May is National Bike Month, but who needs an official excuse to start commuting to work by bike? The health benefits, cost effectiveness and reduced environmental impact are all reasons enough. Plus, wouldn’t you like to spend the early morning hours with the wind in your hair (instead of with a fellow straphanger’s armpit in your face)?
But if your last bike had training wheels and baseball cards woven through its spokes, there are a few things to consider before hopping in the saddle. We’ve rounded up a handful of basic tips to make sure your new commute is safe and comfortable.
Before you hit the road, make sure you have the right type of bike for your commute. For example, Tourer bikes are good if you want a rack for carrying a bag and mudguards for protecting your clothes. But they’re also pretty heavy and slow, which matters if you’re facing tons of hills or need to carry your bike up a few flights of stairs. Folding bikes are lightweight and convenient, but their small tires aren’t designed to handle uneven terrain or potholes. Make sure to do your research before making any purchases.
Get a helmet. This is the bare minimum when it comes to bike safety. And make sure it’s properly fitted, otherwise it may not protect you against impact. Be sure you’re visible by equipping your bike with a white headlight, a red taillight, a horn/bell, and reflectors. Also, never wear headphones while cycling; you need to be able to hear car horns, sirens and oncoming automobiles
In most cities, all traffic rules apply to bicycle operators. Are you familiar with those? What about your hand signals for turning and stopping? Do you remember them from driver’s ed?
Monday morning during rush hour is probably not the ideal time for your maiden voyage. It may be worth doing a trial run on a non-work day to get a sense of how much time you’ll need as well as any (literal) roadblocks you may run up against. Also, consider traveling in one set of clothes and changing at the office. That way you won’t have to spend the workday airing out pit stains.
Once you’re cruising and experiencing all the benefits of cycling to work, you may be inspired to start a bike program at your office. Great idea! Ideally, you’ll have the support of your senior management and a posse of fellow bike enthusiasts. Once you’ve got the go-ahead, here are a few things you can do to encourage more bike commuting:
Install Bike Storage
If you have a little extra space inside, setting up an indoor bike room is a great way for bike commuters to feel their bikes are kept safe from the elements and less-than-savory passersby. If outdoor bike racks are the only option, make sure they’re located in a visible, well-lit area.
Provide a Changing Area
A designated space with locker/storage options means you and your colleagues won’t have to change in a cramped bathroom stall and keep sweaty clothes in your cubicles. Bonus points if you can convince your facilities staff to invest in showers.
Plan a Bike Commuting Class
Many private cycling organizations and government agencies run a “Bike Commuter 101” workshop for new riders that covers safety and rules of the road.
Under the 2009 Bicycle Commuter Act, employers can offer a reimbursement of up to $20 a month. (Learn more here.) You can also help create community by planning special events and activities. For example, hold a contest to see who bikes the most miles in one month and award the winner a small gift card.
Commuting need not be a drag. It can be healthy, energizing and full of fresh air and sunshine! (Which is more than we can say about that guy’s armpit.)
Do you ever bike to work? What are your tips for a safe and fun commute?