With annual sales of nearly $5 billion and 20,000 employees worldwide, Rockwell Collins is among the top manufacturers of aviation electronics and communication systems globally. But, at their Cedar Rapids, Iowa, headquarters, the Fortune 500 company has its wheels firmly on the ground, making bicycling an appealing and efficient option for its 9,000 local employees.
This week, Rockwell Collins was awarded a Bronze Bicycle Friendly Business designation and we wanted to hear from some of the folks who have capitalized on the company’s improvements and made a commitment to bike to work. Why do they ride? How have they benefited? What company facilities and encouragement have proved most helpful? Read on for the insight of four Rockwell employees — and cyclists.
Why did you start commuting to work by bicycle?
Nikki- Rockwell Collins had a number of employees who biked to work on occasion. In 2008, during the flood and the very high gas prices, a concerted effort was launched to focus on biking initiatives. A few like-minded people gathered, sought and gained executive sponsorship, and promoted biking to work in 2009 — not just to the greater Cedar Rapids Rockwell Collins employees, but also to the enterprise at large.
Richard- I began regular commuting by bicycle during the gasoline price spike in the summer of 2008, primarily over frustration about gas prices, but also out of frustration about continued inaction on climate change.
Mike- Commuting to work by bicycle has been something I’ve done since high school.
Have you experienced any economic benefits from biking to work?
Nikki- I LOVE not having to fill up my car on a weekly basis. But I portray myself as a “fair‐weather” cyclist, and ride 2‐3 days per week, sometimes as many as five days in the summer and less than that in our winter. But, even saving a little, I feel like I’m a poster child that anyone can do it when it works out. Small steps become bigger steps. I did finally take the challenge to bike when it’s cold in the winter, and that was also a doable commute for me, as well.
Sarah- Definitely. It’s a 23-mile round trip to work, which equates to about a gallon of gas. I typically ride in to work, on average, 2 to 3 days each week, all year round, as long as it’s not raining or snowing !
Richard- Absolutely. I’ve averaged more than 1,300 miles commuted by bike each of the past three years. The savings have more than paid back the cost of the commuter bike I purchased at the beginning of 2009.
Did saving money contribute to your decision to commute by bicycle?
Nikki- It did contribute to me riding, but more importantly for me, I liked exercising and the fresh air, and mental freshness I have when commuting by bicycle.
Sarah- A little, but the overriding reason for commuting by bike was to increase my fitness level and have some mental “free time” to think and enjoy the surroundings on the way to work.
Mike- Riding a bicycle saves me about $10/week nowadays. I can usually count on biking more than half the time between March and December, so overall it saves hundreds of dollars per year.
Have you experienced health benefits?
Nikki- Yes, although I can’t quantify it. I know I’m burning more calories when cycling, and I also enjoy the mental health benefits. We do have employees here who have lost weight as a result of cycling.
Sarah- Yes. Fitness and endurance have both benefitted. I also appreciate the effects on alertness and mental focus that early morning exercise provides for the entire day.
Mike- In the 30+ years since college, my weight has only gone up 15 pounds, and my blood pressure remains low. I feel better overall on days that I can bike to work
Richard- Although it wasn’t an original goal of mine, I have experienced health benefits, and this is now a reason for continuing my bike commuting. My employer offers free cholesterol and glucose screenings annually, and after several years of seeing my numbers heading in the wrong direction, I have seen them stabilized well within the norms.
Do you feel that bicycle commuting is an achievable goal for other businesses in the surrounding area?
Nikki- YES! If more people tried it they would see it as doable, especially when they can be mentored by another cyclist. We get alot of questions about routes, so when people know there is a doable route, they are more inclined to ride.
Sarah- Absolutely. We have a number of trails which link to businesses via good roads, which do not suffer from very heavy traffic. It just takes a small amount of time to find a route that works for each individual.
Mike- Yes, for many people biking to work at least once or twice a week is very doable.
Richard- It is very achievable, especially during the summer months.
How would they advise employers to encourage bicycle commuting?
Nikki- Actively support biking initiatives. We have an executive sponsor who has believed in our endeavors, and cycling has increased tremendously. It is also talked about more as well, leading to others becoming interested. Secure parking for bikes and showers are a plus, and some of our locations have that, or some part of that. The more secure parking the better.
Sarah- Employer support should be visible, both at events and in company magazines/newsletters. In particular, facilities should be provided to encourage bicycling to work (e.g. secure parking, showers) and remove any doubts or insecurities employees may have about taking their bike to work.
Mike- Employers should place bike racks in convenient locations (CVS/Pharmacy, Barnes and Noble, others, are you listening?) Employers should consider changes to dress codes and encourage office cultures to be a little less formal on some days. Employers, employees and local government should publicize bike‐safe alternative routes that parallel busy main roads.
Richard- I would advise area employers to reach out to the city’s Bike Advisory Committee to obtain information and support.
Are there any particular features of Rockwell Collins that they feel make commuting by bicycle so doable?
Nikki- There are flexible start times at Rockwell Collins which helps. There are accessible cross streets that make our facility commute worthy, and some of our facilities are near residential areas that also increases the possibility of riding.
Sarah- Flexible start times. Parking (although not covered). Company restaurant open for breakfast. Support and encouragement from the Rockwell Collins bicycling community.
Mike- Rockwell Collins Bike Community activities; wellness initiatives; bike racks placed near building entrances; shower facilities in new buildings.
Richard- Our bicycling group’s steering committee is relentless in organizing activities ‐‐ particularly informational sessions on commuting. The group also partners with other organizations and the city to provide information and encouragement for bike commuting. Our company’s intranet also has a fairly prominent link to the biking group’s web page.
Carolyn SzczepanskiCarolyn joined the League in March 2012, after two years at the Alliance for Biking & Walking. In addition to managing the League's blog, magazine and other communications, Carolyn organized the first National Women's Bicycling Summit and launched the League's newest program: Women Bike. Before she crossed over to advocacy, she was a professional journalist for nearly 10 years.