Next week on June 27th I will be participating in Bike to Work Day 2012. If you live elsewhere you may have already done this back in May, but in Colorado we have it in June due to the fact that it is less likely to snow. I have a special fondness for BTWD (as us old timers like to call it) due to the fact that it kicked off my attempt to commute to work via alternative transportation. The first year I participated I had no bike, so I ran the 14 miles to work. I vowed to get a bike for the next year, and that May my dream was realized. By the time my second BTWD rolled around my butt had almost healed from my first attempt at riding to work without bike shorts. Now a few years later, BTWD is just another day on the calendar that I ride to work but I love to remember how it got me started!
If you talk to many hardcore bike commuters you will find that many of them hate BTWD. It’s the one day of the year that you are guaranteed to see someone on a bike do something crazy, putting themselves in harm’s way. It’s inevitable when people are trying something for the first time to have problems getting started. And I know it is tough to ask for help when you are doing something that most of us have been doing since we were 5!
So for BTWD 2012 I thought I would write a few tips that I have picked up over the years of riding my bike to work (and I’m still learning). You probably know all of these things already, but you’d be surprised at the things I’ve seen and done.
Choose your route carefully! You are not going to want to ride the same roads that you drive to work on your bike. You are not going to be able to pedal 40mph, so it’s not going to take you any longer than it would otherwise by taking side streets. And if you can avoid streets completely to ride on bike paths, do so even if it’s out of your way! It is SO much less stressful traveling on a bike path than it is on a street with cars. Bike lanes do improve that comfort somewhat, but even with them there is the feeling that you are going ridiculously slowly compared to traffic. Google maps has a great feature that will let you search for directions to travel by bike. It’s not perfect, but I’ve found lots of potential routes by that tool that avoid many of the main traffic problems. Don’t be tempted to ride on the sidewalk, or ride on the road against traffic. Cars are expecting other cars on the road, so if you act like other cars they won’t be surprised. I’ve run into a few “bike lane salmon” in my time, you do not want to be that cyclist!
Be prepared! Make sure you have an extra tube, tire levers and a pump with you. If I meet you stranded on the trail I can probably help you change a tire, or make adjustments to your bike with my tool set, but I don’t carry tubes and pumps for all sizes of tires and chances are you don’t have the same size I do. If you have the things you need most cyclists will be happy to help you deal with the problem if you are in over your head. Ask for help if you need it. There are not “born cyclists” who are good at everything from day 1, everyone has had to start at some point. If you do know how to change your own flat tire, great! Just make sure you don’t leave any trash behind. Abandoning your blown-out tube on the side of the road will not give it time to think about what it has done.
Be comfortable! I know you hate spandex, everyone does. But there’s a very good reason that bike shorts exist, if there wasn’t no one would wear them. It’s not to make you more aerodynamic. Apart from providing some much needed padding for your sit-bones, the chamois ensures that there are no seams rubbing against any part of your body that touches the saddle. The chamois is your first line of defense against discomfort, and it’s not a thing you want to go without. If you are concerned about the spandex issue wear bike shorts under your regular shorts. Once you get to work, change as soon as possible, a sweaty chamois is not your friend.
Ride your bike like you drive your car! Stop at the stop lights and stop signs and wait until it is your turn to cross. Take your place in line at intersections, just because you can fit by on the right side doesn’t mean you should. Cars are not expecting you to come flying by on the right and that’s an invitation to getting cut off. Signal your intentions with hand signals, and thank drivers that give you extra space with a wave. Don’t react negatively to cars that cut it too close. If they are dumb enough to be trying to “teach you a lesson” with a 2000lb hunk of metal, they are probably not going to park their car to politely debate the merits of bike travel with you.
Relax! Riding your bike to work is fun. Give yourself extra time to enjoy the slower pace. If you wanted to be at work “right away” you would have taken your car. On BTWD, find a couple of breakfast stations and stop to chat. In the morning it is cool, and if you are doing it right you probably won’t even need the shower when you get to work! If you really do need that shower, just take it as an opportunity to brag to coworkers about how you just rode to work.