I was reading a post over on Lovely Bicycle the other day about the "Bicycle Friendly Workplace," which I thought was really interesting. Normally, when folks want a more "bicycle-friendly" employer they're talking about having showers at work, or secure parking. But it also got me thinking that on very rare occasions when employers actively oppose biking to work.
Most folks opinions of bicycle commuters is pretty neutral, they don't care about how you get to work, and most employers don't really care about your biking as long as you're there on time. Every now and then, though, you run into a boss who will object to your chosen mode of transportation. Usually these objections fall into a few recurring categories:
- It doesn't mesh with the company image: Riding a bike is viewed as somehow undesirable and the boss worries clients won't take you seriously if you're seen commuting to work under your own power. This is pretty rare, but it does come up. Another variant has to do with the politicization of bicycle commuting in some circles, where it's viewed as a "tree-hugging liberal" activity that doesn't go with the company culture. For either of these to be overt is very rare, but in a more subtle form, supervisors or co-workers may view you as somehow odd or different, which affects interactions within work. It's dumb, and fortunately rare, but it happens.
- Safety/Liability objections: Some people get it in their head that riding a bicycle on the road is a highly dangerous activity, and will say they worry about you getting killed or injured on your way to work. While the numbers might show that you're far more likely to get hurt in a traffic accident while driving to work, the perception is still there that if you're not surrounded by a ton of metal you're taking wild risks. While a supervisor may give voice to this kind of objection in a workplace environment, but not be able to do anything about it, this kind of thinking has led to a number of school districts banning kids from riding bicycles to school.
- You'll be late/call out more: When you fill out a job application, there is often a question along the lines of "do you have reliable transportation?" While I'm often tempted to say "my legs work fine" or something similar, most employers actually mean "do you have a car?" Telling employers you plan to ride a bicycle will often solicit questions like "what will you do when it rains?" since some folks who don't ride regularly can't imagine that riding a bike in anything but ideal weather is near impossible. Oddly enough, some bosses expect you to have more trouble getting in on time if you bike, even though bikes are far less susceptible to the vagaries of traffic than automobiles.
- You'll be sweaty/disheveled/smelly: this speaks for itself. If it's hot out, you're going to get sweaty. Which means you'll probably want to use deodorant, and maybe change your shirt in the bathroom before punching in. For some reason the idea that you can get to work five minutes early and clean up in the bathroom never occurs to some bosses.
- Your bike will be parked in the way/will get stolen and you'll hold the company responsible: Great employers will let you bring your bike inside the building and put it somewhere safe, but most of them won't. Some employers will even complain about you locking up your bike on company property, because it's in the way, or might attract bike thieves, or simply doesn't look classy enough for the office (which is funny, considering my bike is WAY shinier and classier looking that my beat-up pickup truck).
Ideally, you'll never run into any of these at your job, as they're increasingly rare, but it's always something to watch out for.