I found this article about bike commuting a few days ago, and found it both quite interesting, and very entertainingly written.
I acquired a secondhand steel frame bike for £50, spruced it up, and set off. I soon got into the swing of cycling the 27 miles (43.5 kilometres) from home in Sheffield, United Kingdom, to work in Chesterfield and back, managing it most days when I wasn’t on call and didn’t have commitments off site. After about six months of commuting I began to wonder whether the one way journey time of about 55 minutes could be reduced. Those in the know suggested a new bike could knock 10% off it.
Evidence based cycling is not high on the bicycle salesman’s agenda. No one will tell you how much more efficient one bicycle is over another; they just say it is better. Making a decision on what was perceived to be best and dreaming of extra time in bed, I looked into the UK government’s Cycle to Work scheme. This scheme allows an employee to purchase a bicycle (up to a cost of £1000 (€1180; $1560)) at a significant discount by using tax incentives, provided the bicycle is used for commuting to and from work. The initiative aims to “promote healthier journeys to work and reduce environmental pollution.”1 However, doubt has been expressed in the popular press regarding whether the new generation of middle aged men in lycra (MAMILs) are actually using their scheme funded bikes to commute or just to gum up the roads (particularly hills) at weekends. The benefits are debatable but attractive, and the scheme has encouraged a lot of people to spend a lot of money on high end bicycles. I purchased a bike at the top end of the cost allowed by the scheme and opted for a carbon frame because it was significantly lighter than my existing bicycle’s steel frame. The wheels were lighter and tyres narrower too. All were factors that made me believe that the extra £950 I had spent would get me to work in a trice.
My new bike seemed wonderful, if somewhat uncomfortable. I didn’t notice a dramatic decrease in commuting time, nor did the cycle computer I had fitted to my new bicycle to record any notably swift journeys. But, one sunny morning, I got to work in 43 minutes, the fastest I could recall. My steel bike was consigned to a corner of the garage to gather dust—until I had a puncture. The next day I was back on my old steel bike. I fitted the cycle computer, set off . . . and discovered I had got to work in 44 minutes. “Hang on,” I thought, “was that minute worth £950 or was it a fluke?” There was only one answer: a randomised trial. I toyed with the idea of blinding it but, in the interest of self preservation and other road users, decided against it.
I now bicycle just about everywhere, and only use the car when I'm carrying lots of groceries or kids; in fact, I'm trying an experiment this fall where I'll be letting a friend use the car for a couple months, and we'll see how well we can do with one vehicle. Mainly I bike for my health, and also to lower my carbon and pollution footprint (which I then more an make up for by grilling, I have no doubt); and I've often wondered if a "faster" bike really would be worth it in my more bike-oriented mode. The answer seems to be, probably not.