Last month, for the first time in much longer than I care to admit, I finally did it. I rode my bike to work.
Years ago, I regularly biked to work, which entailed a mere 4-mile ride on mostly low-traffic roads. It was a convenient and enjoyable way to get to work.
But then things changed. I moved and started a new job and now faced a commute that was twice as long and ended at a downtown Cleveland building that does not provide indoor bike parking or easy-to-access changing areas. While the 8-mile ride wasn’t exactly strenuous, it made my former commute look like a cakewalk. Gradually, as the years passed, I began biking to work less and less, relying on the bus or, occasionally, my car. Before I even realized what had happened, my bike was gathering dust in the basement.
When I finally brushed aside that dust earlier this summer and biked to work, I couldn’t understand why, exactly, I had stopped. Biking put me in a great mood and gave me a sense of accomplishment. Plus, my 16-mile roundtrip commute meant that instead of trying to fit exercise into my schedule, it simply became part of my day. Finally, I saved money on bus fare or gas/parking costs.
Megan Cahill, director of communications for the League of American Bicyclists, a nonprofit membership organization that promotes bicycling through advocacy and education, understands why my bike commute was so exhilarating.
“There are definitely several good things that happen when you bike to work. Number one, you’re instantly going to become happier and healthier,” she explains. “When you get to work you’re refreshed. Employees are more productive, so it’s good for the workplace in general. And you don’t have to pay for gas, you don’t have to pay for parking, you don’t have to be squished on a bus.”
But before you wheel out that bike, make sure you’re prepared and safe.
“For the new or returning rider, it’s definitely important to familiarize yourself with your bicycle, the local traffic laws and basic safety,” Cahill says.
In addition to pointing interested bike commuters to the League’s Web site, http://www.bikeleague.org, for more information and safety considerations, Cahill shared the League’s top tips for bicycle commuters:
1. Follow the law. Bike commuters have the same rights and duties as drivers. That means riding on the right side of the road – not the sidewalk – and following the same traffic laws.
2. Be predictable. Be clear and concise when riding. Signal when you’re going to stop or turn. Don’t swerve or weave between traffic.
3. Be conspicuous. Help drivers notice you. Wear bright clothing, use reflectors (or lights, if commuting during dark hours), make eye contact with drivers and ride on the right side of the road. “When you’re on the sidewalk, you’re not predictable or conspicuous,” Cahill stresses.
4. Think ahead. Be defensive and anticipate what pedestrians or drivers might do next. Watch for potholes or other obstacles in the road.
5. Ride ready. Give your bicycle a safety check. Make sure the tires are properly inflated and that everything is running smoothly. Carry any tools you might need, always have a spare tube and, most importantly, wear a helmet.
6. Keep your cool. If you remain calm in the face of road rage, you’ll not only stay safer, but you also will enjoy your commute more.
Cahill assures first-time bike commuters that they will grow comfortable the more often they ride. To get started, she suggests the buddy system – ride to work with another coworker or, preferably, an experienced commuter.
For their part, employers can encourage this healthy, productivity-building commuting option in their workplaces by participating in Bike to Work Day, which is held on the third Friday of every May. Employers also can urge workers to hop on their bicycles by providing safe bike parking and locker rooms or convenient changing areas.
As for me? I’ll see you on the road. I’ll be the one wearing the helmet and arriving at work energized and ready to start the day.