Bicycle-Commuting in South Florida


Riding the bike to my workplace


In February 2005 I relocated from Fargo, ND back down to Wellington, FL. I had quit at Microsoft and joined Citrix in Fort Lauderdale. My daily commute went up almost 20-fold from 1.8 miles to 35 miles, from 0 traffic lights to 45 (unless I take the Turnpike). In short, I would commute as many miles every single work-day as I would in Fargo during one month!

Well, except for those days when I wouldn’t drive to work, but ride my bicycle! I started this mini-adventure back in March and April, when the weather is superb and you get plenty of sunshine with moderate temperatures and low humidity. One such 70 mile round-trip exercise per week is usually enough for me; it helps me get some additional miles in mid-week to stay in better shape for the hard week-end rides along the coastal road A1A with the locals.

As of mid-May the weather changes in South-Florida and you get a hot and humid airmass with almost daily thunderstorms, temperatures between 75 - 95 F and air so sticky you can hardly breathe. Outside of the early morning hours it’s too hot to do anything outside, except perhaps hang out at the beach. For the last 3 months, our weather report (courtesy practically always looked the same, something like this:


After not riding in June or July I decided to give it a go again in August, given that we have some showers at work so I can change from the sweaty bike shirt into normal, casual work cloths. In case there are thunderstorms, I could still always take the Tri-Rail train to cover a good portion of the distance going back…


Wednesday, August 17, 2005: WellingtonFort Lauderdale

The alarm clock goes off at 5:40am. When you want to ride for 2 hours prior to work you just have to get up early! I eat some yoghurt, drink some juice, stow my work necessities in my trusted old back-pack and dress inn my bike outfit. At 6:00am I am ready to roll.

The route I am following down to the Citrix office in Fort Lauderdale from my home in Wellington is vey simple and consists primarily of one road: SR-7/441. I follow 441 straight down South for 30 miles, with the first 2 and the last 3 miles going to and from 441. You don’t exactly need any route-finding skills following one straight-away for 30 miles, and you can’t really get lost either. So the route itself is actually quite boring.

Well, once started I try to get into a good rhythm along the bike-path of this 6 lane divided highway, with moderate amounts of traffic this early in the morning. I have a total of 4 red blinkers on my bicycle to make sure I am not overlooked by sleepy car drivers which are paying more attention to their morning coffees inside the car than in the (unexpected) slow vehicle in the bike-lane outside of the car…

For the first 45 minutes or so I am usually alone with my thoughts barreling down South on 441 with few interruptions or stops. There are only 4 traffic lights in the first 15 miles or so, one stretch of 8 miles has no traffic lights at all. Usually there is also very little wind in the pre-dawn morning.

Needless to say that I work up a sweat right away, almost from the moment you step outside the garage into the tropical hot and humid air. Even the water bottles are dripping “sweat”, as their refridgerated content cools the moist air and condensates the water out of the air, which causes some occasional dripping on the lower legs.

When there is a red light, I slow down and roll up to the line with the cars and trucks waiting in front of me.

The road is still wet in some places from nightly showers. As a matter of fact, I will later come across a mile or two where the tall cloud (faintly visible in the above picture) just rained out in the morning a little while ago and the road is wet. My front wheel splashes the water against the bike frame and from there it sprays on my shoes which are quickly soaking wet – the rest of the ride with wet shoes and socks!

While I am pushing ahead alone with my thoughts in between groups of cars the morning dawns and the sky turns light blue and pink to the East. I continue down the bike-path, as I said: No route finding skills required here!

After a while I find a mailbox to the right of the road which I can use as a tripod for a self-timed picture.

It is almost 7:00am. The cloud-tops are already bathed in orange sunlight, so I will soon have full daylight and be able to turn off the blinkers. My trip is roughly divided in two pieces. The first half from Wellington to Boca Raton at about Yamato road is really nice: Wide road and shoulders, good bike lane, moderate traffic, very few traffic lights. Further South there are many main East-West arteries like Glades, Palmetto and Hillsboro road, followed by the Palm Beach to Broward county line, Sawgrass Expressway, Sample road and many more bigger roads in Fort Lauderdale. This second half has so many traffic lights and much more traffic; unfortunately there are some stretches with narrow or no bike-lane, which makes it quite dangerous to ride there. Simply put, many drivers neither expect nor respect any bicycle traffic on this road in this section!

Increased concentration and very passive and anticipatory riding is required to minimize the obvious risks of getting constantly bypassed and occasionally cut off.

In between this rushing river of vehicles, there are some serene moments of beauty, for example when watching one’s shadow stretching out to the right across the grass, or along the concrete of the Sawgrass Expressway overpass.

In fact, on the rides in March and April I would see sunrise and sunset practically every time with my shadow cast out some 50-100 ft to my ride – going South in the morning and North in the evening. If I were to put on sunscreen I would only use it on the left side of my body!

Due to the many stop lights it often happens that I see the same cars 2-3 times: They pass me and arrive at a red light which forces them to stop. While they wait I arrive there and roll past them all the way up to the line. Sometimes this pattern repeats itself a few times with the same cars, which invariably leads some drivers to get frustrated about their not progressing any faster than a bike rider… Many of them stare at me while I stop at the line and have a drink from my bottle or take a quick snap-shot:

At 7:30am I reach the overpass of 441 over Sample road, the high point of my ride at perhaps 20 ft above the ground level. I stop to take some pictures as this is the only opportunity to see a bit of my surroundings.

I also play with the self-timer to take a picture of myself riding; this requires a sequence of finding the right spot to put the camera down, setting the controls, pushing the button and then getting in position by riding back some 30 ft, turning around and approaching again, all within about 5 seconds! After three attempts I get a good one:

The road gets busier and busier, until it seemingly can get no worse at the intersection of 441 with Commercial Boulevard, my turn-off to the East. I get there around 8:00am. Riding a bicycle here among 6-8 lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic is not for the faint of heart!

I certainly don’t want to be a bike messenger in one of the big cities like New York, Chicago or Boston who deliver packages in the inner city and essentially ride this sort of traffic all day. Insane! (Check books like “The Immortal Class: Bike Messengers and the Cult of Human Power” if this interests you.) This is about as antidotal to my lonely midwest rides (like the Fargo-Winnipeg rides) as you can get!

Not long after I turn East on Commercial I reach the Spectrum complex which hosts the Citrix offices for our Engineering department. A colleague who just parks the car strikes up a surprised conversation and then takes this picture:

I “park” my bicycle in my office, take a shower, change and then start a long day at the office. At least sitting through the many meetings is a bit easier to do when you already have 35 miles in your leg muscles J!

Luckily there are no thunderstorms near the coast today, only some far to the West of us over the central South-Florida region. At 6:00pm I reverse the dress code back to the bike shirt and pants and start again towards home at 6:15pm. The heat is on and the sun is super-bright now.

At least the sun is already getting lower so the chance for sunburn is reduced. I am lucky also with the wind, which is blowing at 10 mph from the South-East, i.e. diagonally from the back. This helps me on the way back home, even though it’s of course not nearly as strong a push as the 30+ mph wind on my Iowa-to-Canada downwind orgy.

Soon I get to the overpass again. Looking East I can see the traffic on Sample road as well as the regional garbage dump, highest point in our flat landscape within probably 100+ miles, thus know to the locals under the nickname of “Mount Trashmore”. (Click here for a 2002 trip report and photos of the real “Mount Rushmore” in South Dakota.)

As the sun sinks lower and the shadows grow longer, there is one distraction high up in the air: An airplane paints letters into the sky high above the ground, which reveals a widely visible form of advertisment. You often read strings like “U + God = J” or “Jesus © U” with the heart-symbol of love as in this case.

Once I reach Yamato road I get into the second half of this leg or the last quarter of my daily distance. Unlike further South, where you have so many stop lights that it’s hard to find and keep any rhythm, up here you can hunker down on the tribars and just pound away. I somehow enjoy those stretches the most, when you don’t have to pay much attention at all to the road and your mind can wander.

(Stopping for the self-timer photograhy routine is a bit unusual and takes some time, but then without it there wouldn’t be those pictures!)

As the clock approaches 8:00pm I notice the nearly full moon rising in the East while the setting sun casts long shadows of the tall Cumulonimbus far to the West into the Eastern sky. This almost looks as if my helmet protects me from bumping into the moon ;-)

Not long after this I get back up to Wellington, turn West on Lake Worth road and arrive back home at 8:10pm. Some 14 hours after I took my bike out of this garage, after 3 hr 40 mins of riding, 20 mins of traffic lights and 10 hrs of office day I am back home.

As I jump into the swimming pool in our back-yard with my son Philip and as we gaze up to the moon and the stars I certainly don’t think of the work-day anymore. Riding like this has a refreshing effect on my brain. The work at the office now has time until tomorrow, when sitting all day will feel like a well-deserved rest after all…