My Other Car is a Bike:
TSRI Employees Reap Benefits of Two-Wheel Commuting
By Jennifer O'Sullivan
At present writing, Lance Armstrong is poised to win his
fifth straight Tour de France, the final stage of which culminates
with a breakaway through the streets of Paris and the "lap
of honor" down the Champs Elysées lined with throngs
of cheering cycling aficionados. (Bicycling magazine
jests that the principal difficulty of this final stage is
dodging champagne corks.)
There is certainly no other bike ride like le Tour,
and no such fanfare awaits employees of The Scripps Research
Institute (TSRI) who commute to work by bike. However, judging
from the enthusiasm of those who do ride, the last leg to
the office or lab can indeed seem like a victory lap.
Kathleen Keehan, executive director of the San Diego County
Bicycle Coalition (SDCBC), recently spoke at TSRI on "Smart
Cycling" as part of the ongoing Lunch & Learn seminar series.
The talkwhich drew an audience of TSRI employees who
already cycled to work and those who were interested in startingfocused
on the "big questions," namely the reasons to cycle and how
to do it safely.
Einstein and the Environment
People who commute to work by bike do so for a variety of
reasons, which Keehan classified into two groups, personal
Personal reasons for cycling can include saving money on
gas, avoiding traffic, and, in cases where the car is eliminated
completely, saving on the cost of buying, insuring, and maintaining
an automobile. Physical fitness is, of course, high on the
list of reasons to bike. Interestingly, TSRI cyclists often
list the mental benefits of cycling as well, recalling Albert
Einstein's quote that he came up with the theory of relativity
while riding his bike.
Research Computing's Senior Applications Specialist Christoph
Weber, who is a member of SDCBC and who was a moving force
behind Keehan's talk at TSRI, commutes daily from University
City on his bike, 12 miles round trip. "I arrive in the morning
and back home in the evening relaxed and with a clear mind,"
he says. "I sorely miss this on the few days when I drive
my car to work."
Cyclist-commuter Ben Pratt, a first-year graduate student
in the Nicolaou lab who rides five miles, four to five times
a week, echoes this sentiment, observing that he is totally
awake when he gets to work"without coffee." Brian Bothner,
a research associate in Jack Johnson's lab who cycles his
30-mile round-trip commute two to three times a week, describes
the bicycle commute as "a workout/meditation session that
keeps me focused and relaxed."
Indeed, the commute can serve as a primary form of exercise.
"You can get in a workout to and from work," notes Jann Coury,
web producer and publications specialist in TSRI's Office
of Communications. "I live about 16 miles from TSRI, a little
over an hour's bike ride each way. On the way home, the length
of the bicycle commute is only about 15 minutes longer than
the drive. Such a deal! By the time I get home, I'm done working
out and ready for dinner."
Environmental considerations, such as lessening the amount
of air and noise pollution, easing the demand for parking,
minimizing traffic, and curbing dependence on oil, are also
important to many. Bothner asserts, "Bicycles are the most
efficient way for humans to travel, and, other than the manufacturing
process, they're non-polluting."
Bryan Clarkson, a research tech in the Wright lab, agrees.
"I am a big supporter of alternate forms of transportation,
my favorite of which is the bicycle... I've slowly been finding
more and more people in San Diego who share this view, which
is cool considering how car-oriented the city is."
A final reason for cycling, Keehan points out, is one that's
often missed. "People forget that it's fun to tool around
on a bike."
It's All Fun and Games 'Til Someone Breaks a Collarbone
"A good cyclist does not need a high road," Arthur Conan
Doyle once wrote. Regardless of the road traveled, cyclists
take on the responsibilities of riding safely. According to
Keehan, most urban bike crashes involving an injury are the
result of a "single vehicle" collision, for example crashing
as a result of riding through a slick patch of road. The SDCBC
also contends that 18 percent of bike crashes involve a car,
and half of those incidents are determined to be the car driver's
As part of the group's efforts to promote safe bicycle riding,
the SDCBD recommends adhering to the following basic rules:
- Use the right equipment, and make sure it's in good working
order. (An extra tube or patch kit, tire tools, and a bike
pump are considered necessary accessories for the road.)
- Wear a helmet, and make sure it fits properly.
- Follow the rules of the roadride predictably.
- Be visible, especially if you ride after dark.
- Don't ride impaired by drugs or alcohol.
In general, experts agree that bicyclists fare best when
they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles. The problem
is not all drivers act alike, nor do all cyclists. And those
who don't act appropriatelyin other words cyclists who
don't obey traffic signs and signals, and drivers who don't
watch closely and make room for cyclistsmake it difficult
for those who do. The result is a continually tested and sometimes
strained relationship between the two groups, however the
bicycle coalition stresses the cyclists' responsibility in
helping to maintain the safety of everyone on the road.
"It gives the bicyclists a black eye in the community when
people on bikes don't obey traffic signs," Keehan cautions,
and recommends that novice cyclists take the SDCBC's "Bike
Ed" training program, which teaches people to be comfortable
riding in traffic. For those who do know the rules of the
road, Weber's advice is to "ride with confidence and be assertive,
but not aggressive."
To Shower or Not to Shower (That is the Question Your Coworkers
Along with traffic obstacles are other practical considerations
of commuting to work by bikethe early rise, the flat
tires resulting from potholes and debris, traffic signals
that aren't triggered by a bike alone, the weather (tame in
San Diego compared to most parts, but still a factor), and
time constraints, especially in the winter for those who don't
wish to ride in the dark.
In the interest of time management, some commuters choose
a public transitbike combination to get to work. Clarkson,
who was a bike messenger in Los Angeles just before coming
to work at TSRI, cycles daily from his house near SDSU to
downtown San Diego, about seven or eight miles. He then takes
a city bus to UCSD and rides to TSRI from there, making the
total distance on his bike about nine miles one way. "It takes
me about one and a half hours from the time I leave my house
to the time I'm showered and in the lab," Clarkson reports.
"It probably could be a little shorter, but I usually leave
my house early just in case I flat out on the way to the bus."
Once cyclists arrive at TSRI, more considerations awaitnamely,
storing the bike and bathing the bod.
The majority of TSRI employees who bike to work lock their
mode of transport to a bike rack or railing near their lab
building. Most buildings on campus have bike racks nearby,
and installation of a rack at the CarrAmerica (CIMBIO) facility
is scheduled for August. Alternatively, if space is available,
some employees store a bicycle in the lab or office.
"As long as it's not impeding anyone's work or posing a
hazard it's okay," says Ben Morris, vice president of Facilities
Services. Morris stresses, however, that because stairwells
must be kept clear for emergencies, no bike storage is permitted
in campus stairwells.
One major plus for TSRI bicycle-commuters is that many buildings
on campus have shower facilities. Immunology, Stein, MB (which
does require a code to enter), CVN, ICND, MEM, and CarrB all
have locker rooms with showers and are typically stocked with
towels. The administrative manager of the department occupying
the building often assigns the lockers.
Given the traffic in the locker rooms and the number of
bikes one sees locked to the various racks around campus,
there seem to be a fair number of TSRI employees who are biking
The SDCBC estimates that two to four percent of the commuters
on the road on any given day are riding a bicycle. When asked,
most TSRI bicycle-commuters indicate that they cycle both
to and from work at least three times a week. Many do so daily.
Those with a longer commute (15 to 30 miles round-trip) appear
to ride slightly fewer days than those whose commute is between
four and eight miles.
"I have only four and a half to five miles to work so it
feels stupid to get into a car for that short distance," says
Research Associate Per Bengtson, who either runs or rides
to the MEM building four times a week. "Where I come from,
Sweden, most people bike to work or school, even during the
snowy winter. But I guess that the main reason I bike to work
is for fitness and environmental issues. Since I live in Del
Mar it is actually faster for me to get home during rush hours
by bike than by car. In the downhill on North Torrey Pines
Road along Torrey Pines State Reserve there is usually a long
line of cars with one person in each car. I just put on a
big smile as I pass."
Vera Tai, a research assistant in the Ginsberg lab, is also
smiling"Biking is great," she says, "especially in the
fabulous San Diego weather during rush hour!"
So, what are you waiting for? For more information on cycling
in San Diego visit these websites:
The San Diego County Bicycle
RideLink, sponsored by
the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG)
Senior Applications Specialist Christoph
Weber saves the cost of an additional car by biking to work.
Photo by Kevin Fung.
TSRI cyclists sail by rush hour traffic
on Gilman Drive. Photo by Jennifer O'Sullivan.
Many TSRI cyclists store their bikes
on the racks and railing near the Immunology building. Photo
by Jennifer O'Sullivan.