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Bike Commuter

Michelle Ellis

Position: Program Coordinator, Columbia University Law School
Campus: Morningside
Commute mode: bike
Home: Central Harlem
Door-to-door commute: 20 minutes


How did you start bike riding in the city?

I got into bike riding in 2013; I rented a bike when my niece came to visit me. I had not ridden a bike in 30 years, but my niece and I rented bikes and the rest is history.

Tell me about making the transition from riding in peaceful Central Park to riding on the busy city streets.

I just did it. City biking is about being smart and knowing that even though you have the right-of-way, a truck is still bigger than you. I learned you can’t ride on the sidewalk, and you need to have lights and a horn. 

How did you determine your best route to work?

You can look at Google Maps and find out where the bike lanes are. But you have to do what works for you. I take a route that’s a little less direct but has less traffic. Some people may feel that my way is kind of out of the way—I bike up Morningside Drive instead of Amsterdam Avenue. There’s a lot more city traffic on Amsterdam Avenue as opposed to Morningside Drive. It’s worth it to me to go a little out of the way.

What do you wear on your bike ride?

I wear casual athletic pants with a light hoodie and gym shoes. I keep my clothes in my bag, and I put the bag in a basket on my bike.

What do you do once you get to the office?

When I get to work, I change. I don’t need to shower because I don’t sweat. You know, I’m not riding like Lance Armstrong (laughs). I’ll lock my bike up downstairs and change in the restroom before starting work.

How often do you commute on your bike?

Anytime it's above 40 degrees. Anything less than that, I won’t ride. And I’m from Chicago! I ride up to 87 degrees. I don’t ride when it’s raining or if it’s snowing. I would say 80 percent of the time, I commute by bike. I also love to spend Saturdays out on the Hudson River Greenway, just riding for hours. I love it.

What makes biking so much better than the subway or bus?

Biking is the fastest commute for me. It takes me 20 minutes, instead of 35 minutes on the bus. I avoid the hustle and bustle of rush hour on the subway or bus.

Biking allows me to really interact with the community, and I can ride down different avenues that I would not normally see. There's so much you miss when you're taking a bus or subway. Biking really gives me a lot more flexibility, and I really enjoy the surroundings. I appreciate the commute a lot more.

What was the process of purchasing your bike?

Well, I really wanted to get one that’s called a Cannondale. That’s a $900 bike. Instead I decided to rent a bike just to see if bike commuting is something I want to do. That way I could get used to a bike, and if I’m still riding after six months, then I know this is something I will adhere to.

I continued to ride, and then after six months I went to a bike store downtown that was getting rid of all their summer rental bikes. They were selling them dirt cheap. I got a bike for $200, and after riding it, I fell in love with it. The more I started riding it, the more I was realized biking is my identity. And everybody knows I have the bike with a basket! (laughs)

How do people react when you tell them you’re a bike commuter?

They’re shocked. I try to tell everyone to bike whenever they can. A lot of people say they have not ridden a bike in a long time, but 2013 was the first time for me in 30 years. 

When I first got my bike, I was biking everywhere. I’d go down to Battery Park, and then I’d ride on the George Washington Bridge. I've lived here 16 years, and I never saw the city like this until I was biking. I love it.

What’s your advice for people who would like to try bike commuting?

I tell people all the time, if you’re apprehensive about riding, then rent a bike. I was able to find a place to rent for $40 for the whole weekend. And that’s what I did for a couple months actually. I would rent a bike every weekend to see if this was something I wanted to do or if it was just going to be a hobby. Well, I fell in love with it. Every Saturday, 6 o’clock, I’m on the Hudson River Greenway riding for hours.

Author: Maggie Niemiec, Strategic Communications Manager, Campus Services