Three children, a ruptured disc, and open heart surgery are not enough to keep Sean Cryan off his bike. The cheerleader of Team MITHUN in the Group Health Commute Challenge, Sean advocates sustainability on and off the bike.
Occupation: Senior Associate, MITHUN
Hometown: Somerset, New Jersey
Alma Mater: Parsons School of Design at the American College in Paris
Commute Distance: 13 miles round trip from Ballard to Pier 56 (3x/week)
Your MITHUN Team took honors at this year’s Commute Challenge?
Every year, we’ve won the “highest percentage of bike commuters for a firm over 100 employees.” We started with 24% of employees biking to work during the Challenge; this year, with 195 employees, 37%  participated in the challenge. We’ve also won the award for the greatest number of new bike commuters.
How are you so successful?
Luckily, ten employees volunteered to be team captains this year. It was my first year without my own official team. I’ve volunteered for Peter [Verbrugge], doing some corporate outreach, including coordinating some challenges with other architecture firms, like NBBJ where my wife works. There’s a committed core of cyclists within the architecture and design community.
Every year, Brendan Connolly and I present a Fix Your Bike Clinic prior to the Challenge. We also host a breakfast for bike commuters the week before the event.
How did you start cycling?
Living in New Jersey on a steep street with no sidewalks, I didn’t learn to ride a two-wheeler until I was 13. When I was 15, my parents wanted me to ride my sister’s bike – so I stopped riding. I picked it up again on May 19, 2000 – my first Bike To Work Day; my German colleague, Uwe Bergk, encouraged me to give it a try.
On the way back from work, I crashed into an electrical utility box. Uwe fixed my bike, so that I could get home.
Why pick up biking at 38? Why not earlier?
I had been busy raising three children. I was approaching 40; I wanted to do something physical to get in shape
I even trained to ride my first STP by the following year. Since then, I’ve ridden the Kitsap Color Classic with my eleven year old daughter, and two of our daughters joined me to ride Flying Wheels. Our middle daughter, Emma, hurt her knee playing soccer; the doctor actually recommended cycling for rehab, so we’ve been riding more often.
Last year, I was diagnosed with Severe Mitral Valve Regurgitation, a condition where my heart valve broke and was only pumping 20% of the blood volume out of my heart. In June, I had open heart surgery. By October, after two months of indoor bike training, I was bike commuting regularly again.
How does MITHUN support bike commuting?
We have showers, shoe racks, clothes hangers. Our bike storage facility doubled this year to accommodate 64 bike parking spaces.
MITHUN has two office bikes for employees, named Wilbur and Orville. They were purchased when I got back from medical leave; the office sponsored a “Cryan Bicycle Challenge” for a week when I was recovering, and the Board of Directors donated $1/ mile for every mile commuted by Mithun employees that week. I was allowed to count mileage clocked on my trainer, and our office walkers were also allowed to count their commute. We raised over $1,600 which went to purchasing and outfitting the office bikes.
Employees check the bikes out through our company intranet site. We even have bright orange safety vests, which fit in well at the construction sites we visit.
Seattle is also very accepting. Our office doesn’t have AC, so shorts and sandals are common summer attire. Most of our clients are also casual; for construction sites and many other meetings, it’s an easy leap from casual dress to biking to work functions. I think the Northwest is ahead of the country in that respect: allowing practical work attire.
Little did they suspect that they would have to continue forking out money to cover the stolen bike replacement costs.
Where does the community’s sense of sustainability come from?
MITHUN emphasizes sustainability in its architectural designs, as well as its culture, which attracts many ‘green’ employees. Many of our projects, like R.E.I. Portland, are LEED-certified [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design]. The certification system has credits that you earn to reach certain LEED levels (silver, gold…). Supplying bike lockers, showers, and similar resources is an easy and affordable way to earn credits.
You must have a garage of bikes?
We have six for the family: a Trek, two Novaras, and a Specialized Sirrus, which I bought because it has a more upright position to accommodate a ruptured disc in my neck. For running around town, we also have a Giant cruiser with 7-speed internal hub. We’re hoping to upgrade one of the kid’s Novara dirt bikes to a used road bike from Bike Works soon.
How has biking influenced your lifestyle?
I think like a cyclist. I consider how I can move around without a car. Having a supportive office is essential. My wife will ask why I drive a certain route, and it’s because that’s my bike route with no hills!
What’s next for you and MITHUN?
To reach 50% of our employees biking to work! With diminished lung capacity, coming back from heart surgery…I’m just riding to stay alive. Every day, I hear birds on the way to work; people smile at me; drivers wave. Almost daily, a driver slows down to let me merge onto the Ballard Bridge.
Sean lives in Ballard with his wife, Laurel, and their three daughters: Louisa (8), Emma (11), and Lily (13).
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