Many options exist for those who commute to do so in a ‘Smart’ manner by reducing your carbon footprint, saving money and treating your body well.
Let me start by outlining some of the benefits you’ll realize by riding your bike to work once a week, twice a week or every day. First, you will feel clear headed and energized by getting some fresh air and exercise as you start your day. The first couple weeks might be a challenge as you pin down your route, get comfortable with the pattern and begin to develop those cycling muscles. Second, you’ll know that you are part of the solution and not the problem. You will be reducing your carbon footprint and oil dependence, as well as traffic congestion. Last, you will be experiencing less stress because you won’t be in traffic or having to deal with tailgating and the mindset which accompanies driving in your car. Oh yeah, one more thing. You’ll be saving money by cutting back on your fuel consumption, car maintenance, parking and other costs for commuting the old fashion way.
What kind of bike is best for commuting? Well, fortunately we live in an era when manufacturers are creating a range of commuter friendly bikes. Typically they have a frame geometry which is more friendly to commuting by requiring less stooping over. They also emphasize safety by including fatter tires, open pedals with a gripping gate, fenders and grip shifting. Also, commuter bikes will have components which are sealed and more impervious to the elements. Keep in mind that it’s critical to have a helmet and having a mirror is a huge help and will give extra confidence when riding in traffic or making turns.
Not everyone can bicycle to work, but you might be surprised to learn that by tuning up your bike, a little trail scouting you can start riding your bike to work this week.
One first step that I highly recommend is go to your local Craigslist.org and browse the ‘bicycling’ discussion forum. Here you will learn about how people like yourself are getting to work and all of the alternatives, issues, concerns and practical ideas for making a bike commute manageable. Also, the community is usually very willing to give feedback and ideas.
Last year I rode my bike four miles to work in rainy Portland, Oregon. I made sure that I had fenders and proper lighting and reflectors. I also purchased rainproof cycling pants and full finger gloves for Winter riding. It takes a minute to put on the all weather clothing and once at work you can hang it in a closet until you ride home.
Don’t think that you can’t have your coffee and radio as you make your commute. With a thermal mug and a walkman style radio you can enjoy your morning beverage and listen to your favorite music or news program. Be sure to use headphones which are safe for cycling, typically they direct the sound forward and not directly into the ear.
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I tend to ride at a slow and safe pace and found that I could do the four miles into work without breaking a sweat or feeling that my safety was jeopardized. I would ride residential streets and avoid the busier roads. I would also find bike paths that were popular with other cyclists, for the ‘safety in numbers’ approach. I was actually taking about the same amount of time to cycle to work as I would to commute through traffic and figure out parking.
It’s important to have a bright flashing rear light, to ensure that cars can see you clearly and heighten visibility in poor weather. Also, keep those tires pumped up so that your bike rides efficiently and you aren’t tiring from low tire pressure. If your bike needs a tune-up you can typically find someone on craigslist who can perform a tune-up very inexpensively and sometimes they will make house calls.
There are a few concerns that people typically express when considering bike commuting.
“My office is way too far to ride my bike to”. This may be true, but it’s worth scouting out the
possibilities before completely dismissing riding your bike. Many commuter trains and buses will accommodate bikes to make the distances more appealing.
“I will smell bad or be uncomfortable wearing clothes which I rode my bike to work in”. You can try to address this by either bringing a change of clothes or finding clothing which breathes well and is more compatible with both cycling and work. The New York Times recently featured an article on the changes in fashion to accommodate cycling to work.
“It’s not safe to ride my bike to work”. There is some truth to this argument, because you are not as safe as having a steel shell wrapped around your body. However, if we spend our lives without some risk we will never grow or evolve as people. By riding defensively and taking a route which avoids traffic you can get to work with minimal risk. The key is to be vigilant in ensuring that you ride safely and not lose touch with this important responsibility.
“What will people think if they see me on a bike?”. This is a personal issue which every individual has to reconcile. If you work in an environment or with people who are judgmental and expect conformity then cycling to work might not be for you. On the other hand, many people see cycling to work as the new thing, which shows your forward thinking, adventurous and socially responsible.
Most people who take up commuting by bike to work start out slowly and choose to do so when the weather is nice. If they stick with it, they eventually decide that it’s better to ride their bike then drive because of the way they feel afterward and how they feel they are making a difference.