Friday is National Bike to Work Day. And, believe me, I know: Biking to work isn’t for everyone. For years, I thought it wasn’t for me.
I lived near a bus stop that shot me to work on the Washington, D.C., Metro system 10 miles from my Arlington townhouse to my Dupont Circle office — usually in about 45 minutes. I’d get my reading done on the commute. The walking from front door to bus door, and to train door to office door provided a bit of exercise. Other than grappling with the crowds and occasional train delays, life was good.
But a few things changed. My kids were growing older and became bored with the child care at my gym, which severely cramped my workout routine. We moved to a new neighborhood where the bus service was less convenient. My nearly 40-year-old ankles and knees were starting to object to my love of jogging. So, in an effort to get outdoors with my kids, who were learning to ride, I got my old, neglected bike back into riding condition.
Then I had a conversation with a co-worker, who was organizing EDF colleagues to join Climate Ride — a 300-mile, five-day biking event from New York to D.C. to raise awareness of the need for climate action. This gave me the final inspiration to try my hand at biking to work. If they could do 300 miles, I figured, certainly I could do 20 per day.
And, so, on a cool April morning a couple of years ago, I started out on my first cycling commute and I never looked back. I now bike to work nearly every day — except for in freezing temperatures, pouring rain, or before a morning business appointment.
I get my cardio work in, listen to audio books on my iPod, and get to the office in just about the same amount of time it takes on the Metro. And in the D.C. region, where tens of thousands of commuters waste hours in traffic every day, biking can be a a lot faster than driving. Plus, beyond a little bit of annual bike maintenance, it’s free!
So, if there is one message I’d like to deliver on National Bike to Work Day, it’s to give bike commuting a try. When you do, here are a few pointers I’ve picked up along the way:
Gear up. Never bike to work without a helmet. It's a bad idea to bike anywhere without head protection; don't even think about sharing the roads with cars without one. And invest in front and back lights in case your work keeps you later than planned. A good backpack is useful for a change of clothes and your computer. You’ll probably need a lock. And you'll want to bring spare tubes and a pump — you don't want to be late to work because of a flat tire. A water bottle could come in handy, too.
Find a shower. I’m fortunate to have a gym in my office building. If your commute is longer than five miles, you’ll probably need some way to cool down before you begin your day. No shower at work? You’ll probably get away with splashing some water on your face.
Stay connected. Don’t leave home without your cell phone and make sure it’s charged for the time when your tire goes flat and you must call work. But please, don’t talk or text while riding.
Plan your route. Memorize your route before you start out. Stick to designated bike trails and lanes when you can. Always know where you'll have to cross traffic and think beforehand how you'll manage it. Getting off the bike and using a crosswalk when you must is OK.
Be courteous and safe. Biking to work can be a lot of fun, but it takes a bit of getting used to. Familiarize yourself with the rules of the bike trails. Don't worry if faster cyclists are passing you. Stay to your right while cruising and always pass on the left. Use a bell or your voice to let other cyclists and pedestrians know you’re passing. Look out for kids and families, and don't trust drivers to see you — they might not.