Biking to Work in Los Angeles: An Experiment in Mustachianism

I’ve been reading Mr. Money Mustache’s blog for quite some time now and I’ve been really intrigued by his worldview. So much so that I am trying to incorporate various aspects of what he preaches into my own life. And if there’s one thing that’s absolutely central to his personal finance philosophy/lifestyle, it’s biking. He essentially views biking as a way of life. If you’re interested in his biking philosophy, here are two articles I recommend checking out:

The Challenge

Bike to and from work every day in Los Angeles, the freeway capital of the world. It’s roughly 7 miles one-way, making for a 14-mile roundtrip.

The Motivation

After reading plenty of MMM’s posts, I can basically condense the merits of biking down to four points:

  • It’s far more affordable than driving. When we drive, we often only think of the gas money needed to get from point A to point B. But it’s also important to think of all the other costs that go into driving a car: monthly payments, insurance, wear and tear, depreciation, maintenance, etc. I bought a used car so I’ve been able to pay it off faster which saved me lots of money that would have otherwise gone to interest. Still, I have to take into account all the other payments I just mentioned. You can use this calculator, to get a rough estimate of just how much commuting costs you in the long run.
  • It’s good for your health. I currently live about 7 miles away from work. When I was picking an apartment, I did keep in mind the fact that I might want to start biking to work. The place I got was a little farther than I was hoping but it’s certainly doable. According to Google Maps, it takes about 35 minutes one-way to bike to work if I’m going at a pace of 12 MPH. With driving, it usually takes me about 15 minutes to get to work and about 21 minutes to get back. That means the difference between me biking to work and me driving to work is ~34 minutes — the length of a daily cardio workout. So really I’d just be getting my commute and workout all-in-one while saving money! Hooray!
  • It’s less taxing on the environment. This one is pretty self-explanatory, but if you want more details, the same calculator I linked above also gives you estimates for your CO2 emissions for your commute.
  • But more important than all of these reasons, MMM believes that biking changes the way you think about life. A pretty big claim but he puts it like this:

“A bike-based lifestyle is an all-encompassing change for the better. It’s like rolling back the past hundred years of humanity’s clueless paving-over of the surface of the Earth, without having to sacrifice a single benefit of modernization….

A bike is really an automatic life balancing machine, passively creating harmony in your life better than even the bossiest life coach could hope to do. You’re automatically forced every day to venture just a tiny bit out of your Comfort and Wussiness Zone. Suddenly you are blessed with the opportunity to use your mind and actually strategize just a bit each time you venture out…”

The Preparation

To prepare for this journey, I of course had to first purchase a bike. One thing that MMM stresses is to not stress over your first bike. The reason is that when are first getting into biking, you can spend forever trying to optimize what bike you get but when you’re first starting out, just getting a bike should be your primary goal.

With this in mind, I went to my local bike shop and asked them for a road bike. He showed me one or two and I really just picked the one that I thought looked cooler and was within my budget. I tested it out around the block and asked him to change my seat height a little and then I purchased it! Easy as that.

I got the Atlas Poseidon in the size medium (I am 5’6″). It cost $449 which, to me at least, was quite expensive given that I had only ever had one other bike in my life. It was when I was little when my dad was first teaching me how to ride a bike. It was from Toys R Us and I think it probably cost around $60. So $449 for a bike was definitely a lot for me. But I figured this is an investment and it will pay for itself in no time with all the money I’ll be saving from not driving.

First Impressions

I decided I’d first get a taste of biking to work by doing a practice bike ride on a weekend. I then officially biked to work for the first time a few days ago. Here were some of my first impressions, including the good, the bad, and the ugly:

  • It’s exhilarating! The sense of liberation that comes from being on the road without a car is kind of indescribable.

    The mysterious “Bike Route” signs I kept seeing everywhere. I had never noticed these before while driving.
  • It’s also scary. I am still definitely a little (read: very much) on edge when riding my bike on the road. Being surrounded by and exposed to cars going at much higher speeds than you in the middle of a big road is a little intimidating. Switching lanes can also present its own set of challenges. This can all be quite mentally draining.
  • I can’t depend on Google Maps. I’ve grown so dependent on Google Maps that I can probably get lost within my own neighborhood. With biking, unless you have one of those fancy phone holders (which I don’t), you can’t really be constantly whipping your phone out of your pocket to check when the next right turn is coming. This means that if it’s your first time going somewhere on a bike, you have to heavily rely on your own sense of direction, memory, and alertness to get places efficiently.
  • I pay a lot more attention to what’s happening outside. It’s a lot nicer to not be confined by a car when you’re outside. You feel a lot more connected to pedestrians, roads, buildings, cyclists, nature and other people and things in general. On the first weekend I biked on the road, I saw people coming out of mass at a local Hispanic church and I could feel the sense of family and community radiating out of the people and the church. It was lovely.
  • Roads suck. I didn’t realize how much roads suck until I biked. The little inconsistencies and mini potholes aren’t very noticeable when I’m driving but they sure make all the difference when I’m biking.
  • I felt clueless. I had no idea what I was doing most of the time or what the appropriate cycling “etiquette” was. Google, experience, and friendly advice are going to be my best friends for the next few weeks.
  • It was painful. I didn’t really anticipate this part of bike commuting. I was actually sore for a few days after my first bike ride. It’s also important to note that female riders have lots of problems with saddles since most saddles are made for men by default. There are lots of resources out there on what saddles work best for women and how to fit your bike to your needs so I’d recommend doing some research on that.
  • I am a lot nicer to cyclists on the road now when I drive. That’s not to say I wasn’t before but I would often get impatient with them. I’m happy to report that this is no longer the case.
  • Not worrying about parking is enough reason to not drive places in my opinion — especially in a city like L.A. where trying to find parking is basically half the battle of getting somewhere.
  • Lights are essential. I had not been anticipating having to ride in the dark just yet so I put off getting my bike lights. Bad idea. On my first day riding my bike to work, I had a meeting run late which resulted in me leaving work just as the sun was setting. I was very stressed out and miserable the whole way back thinking a car was going to hit me because they couldn’t see me. Get. Lights.


My very short experience with bike commuting thus far has been…interesting. I’ve enjoyed it but I still need to work out some kinks. Namely, I need to GET LIGHTS and ride more often so it’s not as mentally and physically taxing. I’m happy to say that I have already ordered my lights off Amazon and they should be coming in this week so I can safely start biking again very soon!

I do think it would be cool if I get to the point where I can easily bike 15 MPH because that would make my bike ride about 28 minutes which would be amazing!

If biking to work is an option for you, I’d recommend giving it a try! If not, maybe try biking to your local grocery store or nearby park. Overall, I think incorporating even the smallest amount of biking into daily life is better than nothing.

Happy, safe biking, everyone! 🙂


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