cities. physics. food. environment. fatherhood.
Random header image... Refresh for more!

Category — Brompton

Brompton: report on the commute

The short answer is that my new Brompton has substantially improved my commute. The combination of Brompton and Metrorail is by far the fastest way for me to get to work without a car. It gives me more freedom than the all-Metro commute, in which I was tied to the (unreliable) bus schedule. And it isn’t as grueling as the all-bicycle commute.

The one part of the commute that is longer is the first part, taking my son to his day care. It’s on the way to the Metro, but instead of simply pushing him in his stroller, I have to push his stroller and haul my bike at the same time. I’ve become somewhat adept at the one-handed stroller push, so that I can walk my bike with my other hand. It’s faster than leaving my bike at home and going back for it, but slower than just pushing the stroller.

On the return trip, though (my wife picks up Matthew in the evening), cycling the 3/4 mile between the Metro and our house is much faster than walking, or calling home to get a ride.

As folding bicycles are rather rare, I am frequently asked about it. A friend of mine once observed that Americans, in particular, have a tendency to ask how much you paid for something: this is certainly true of the Brompton. Complete strangers are often most interested in how much it cost me and have no hesitation about asking. I’m also asked where I got it, and I’ll go into a little spiel about going to New York City to buy it, and that College Park bicycles says they carry it but never have any in stock but they do have other, cheaper brands, and a new place in Vienna [Virginia] now carries them. I really should print up a bunch of cards listing the stores to give to others who might be interested in folding bicycles.

Although it’s certainly easier to wrangle than a full sized bicycle, the Brompton is more “luggable” than portable, so it’s as awkward as any other piece of luggage on the Metro. As such, my seat preferences have shifted. On the red line, I used to try to get a window seat with a view of the Amtrak yards; now I prefer to be at the ends of the car. Going home, I’ll try to board last, so I can stand near the doors. The doors open on the right at Gallery Place, and at the next stop (Judiciary Square), which tends to have very light traffic. After that, the doors open on the left all the remaining stops, including Brookland, so I can stay out of everyone’s way near the left-hand door.

I take different routes going to work and coming home. The natural Metro stop would be Anacostia: this is where I caught the A4/A5 bus that took me to work, and it’s a short and flat trip to the northern entrance of the swath of government facilities through which I ride. When I ride home, I ride to Anacostia, a 3.8 mile trip. But for the trip to work, I’ve come to prefer to ride one more stop to Congress Heights, for a slightly shorter 3.5 mile bike ride, which includes a long downhill stretch (which would, of course, be uphill on the way back). The first two weeks of the Brompton, I alternated between these two routes to work, and I think it’s about 4 minutes faster to ride to Congress Heights.

The all-bicycle commute is 10.2 miles: at this distance, one really wants to wear separate cycling clothes, and probably shower at the end of the ride. On the way to work, this just shifts the shower to the health club at work, but on the way back it would add to the trip, but in any case even changing clothes adds time. The three and a half miles from Metro to work is short enough so that I don’t feel a change of clothes is necessary.

The steps of my commute are now:

  1. unfold bicycle
  2. ride to Brookland Metro
  3. fold bicycle
  4. lug bicycle through faregates to platform
  5. wait for train
  6. ride to Gallery Place
  7. lug bicycle to Green line platform
  8. wait for train
  9. ride to Congress Heights
  10. lug bicycle through faregates outside
  11. unfold bicycle
  12. ride to work
  13. park bicycle

I include many of these steps, which might take a minute or two, to emphasize the fact that they do add up: five steps that take two minutes each means ten minutes. In a sense 10 minutes isn’t a terribly long time, but psychologically the difference between a 45 and a 55 minute commute is huge.

The other point with all the steps is that I don’t have any big contiguous block of time along the trip, so (say) trying to read is really not feasible. When I did Metrorail and Metrobus, I’d usually pick up the Washington Post Express and work the Sudoku, and listen to podcasts on my iPod. No time for the Sudoku now, and I have much less iPod listening time, so I’m down to a handful of podcasts.

Folding or unfolding the bike takes less than a minute, unless someone has asked about the bike and I’m sort of narrating the process and giving a demonstration.

Step 12 above is reliably 20-25 minutes, depending on the wind, traffic lights, how much air is in my tires, how heavy my bag is, and how willing I am to work up a sweat. I’ve done the ride in less than 20 minutes, but during much of the summer I prefer not to. According to WMATA, step 6 above takes 8 minutes, and step 9 takes 12 minutes. 

All total, the whole trip–office to front door–can be done in 50-55 minutes. I think that 45 might be possible, if I have a tailwind and no red lights, and have no waits for trains. But I’ve found, though, that I’ve become a much more relaxed commuter. No longer worried that I might miss a bus by a minute or two, which would mean I’d have an extra 20 minute wait, I don’t feel as compelled to rush for trains as I used to. And especially in the summer, I’ve found that a leisurely pace ensures that I feel comfortable without a change of clothes.

September 21, 2008   8 Comments