Bicycle Colorado

“One of the best things I’ve done in my life:” Bicycle Colorado member reflects on 10 years of bike commuting

Like so many Coloradans, Bicycle Colorado member Matt Young knows the many benefits of regularly riding his bike, but even he struggles to come up with the words to describe his latest feat: for the last 10 years, Matt has commuted to work at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) exclusively by bicycle or by foot⁠—he hasn’t driven to work since December 30, 2009!

The Bicycle Colorado communications team spoke with him last month ahead of his hitting the 10-year mark about what inspired him to start riding, how he reached this goal and what motivates him to keep going.

Riding to work in high school and around the University of Colorado Boulder in college, Matt naturally progressed to bicycling to work at NREL when he started there in 1998. He continued riding to work occasionally until a Bike to Work Day in the early 2000s. That day, he decided to try to ride more often, setting his sights on an average of once per week over the next year⁠—52 rides.

Matt uses a spreadsheet to record how long his commutes take, as well as information about weather, illness or injury and mechanical issues. He notes that in 2004, he exceeded his goal of 52 bicycle commutes, hitting 54 rides. He doubled this goal for 2005, aiming for 104 bicycle commutes and narrowly missed the mark (102). Back then, he says, he didn’t ride in rain or snow.

Matt’s commutes since December 30, 2009

%

Commutes by Bicycle

%

Commutes by Foot

%

Commutes by Car

He continued to raise his goal number, and in 2009 he drove just five times, the last time being December 30 of that year. He hasn’t driven to work since. Matt says he has put a lot of time into thinking about how to make bicycle commuting possible whatever the situation or conditions. In 2010, he was determined to make it through one year without driving to work. Not only did he succeed then, he hasn’t driven to work since!

I would just say that I’ve loved it. There have been times it hasn’t been great and I’ve done it just to keep the streak alive, like when I’ve been sick. But it’s fun. It’s just a lot of fun.

Matt Young

Matt’s story shows how starting with small goals can lead to big changes. If you want to bicycle more, or to start bicycle commuting, we hope Matt inspires you to make it happen!

Take a look at some excerpts from our conversation with Matt by reading on.

Reasons for choosing to bike commute

You work at NREL. How has climate impacted your decision to ride?

At some point I had a ranking of “this is why I’m riding into work” and at different parts of the journey, those kind of switched around. But, a lot of it was the Iraq War back in 2003, and it just made me sick to my stomach that I felt like I was part of that. And so I was trying to reduce my fossil fuel consumption as much as possible … And then also climate change. I think I wrote my first paper on the greenhouse effect in fourth or fifth grade. There was a group called Future Problem Solvers of America that I got involved in, and that was one of the things that we dealt with … I learned a bit about it then and that kind of struck a chord with me and it still is a large part of every decision I make, trying to minimize footprint.

Editor’s note: in our email exchange organizing this conversation Matt also had this to say:

My personal protest would be to use as little fossil fuel as possible. I’ve also been concerned about global warming/climate change since I was in elementary school. The benefits I didn’t consider at the time, and I know it will come as no surprise to you, biking is FUN! It’s way better than driving. I’m also much healthier and happier.

The best benefit of my job is the commute. How many people can say that?!

What’s your top reason today? Is it hitting 10 years?

Yeah I guess it would be! When it gets to 10 years, then the next year it’ll be 10 years and a day. I’m just so much happier on a bike.

 

 

Bicycling in the rain and snow

[In the past] I would only bike when it was sunny out, but I remember driving into work one time when it was raining and there was a coworker of mine riding into work … I was like, “Oh, there’s Jerry riding in the rain, I’ve got to step it up!”

There have been things like that, that have been motivating factors. I had another coworker who showed up one time, a long time ago, and he had his bike in the lab. It had snowed that day and I asked “You rode your bike today?” and he was like “Yeah, I’ve got studded tires,” and that’s when I first realized that was a thing. It took a few years before I tried it.

I remember there was one time I was riding in the rain and I was northbound on Indiana [Street], almost to work. There’s four lanes of traffic right there, and I was in the second from the right, and somebody comes up alongside me and starts talking, on his motorcycle, and he’s like “Nice day for a ride!”

Rides that he’s loved

I’ve been on Strava for around three years and I have a King of the Mountain for this stretch that I ride all the time on the way home, where if I’ve got the conditions just right, where there’s this screaming wind at my back, I’m flying. I ride my bike not just for commuting, it’s also for fun. I love biking. The commuting has just made it more so.

This year I set a goal to try and mountain bike commute over Green Mountain 50 times … I loved that. Especially on Monday [December 16]. Green Mountain has gotten a lot busier. When I was doing it earlier on, it’d be rare that I would see other people, and now it’s very rare that I don’t see anybody. Monday going home, I was doing it in the dark, and I didn’t see one other person. It was great. I love it. You’re just out there, by yourself, and all you see is the city all around you, and all these people driving, and you’re up there by yourself. It’s really nice.

 

Getting other people to ride

I remembered seeing Jerry that day when I was driving in, riding in the rain, and how he inspired me to do that. So if I’m out there riding in the snow, maybe I can inspire other people to get out of their cars and ride their bike, when it’s at least nice out. Like, “Hey, there’s a guy riding in the snow—I can get out of my car when it’s nice out. I like to bike, [so] why am I not biking?”

Both of my daughters love riding bikes. The younger one likes to ride her bike to school and back. [They are] 15 and 13. My 13-year-old, I think she made it two months into the school year, [and] she had only not ridden once. She had a decent streak going of her own.

Tips for new bike commuters

What would you say to someone who is thinking about biking to work for the first time?

Do it!

Do it but put some planning into it. Make sure you have a good route, and maybe do it on the weekend or something first just to try out different ways. I have a different route I take when it’s snowy versus when it’s nice to mitigate risk. And you need to know how to change a flat, easy mechanical stuff. Have that with you, and don’t pack too much. Have enough gear to fix your bike for different things.

Why he supports Bicycle Colorado

Our records show that you became a member of Bicycle Colorado in 2006.What would you say to someone who is considering becoming a member of BC?

I think it’s great. You have to make a bigger impact. We have to group together. The more people, the louder our voice, the more we can hopefully get done.

Final thoughts

I would just say that I’ve loved it. There have been times it hasn’t been great and I’ve done it just to keep the streak alive, like when I’ve been sick. But it’s fun. It’s just a lot of fun.

I still love riding my bike.

Road Bike Commutes

Mountain Bike Commutes

Run Commutes

Road Bike Miles

Mountain Bike Miles

Run Miles

Total Commutes

Total Miles

Matt celebrates after his ride home from work on December 30, 2019, marking 10 years commuting car-free. 

Want to hear from Matt himself?

Check out his story on 9News!

Interested in bicycle commuting, but don’t know how to get started?
Check out some of our resources here:

Learn to Ride: Whether you’re 8 or 80, Bicycle Colorado’s Learn to Ride lessons are the best way to learn to ride a bike.

Confident Bike Commuting and the Navigator Program: We teach adults how to safely and confidently commute by bicycle!

Active Bike Corridors: Our aim is to get new riders who are curious and new to commuting by bike in Denver on some of the seven high-comfort bike corridors in our city. We are doing this by creating a variety of educational opportunities, offering programming and guided group commuter rides.

Bicycle Colorado

About the Author: Bicycle Colorado

Bicycle Colorado is a 501(c)3 nonprofit based in Denver. We use advocacy, education and passion to make Colorado one of the most bicycle-friendly states in the nation. We encourage and promote bicycling, increase safety, improve conditions and provide a voice for people who ride bicycles in Colorado. With the support of our members and numerous partnerships across the public and private sector, we’ve made significant strides in improving bicycling since 1992.

COMMENTS (4)

- Reply

This is a great story. Matt is a great inspiration. And this article is so well written and presented. Thanks for sharing.

MethodMatt - Reply

How long was his commute to work?

    Jack Todd - Reply

    His commute is 5.5 miles each way.

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