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Bike Commuter

George Sarrinikolaou

Position: Director, Office of Academic and Research Programs at The Earth Institute
Campus: Morningside 
Commute mode: bike
Home: Prospect Heights, Brooklyn
Door-to-door commute: 1 hour


Where do you bike from?

Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. The trip is 12 miles each way. It usually takes me under an hour, which is sometimes faster than taking the subway.

What is your typical route to Columbia?

I bike over the Brooklyn Bridge, then west across town on Chambers Street, and north on the Hudson River Greenway on the west side. I get off the Greenway at 96th Street, and then I bike up Riverside Drive to 114th Street. Most of my 12-mile route is car-free. The bridge and the Hudson River Greenway are all separated from traffic. Riding with traffic has its risks, but if you ride within your limits and obey traffic laws, it's fine. 

When did you first start riding?

I rode to Columbia for the first time in the days after Hurricane Sandy, but I've been riding fairly regularly for the last year and a half. I commuted by bike previously when I lived in Vermont, although biking there is much different. I had to overcome my own fear and hesitation to begin riding in New York City. Once I tried it, I found that it was not as difficult as I had imagined.

If you weren't riding your bike, would you take the subway?

Yes. I would take the C to the 3 to the 1. It takes about an hour. I ride my bike once or twice a week and take the subway the other days. I definitely prefer riding my bike.

What makes bike riding a better commute for you?

I think it's a really elegant way to travel. It's just me and this very simple machine. Biking puts me in touch with reality, the road, the weather, and things around me in a way that's very different from being in a car or being on the subway. I also like the freedom that comes with riding. I set the pace and choose the route and the bike I want to ride. And, of course, riding by bike is better for the environment than commuting by subway or car.

What were your hesitations when you switched to a bicycling commute? What advice would you give to someone thinking about a bike commute?

Safety was a concern because I’d be riding with cars. My commute is about 25 miles round-trip, and I wondered if I could do it. I tried it, and I found that it was much easier than I had expected.

I have many tips for someone who wants to try bike commuting. I would say that people who are new to commuting by bicycle should start slowly and build confidence and strength. People can start by making shorter trips, perhaps that are unrelated to commuting. Or they could commute to the subway station near their homes so that they can gain experience.

It’s also important to be comfortable on the bicycle, so people ought to choose bicycles that fit them and that are equipped for commuting (fenders, lights, perhaps a rack for a bag). I would also counsel beginner commuters to ride within their limits and control. Just like driving, bike commuters have to be aware of what's happening around them, to anticipate what might happen on the road, and to be prepared to react to those conditions. Commuters must also think what happens once they reach their destinations, like what to do when they get to work sweaty and have to change.

What do you do when you get to work?

This part is also much easier than I had expected. I carry a change of clothes—I hang a bag on my bike that’s called a pannier. I simply wipe down with a towel and change when I get to work. I think it's much simpler and faster than people realize.

How did you determine the best route to work?

A friend who commuted by bike showed me the way, but bike commuters can use any one of several online mapping tools.

How did you pick out your bike?

There are many good bikes, available used or new, for commuting. I ride a Rivendell Sam Hillborne, a do-everything, steel-framed bicycle, which can accommodate fenders and a rack. For commuting, having a steel frame is helpful because it absorbs the shock from the road better than aluminum or carbon. My bicycle is also shaped in way that puts the handlebars slightly higher than my seat. That geometry makes for a comfortable ride over long distances. Racing bikes are the exact opposite; the seat is far higher than the handlebars.

Do you take special care of your bike?

Yes. I think you have to because you rely on it. Bike maintenance is not that complicated, but you do have to take care of your bike for it to do its job. Make sure that the tires are inflated, that the breaks work well, and that the chain is clean and lubricated. Have your local bike shop check your bicycle before you start commuting.

How does increased biking impact our transportation system as a whole?

The more people who commute by bicycle, the less congested our roads, subways, and buses are. Biking, rather than driving, makes for cleaner air and lower carbon dioxide emissions. It can also make for healthier commuters.

What would you say to someone who is hesitant to start a bike commute?

Having experienced the same hesitation, I understand it perfectly. But I also know that overcoming it makes for a great reward. When I ride on the Hudson River Greenway, I see people of all ages riding to work, which suggests that bike commuting can be done safely by anyone. I would also say that there are now more people commuting by bicycle than ever before in New York City because of the good infrastructure for biking here. So if there ever was a good time to ride, this is it.

Author: Maggie Niemiec, Strategic Communications Manager, Campus Services