Special to the Reporter
On the recent National Bike to Work Day, hundreds of Microsoft employees participated in the annual local event, which featured a free catered breakfast, bike repair stations and a plethora of cycling giveaways, such as patch kits, drawings for gift cards, bike lights and more.
“It’s our way of thanking employees who bike to work as well as an open invitation to others to give it a try,” said Brian Crockford, senior services manager, Microsoft Real Estate. “Most start by commuting once or twice a week, and gradually increase from there.”
The event has become so popular in recent years, it is hosted at two locations at the same time: One at the West Campus on the Commons, and the other at East Campus on Sports Field #3, just north of Building 8.
According to internal surveys, about four percent of employees on Microsoft’s main campus bike to work on a regular basis. In the fall and winter, the number drops to hundreds of riders each day. However, during spring and summer, those numbers can soar into the thousands. Overall, approximately 1,800 Puget Sound-based Microsoft employees commute by bike every day — rain or shine.
Meet Shaun Ivory, a lead software developer. With the exception of six weeks when he was recovering from a broken collarbone, Ivory has only driven to work four times since Aug. 2, 2014. You might think Ivory is a semi-professional athlete, but you’d be wrong.
Ivory took his first 9.4-mile bike ride to Microsoft from his home in Cottage Lake three years ago. He chose to try it on a Saturday, just in case he couldn’t make the whole distance and needed his wife to pick him up. After climbing to the top of the 520 Highway hill, he thought he couldn’t make it. He called his wife and said, “I need you to come get me. I might not make it.” He had reason to be concerned; years of long hours and sedentary work had him tipping the scales at 265 pounds, and he didn’t think he had the capacity to make the ride.
Ivory survived that day — and the next — and continued to bike to work nearly every day since. He has dropped 85 pounds. Today, he weighs 180 pounds and attributes a great deal of his weight loss to the 10- to 14-mile daily ride to and from work.
“Cycling changed my life,” said Ivory. He tells people, “There’s no such thing as a bad day on a bicycle. I’d rather sit on a bike on a cold, rainy day than sit in a car in stop-and-go traffic.” For him, biking to work is a fairly efficient commute of 30 to 45 minutes. Yet, that same commute by car would take him 30 minutes — minus the workout.
While some Microsoft employees bike to work by choice, others do it more by necessity. Take Lisa Guthrie. She’s a principal software engineering lead and a mother of four kids who lives near campus. The Guthries have two cars. Her husband uses one car to drive to work, while their au pair uses their second car to drive the kids during the day. When Guthrie was promoted to an office-based role from a previous work-from-home position, she faced a choice: Buy a third car to drive to work, or start commuting by bike. Biking won.
Each morning, her commute starts by riding with her two oldest kids to school, on either a tandem bike or a cargo bike. After dropping the kids off at school, she tows their bikes behind her as she rides on to Microsoft.
“It’s just such a seamless part of our lives,” said Guthrie. “It’s how we get around now, and I love it. Even when we have an extra car to use, I still end up biking. Why not? It’s easy, it’s fun, and you get out in the sunshine. It makes me feel like a kid again — on my way to work. I don’t get that in a car.”
According to Guthrie, riding is also more efficient than driving for her. The road routes near her home, school, and job aren’t nearly as direct as the bike paths. “Biking is faster for me. I can zip over to school or home in no time.”
Supporting diehard biking enthusiasts and novices on Bike to Work Day isn’t the only way Microsoft is encouraging commuting on two wheels. The company puts a lot of resources behind its bike commuters and commuting programs in general. For employees who ride to work regularly, they have two free bike tune-ups every fiscal year, which is a $120 value. Plus, there’s the $900-a-year Stay Fit allowance each employee can spend on fitness-related expenses, including bike repairs, upgrades and purchases. There’s also the Bicycle Commuter Reimbursement program that compensates employees $20 a month ($240 a year) for choosing to commute entirely by bike instead of using public transit and Connectors. Add to that secure bike cages, hot showers, towels and lockers that await bike commuters after a sweaty ride, there aren’t too many excuses left not to try it at least once.
But what if you live in an area that isn’t exactly bicycle friendly or that’s too far a commute to ride a bike? To help commuters travel to campus, Microsoft operates a shuttle with a 12-bike trailer. Those with a combination bus-bicycle commute can use a free Orca card to pay their bus fare. Plus, all Sound Transit and King County Metro-operated buses and shuttles are installed with bike racks. When you combine that with Microsoft’s Connector, shuttles, carpool parking, van pool subsidies, personalized commute planning, and guaranteed ride home service, driving seems less appealing than ever.