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Once you are ready to hit the pedals, the number one rule to commuting by bike is to find the best route. Keep in mind that the fastest or most convenient way to work in an automobile may not be the fastest or easiest way to work on a bicycle. Your usual course of travel may only be a few miles and take a few minutes in a car, but it might be punctuated by steep hills or dangerous intersections that whiz by unnoticed in a car. Not only do changes in terrain and traffic make for more strenuous exercise, they also generally make for more perspiration. Depending on your individual work situation, rolling into work with eau de armpit may be a serious faux pas. If you have a propensity for perspiring, it might behoove you to check into the availability of a shower or locker room at your workplace, especially if you're employed in a white-collar setting. Additionally, there may be a fitness center, YMCA, or other available shower nearby, and if the thought of having to shower someplace other than home gives you the willies, just remember how fit both your body and your bank account will be once you're commuting under your own power.
If you plan to ride the entire route from door to door, take an extra half-hour on your way to or from work to scout out your regular auto route, making note of such things as steep climbs and descents, busy intersections, the prominence or lack of bike paths, and the general layout of the course you plan to ride. Often times altering the route by only a few blocks can help avoid taxing uphill climbs, sketchy downhills and deathtrap intersections. If there are others already riding to work, ask them for advice on easier or safer routes. Also search the web for local bicycle advocacy groups and commuter networks - for example, simply Googling "Chicago bike commute" will send you to the home of the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation. It is important to keep in mind that an "easy" route for a hardened cycling veteran may prove to be too taxing for someone just getting started, so make clear your experience and intentions when seeking advice. If all else fails, contact your local public works office or state department of transportation - they generally have maps highlighting bike paths and other information for cyclists.
Whether you are planning the route yourself or taking the advice of another commuter, take a few hours on a Saturday to ride the route before attempting it on a workday morning for the first time - novice cyclists will have a tendency to overestimate their ability or underestimate the ride, both of which can lead to a bad start for a workday. If the route you had scouted by car or found by recommendation turns out to be too difficult or full of unexpected hazards, don't be afraid to experiment with alternate routes.
Depending on the availability and type of public transportation in your area, it may be possible to combine your ride with sections of a bike, subway, or train route. Many busses, especially in larger metropolitan areas, have fold-down bike carriers mounted on the front to carry bicycles. Additionally, many trains and some subway routes allow bicycles to be carried in the cabin or placed in a special compartment for bulky luggage. While these can be a convenient and effective way of combining your ride with public transit, be sure to check in advance to find out if they are reliable options. Speaking from experience, busses are not always a guaranteed way to get yourself and your bike from one stop to another - most busses equipped with bicycle carriers can only accommodate two standard bikes (no tandems, recumbents, Xtracycles, or trailers) and the spots are first come-first serve, meaning that if there are more than two cyclists at any given time someone will have to leave their bike behind. If you take the gamble with a bus route, be sure to bring your bike lock for the event you have to continue without it.
Commuting by bike is an excellent option for so many reasons - saving your health, saving the environment, saving money. In the event that our three-part series has prompted you to begin biking to work (and we hope it has, even if even for only a few days per week), our hats go off to you. If anyone has any additional questions or comments regarding bicycle commuting, please don't hesitate to drop us a line. Until then, we hope to see you out there on two wheels!
PART 1: The reasons.
PART 2: The gear. SEE ALSO: www.biketowork.com
SEE ALSO: www.bikesnotbombs.org
SEE ALSO: www.carsrcoffins.com
SEE ALSO: www.gobybicycle.com
SEE ALSO: www.carfree.com
Eric J Herboth
Eric J. Herboth is the founder, publisher and Managing Editor of LAS magazine. He is a magazine editor, freelance writer, bike mechanic, commercial pilot, graphic designer, International Scout enthusiast and giver of the benefit of the doubt. He currently lives in rural central Germany with his two best friends, dog Awahni and cat Scout.
See other articles by Eric J Herboth.
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