy Central Floridaa community-based partnership established to transform our community into the healthiest in the nation. Its aim is to get people moving more, eating healthier, feeling better, and enjoying a more vibrant, energized life.

Healthy Central Florida is encouraging people to take a pledge to do 30 minutes of exercise, three times a week for three months (3:30:3). Go on, do it! Those who complete the pledge will be entered to win a trip for 2 to New York to see a live taping of the Dr. Oz show. I filled out the pledge card Monday, then decided to keep track of the exercise I get using my bike for transportation. I didn’t change anything, just decided to track an average week.

Here’s a breakdown:

First of all, I no longer have an outside office (I did when I started this website, hence “commute” in the title). My commute now consists of walking through the living room to my office with a stop at the coffee pot. My transportation trips are to the market, meetings or events. These are the kind of trips — a couple miles here, a couple miles there — most people feel won’t make an impact on their fitness, fuel consumption or carbon footprint, so they never find the motivation to replace them with bike trips. But these trips add up to a lot of exercise and significant fuel savings. These are also the trips in which your car is releasing a higher level of emissions.

I’ve included maps with each day’s entry. Many of them are routes you’ll find in the Guide to Active Fun. A few are outside the guide’s range. I don’t have computers on my bikes anymore, so I had to check the time at the start and end of the trip. My times are not exact, but they’re close enough. My times also seem to be within a minute or two of Google’s estimated time for a bike trip (so I guess I’m pretty average).

MONDAY I rode to the kick-off event. That counts.

It was dark when I left home for the early morning event, so I opted to use a road route rather than the trail. As much as I like the trails, I don’t feel comfortable on them alone in the dark. My route is the blue line on the map to the right. It mostly wiggles through quiet neighborhood streets.

I had asked about bike parking when I was invited. As a result, people were waiting for me to show me into the back lot with the bike—VIP treatment!

For the trip home, I took Cady Way Trail. It’s  3/10 of a mile longer than the road route, but it’s a nice ride. I do divert from it at Beach street to avoid the stop sign infestation on the trail between Beach and Lake Baldwin Ln. There are no stop signs on Beach, and there is very little traffic.

My bike trip amounted to about an hour of exercise. The bike trip replaced about 40 minutes I would have spent in the car driving and parking. So I doubled my exercise requirement (from 30 minutes to 60) but it only took an additional 20 minutes of my day.

WEDNESDAY After being pretty sedentary on Tuesday, Wednesday was full of bike trips.

First, I had a morning meeting downtown. I like to ride the LHT when I don’t need to carry cargo, but I wanted to take a cup of coffee with me. The Big Dummy has the mug-holder on it. It’s a heavier bike and takes more work when riding into the wind, because I sit upright on it. But. Coffee.

The bar mounted mug holder is perfect for sipping coffee at the traffic lights. Ahh. I didn’t get a single red light all the way from my house to Magnolia! Go figure.

The fortuitous signal timing reduced the time difference between driving the car vs the bike. The signals around Colonial alone can add 2-3 minutes to a trip. I avoided one of those by using the new connector trail. On Robinson, I saw the same cars just ahead of me for a couple miles — they sat at red lights, I caught up as the lights turned green.

The bike trip saved me from having to pay for parking near my meeting (or look for free parking several blocks away and walk). I drive to downtown so rarely, the thought of finding a parking space is enough to reinforce my desire to ride. There were no bike racks, though, so I ended up locking to a parking meter.

Most of my routes maximize the use of quiet streets. While I have no problem using a busy road, I enjoy the peace, shade and wind-screening of residential streets. But when I’m headed downtown, I prefer to use Robinson. It’s direct, it has new, smooth pavement, the signal timing usually works in my favor and I rarely have trouble with motorists. The only time I avoid Robinson is eastbound between 4 and 6:30 PM or if my timing would cause me to be riding into the rising or setting sun.

Wednesday afternoon, I had a hair appointment and needed to make a stop at Publix. Those trips were all so short, they probably took the same amount of time by bike as they would have by car (the bikes goes door to door, the car has to be parked).

Wednesday evening, Lisa and I rode to 903 Mills Market for dinner. That’s about a 20 minute ride each way and would have been 5 minutes faster by car.

So the total exercise for the day was about an hour and 35 minutes. That exercise replaced about 1:10 of time that would have been spent in the car, driving and parking. So, I got 3 times the pledged exercise spending a little less than the alloted time.

THURSDAY This was an afternoon of really short shopping trips which added up to 45 minutes of exercise. These are the kind of trips for which there is no time advantage to use the car (not to say I don’t sometimes anyway).

The above-linked trail connection has made trips to the Colonial Plaza shopping center significantly faster by bike than by car. It joins several other trail segments that create a similar advantage.

My last bike trip of the evening was to Target. I was cooking dinner with a friend and we were short one recipe ingredient. It’s funny, my temptation when I’m in a hurry is still to jump in the car. There is just no time savings to do that. It’s all mental. I should test this some time, but I bet a car driver leaving at the same time would sill be finding a parking space while the bike rider was walking into the store.

It seems like cheating, but the rules say you can split the 30 minutes of exercise into smaller bits. So I got 45 minutes of exercise and used no additional time in my day for it than would have been spent sitting in my car.

Saturday, I had considered taking a recreational bike ride, but the wind was howling and I was not inspired to beat myself up against it. I decided to walk for an hour as a change of pace. It’s interesting what you see on a walk that you don’t on a ride. Sorta like you see things from a bike that you don’t from a car.

SUNDAY Maitland Farmers Market was my planned destination for the day. I had a long shopping list of vegetables to pick up. I usually take the Big Dummy shopping, but I didn’t have the ambition to ride into the wind in that upright position. I wanted drop bars. The grocery panniers gave me plenty of capacity, and it was so cold out, I didn’t need to bring a cooler.

The Maitland route is the same one we do with the S-Cargo rides. It’s a bicycle highway made perfect by two connector trails — Mead Gardens and the short one in the photo above which runs along the RR tracks from Lake Ave to Lake Lily Park.

I’m sure I can get from my house to Lake Lily faster by car on a Sunday morning, though the car route is longer and has a lot more traffic lights. I’d love to race a car at rush hour, though. I bet I could get there faster by bike. Having done this trip at rush hour (and beat a friend coming by car from College Park by 10 minutes), I definitely recommend it as a commute route. It has surprisingly little traffic.

After slogging into the wind on Denning on the way to the market, I was sure I would get home in less time than it took me to get there. It was so sweet to ride effortlessly fast! But when I got home and looked at the clock, my time was almost the same as the trip north! How could that be? Well, when I thought about it, the only time I had really struggled against the north wind was on Denning, which is wide open. There was enough wind-break in the neighborhoods to reduce its effect. Something interesting happened on Denning — when I was riding more slowly into the wind, the signal timing favored me and I got mostly green lights. When I was sailing south with the wind at my back, I got a red at every intersection! I was traveling with a pack of cars, they got to the red lights a few seconds before me, but I stopped with them each time. If I’d been slower I wouldn’t have had to stop, but I would have had the same average speed for that distance. So, I guess the only place I really benefitted from the tailwind, the traffic signals took away my advantage.

That corroborates something I learned when I had a 10 mile commute. Which lights I got green vs red made more difference in my trip time than how fast I rode. There was no point in killing myself (unless I was specifically looking for a workout) when the red time from an arterial intersection would eat any time I thought I was gaining.

It’s also why I’ve sometimes pulled up next to cars 2 miles after they first passed me.

Since I didn’t take the cargo bike, I had to drop off my farmers market items before riding down to Target for the staple goods I needed. I decided to take the BD for that trip.

Check out the bike rack at Target! That’s the most bikes I’ve seen parked there. Good idea to ride there, too. The parking lot was crawling with motorists looking for spaces. It’s so nice to avoid that nonsense and just park by the door.

Target gets big props for this rack, too. It’s a series of perfectly-spaced individual inverted-u-style racks located right next to the entrance and under cover of a large overhang. It’s even lit at night.

Including my Target trip, I estimate an hour and 15 minutes of exercise replacing about 45 minutes of time in the car (I’m probably being generous to the car, but 17-92 is pretty fast on Sundays). So, I got 2 1/2 times the exercise with a commitment of 30 minutes.

Here’s how it adds up for the week:

I ended up riding a little over 50 miles (that would be 2.5 gallons of premium fuel in my car). None of my trips were over 6 miles one way. Most were less than 4. Those distances are completely accessible to the most novice riders. The majority of the routes would be appealing to a timid rider. A few of the segments that may seem scary can be done on an empty road using signal timing in your favor (we teach that in CyclingSavvy).

Excluding the deliberate exercise (Saturday’s 1-hour walk) I got a total of 4:35 of exercise from active transportation. 3:20 of that time would have been spent in my car — sedentary, bored and possibly annoyed. That makes my total time commitment to 4 1/2 hours of aerobic exercise 1:15. The pledge was to do a total of 1:30.

For those who think they don’t have time to add 1:30 of exercise to their week, here’s one place to find it. I guarantee transforming soul-killing car time into happy bike time will contribute to a more vibrant, energized life. A lot of us start out riding to save money or get exercise but end up doing it just because it’s a higher trip quality that enhances our lives and connection to our community.

If you want help getting started, let us know. We have lots of friendly mentors who will be happy to help with route planning, equipment advice, and even ride with you. Also, Orlando is home of the most comprehensive traffic cycling education program in the country. You can go anywhere! We’ll show you how.

If you’re a utility cyclist who would like to be a mentor, contact us.

If you’re local and taking the pledge and want to incorporate active transportation into your exercise commitment, tell us about it. If you want to write about it, let us know. We’d love to share your stories!

12 replies
  1. Eric
    Eric says:

    I dunno. When I cycle, I figure that if I start breathing hard, I’m doing it wrong. Seems like I don’t get much exercise that way.

    And all this complaining about sitting upright in the wind? Isn’t part of the point to make you work harder than you would if you had drops?

    • Keri
      Keri says:

      I’m not trying to work harder. I’m trying to get to my destination.
      I don’t enjoy the sense of futility of working really hard to push wind.

      • Eric
        Eric says:

        I’m with you. Makes plenty of sense to me, but I always thought that the very definition of “exercise” (esp. cartoid) was a pointless and futile expenditure of energy. When I jump on my bike to run an errand, I certainly don’t associate that with exercise — in the winter time I barely crack a sweat.

        What I associate with “exercise” is PT in boot camp. Thirteen weeks of 6:30 mile runs, 50 pushups, 100 situps and 30 pullups every single day of the week. Just the thought of it makes me shudder. So you can imagine what I think about these women getting all this “boot camp” exercise they advertise all over town.

        • kfg
          kfg says:

          “I always thought that the very definition of “exercise” (esp. cartoid) was a pointless and futile expenditure of energy.”

          You are almost correct. Exercise is the deliberate act of stressing the body sufficiently to induce an adaptive response to increase the metabolic ability to handle such stress.

          As such, exercise is inherently a progressive activity. As LeMond noted, it doesn’t get easier, it gets faster.

          If it starts to get easier, it fails to be exercise. If it is exercise you want to get out of your cycling take the necessary steps to make your trips physically stressful, like increasing wind drag and using higher gears.

          What exercise is not is a pointless and futile expenditure of energy, and the fact that it is promoted as being such is one of the reasons the exercise culture being developed isn’t doing diddly squat.

          If you do something pointless and futile, at best you achieve a null result. At worst a negative.

        • kfg
          kfg says:

          P.S. No matter how much work is involved, boot camp is not physical exercise; it is mental and disciplinary exercise. It’s actually physically rather destructive. You can more progress physically in no more than an hour a week.

          Thus you can imagine what I think about these women getting all this “boot camp” exercise they advertise all over town.

      • kfg
        kfg says:

        Then I’m afraid you are not exercising. See my response to Eric.

        You certainly are doing some work, and doing some work is certainly better than doing nothing, as the statistics show.

        Unfortunately what the statistics do not show is why, thus we do not even know for sure if the doing work is the relevant factor (although it seems intuitively obvious that it at least has something to do with it).

        • Eric
          Eric says:

          So where are we at here? If I hope on the bike to ride 2 miles to drop off a letter at the post office, is that exercise?

          Or if I do my weekly shopping at Publix with 40 pounds in the front basket and another 30 in the rear basket on my 100% steel, 90 lb. bike facing a 30 MPH head wind, is that what it takes to exercise?

          • Mighk Wilson
            Mighk Wilson says:

            It’s pretty obvious to me that physical activity is a continuum that runs from mild effort to bust-your-aorta. Each of us can determine for ourselves when it transitions from “activity” to “exercise” to “athletic training.” Arguing about what numbers to apply to those thresholds is rather silly.

      • Keri
        Keri says:

        “When I jump on my bike to run an errand, I certainly don’t associate that with exercise — in the winter time I barely crack a sweat.”

        For me sweat is a factor of humidity rather than exertion. I can sprint across town and barely crack a sweat when the humidity is low. I can’t even get my bike unlocked without sweating when it’s high (even if the temperature is low).

        Except for an occasional sprint for a green light, I prefer not to operate in an anaerobic zone. So whether I used the heavy upright bike and pushed wind or used the less heavy bike with drop bars, my effort level is the same. Not wanting to push wind is a psychological factor. It’s demoralizing to feel no momentum to reward the effort expended. I pedaled with the same effort when I had the tailwind as I did into the headwind. Yet the return trip felt effortless because the reward was so much greater.

        The intent of this post was to offer people possibilities. Not just for active transportation but some nice routes and a few other concepts I hoped readers would find helpful or inspiring. A lot of people think you have to be a road warrior or an athlete to use a bike for transportation, that’s just not the case. There are many who think they can’t ride here because of what they perceive is missing (based on what they’ve been told they need) and don’t notice all the great assets we have. I hoped to make that first step accessible because the results are so positive. I was also trying to be supportive of an initiative that people I care about have put a lot of work into.

    • Mighk Wilson
      Mighk Wilson says:

      I like to differentiate between “exercise” and “physical activity.” Indeed, “physical activity” is the term the public health community prefers, because “exercise” connotes athleticism to many people who don’t have any interest in being athletic. Between cycling, gardening and yoga I’m physically active virtually every day, but my athletic capacity is greatly diminished compared to how I was 15 or 20 years ago, when I’d easily knock off a century without specifically training for it.

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