Commuting in the liquid lane

Nat Hong and Bob Barrett commute on Puget Sound by bike — water bike, that is — to their jobs in Bremerton and Steilacoom.

"This is pretty hard to beat in terms of a pleasant commute," said Hong, who lives on Bainbridge Island and teaches at Olympic College in Bremerton.

The drive would be 80 miles round trip. But with his water bike, the trip to work is just 12 miles — including one mile on the water.

Hong said he used to be irked because he could look across the water and see the place he worked.

"It needled and gnawed at me. The long drive didn't make sense." He began water biking in September.

Hong, 54, rides a regular bicycle a half-mile to the water, hops on his water bike for the 12- to 15-minute ride, and has another bicycle waiting for him at Illahee State Park in Bremerton. He rides up a steep hill to his job.

For nearly seven years, Barrett has been riding his bike two miles across Puget Sound from his home on tiny Ketron Island to a marina in Steilacoom. There, he catches a bus to his job as a safety-and-training instructor with Pierce Transit.

Like Hong, Barrett says his commute is good for the environment.

"I don't buy gas. I'm putting no pollutants in the water," he said. "I've been doing it for a long time and it feels quite natural. I don't have a death wish. I'm not here to drown and I'm not risking my life."

The 125-pound, $1,400 HydroBike has two pontoons, adding stability. The pedals drive a propeller. Hong and Barrett figure they can cruise at 5 mph.

Barrett, 64, said he first saw the bike at a boat show and was intrigued. He said he'd buy it and ride it until it paid itself off, which included saving the $3-a-day ferry fare from his island home. He got hooked and has been riding it five days a week. His crossing takes 25 to 30 minutes.

He's put almost 6,000 miles on his bike, and it paid for itself a long time ago. The other benefits are a bonus.

"Here, you're part of the Sound itself," he said. "I go slow enough I see birds and seals, and it keeps my health good."

While Hong looks at the weather forecast before he ventures out on the water, Barrett said that in the more than six years he's been water-biking, he has been turned back only six times by the wind. He wasn't even deterred by a recent snowfall.

Hong said he developed his love of biking in Denmark, where he spent a sabbatical and biked everywhere. He said he didn't have a car and biked nearly 4,000 miles that year just going to work.

For his local commute, Hong had considered kayaking to work, but "I'm just intrigued by biking."

"I see a lot of wildlife. A baby seal pup came up right next to me. Winter birds on a calm day look like confetti strewn across the water. I have a wonderful view of Mount Rainier."

Hong admits his wife worries about him and thinks he's a little crazy. But he, like Barrett, wears a life jacket. And neither has fallen in the water.

"I don't want to burn gas," Hong said. "I want to try to stay fit as I get older, and I like being outside. I have one of those jobs where I do way too much sitting, and this is a good antidote."

As for Barrett: "My wife makes sure my life-insurance policy is up to date."

Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or

Bob Barrett pedals two miles across Puget Sound from Ketron Island to Steilacoom. "Here, you're part of the Sound itself," he says. (KEN LAMBERT / THE SEATTLE TIMES)
"I don't have a death wish. I'm not here to drown and I'm not risking my life," says Bob Barrett, who's been making his water-bike commute for nearly seven years. (KEN LAMBERT / THE SEATTLE TIMES)