After my first week of biking to work, my legs were sore, my clothes were sweaty, and I was covered in bruises. “Become a bike commuter!” they said. “It will be fun!” they said. Yeah, right.
Actually that “they” may have been me. Rewind to a few weeks prior, when my most important consideration while searching for a new apartment was the proximity to work. I was done sitting in traffic for an hour every day and burning through a full tank of gas every week. There just had to be a better way! So when I found a place that was just a 15 minute bike ride from my office, I was in love. No more traffic, no more wasted time, no more money thrown away on wasted on gas and exorbitant parking passes. And of course, biking is great for the environment. Better planet, here I come!
Unfortunately, it wasn’t as wonderful as all of that. I arrived to work each day exhausted and drenched in sweat after huffing and puffing my way up steep hills in the late August heat. There were a few particularly hot days when I pretty much felt like dying. I also had to bring a complete change of clothes in order to look (and smell) halfway decent for the rest of the day. And finally, I had to convince co-workers that no, I did not recently take up boxing, but I had actually turned black and blue from clumsily dragging my heavy bike up and down the stairs of my apartment and banging it against my shins/thighs/forearms every day.
Since then, biking to work has gotten easier, but it definitely took some time and planning. Here are some things I’ve learned along the way:
1. Get the right equipment. For me, the following items are absolute essentials:
Bike (duh). My current bike is actually a mountain bike, so it’s not ideal for commuting, but I got it for free from someone who was moving and no longer wanted it, so I really can’t complain. If I ever get a new one though, I would go for a lighter, more commuter-friendly model.
Helmet. Make sure it’s sturdy and fits well. I recommend trying before you buy. Due to my abnormally large head, I ended up getting a men’s helmet instead of a women’s one.
Lock. U-locks are supposed to be the most secure, but I’ve never had a problem with my cable lock (it’s always better for the planet to use what you already have, rather than buying new).
Basket. I have a metal one that attaches to my handle bars for storing my work bag and lunch bag. It’s much easier than biking with a backpack on.
I have also more recently acquired a headlight, a bell, a bike pump, and a rain jacket and pants. I recommend starting out with just the essentials and then picking up other items later if you find you really need them.
2. Maintain said equipment. Because I hadn’t ridden a bike regularly since I was a kid, I thought that as long as the wheels spun and the brakes worked, I was basically good to go. Turns out, there’s a liiiitle more to bike maintenance than that. The best piece of advice I got after huffing and puffing up steep hills for a couple weeks, was to make sure your tires are fully inflated (thanks, Mom). Apparently inflating them until they are rock-hard makes the hill climbing thing way easier.
I am fortunate in that my work periodically offers free bicicle tune-ups as a way to encourage employees to bike to work. I recently attended one of these and they were able to fix the weird rattling sound that I had been telling myself was “nothing” for weeks.
3. Safety first (although since this is number three, I guess technically it’s safety third). Having things like a helmet, a light, and a bell is important here, but it’s also good to review the bicycle regulations in your area. Even though you don’t need a license to ride a bike, sometimes there are still rules you have to follow, like don’t ride on the sidewalk in commercial areas.
4. Plan your route. Avoiding busy roads is obviously smart, but riding exclusively on bike paths is even better. I am very lucky to have a park with a bike path near my apartment that goes almost all the way to my office. If I had planned ahead and explored the area on a day when I wasn’t on my way to work, I would have known this from day one and avoided riding on the street all together.
5. Check the weather. I like to follow a similar rule to that of outdoor runners: dress for about 20 degrees cooler than the actual temperature. So, if it’s above 70 degrees in the morning, I wear shorts and a t-shirt bring a complete change of clothes. If your route is quite flat, this might not apply (and also I’m very jealous).
6. Have a back-up plan. Some days you will have a cold or the weather will be terrible or you’ll be so sore from that TRX class you decided to try, that biking just won’t be feasible. Have a plan for how you will get to work on those days whether it’s walking or driving or getting a ride with a friend or colleague.
Even though it took some planning and some time to get used to, I love being a bike commuter. I love being outside, I love the exercise, and I love bypassing the nightmare that is parking near my office. I’m also making a difference by reducing my carbon footprint. It may be a small step in the big scheme of things, but the more people who do this, the better we can make our beautiful planet.