September 18, 2009 7:15 PM
During rush hour, H. Mark Stichel says, his 14-mile commute takes about the same time on two wheels as on four — although going home takes a little longer on the bike, because it’s uphill.
His name is H. Mark Stichel, but drivers who take Falls Road to work may know him as that blur on a speeding bike who’s making better time than they are.
Stichel, a litigator with Gohn, Hankey & Stichel LLP in downtown Baltimore, bikes to work two or three days a week from his home in Owings Mills, about 14½ miles away. It takes him under an hour to get to work, a little longer to get back because he’s riding uphill.
“What I discovered is, it didn’t take me much longer to ride my bike to work than it did to drive, especially in rush hour,” Stichel said.
“For an extra 20, 25 minutes, I get a workout,” he said.
Stichel starts his commute at about 8 a.m. on narrow, no-shoulder roads in Baltimore County. The roads’ advantage is that they are lightly trafficked.
After that, Stichel takes Falls Road down through the county and into the city. That road has more cars, but it’s also wider.
He said he gets heckled occasionally by drivers who honk at him or shout things. One man called him a “young punk,” apparently unaware that the “punk” was actually a middle-aged lawyer.
“Do you realize I’m probably older than you are?” Stichel remembers thinking.
Stichel carries no briefcase or backpack with him when he bikes. He keeps a substantial chunk of his wardrobe at the office, and when he gets there, he washes up and changes in the men’s room.
“It would be nice to have a shower” in the building, but “no one’s complained” to him about his post-ride hygiene, he said. That said, he generally doesn’t bike in on days when he has an important meeting.
Stichel, 50, said he’s in much better shape now than he was before 2001, when he began riding to work.
“Before I started riding, I was 20 pounds heavier than I am now,” he said. “I can remember, this was about 10 years ago, [when] I went running after a bus, trudging through an airport with suitcases, I would get out of breath. Now, 10 years later, that doesn’t happen. …”
Stichel was hit by a car once on his way home. He was on Falls Road when a relatively slow-moving car came around a bend and hit him.
“I was just riding along, and all of a sudden I was flying off my bike,” Stichel said.
The driver stayed with Stichel until the police got there. Stichel’s hip was bruised and swollen but nothing was broken, and he broke a tooth, but that was the extent of his injuries.
His bike helmet, on the other hand, was destroyed, reinforcing his fervent belief in wearing one.
“Anyone who looked at that helmet after that accident would never go without a helmet as well,” Stichel said.
Another time, he fell on Saratoga Street, right near his office, because a construction crew had left sand on the road.
Still, he has no plans to stop.
“I would have to say that my family and my partners probably think I’m crazy and roll their eyes about my bike-commuting, but President George W. Bush almost choked on a pretzel while lying on a sofa watching a football game,” he said.