Cycling to work can be a frightening prospect. It can be dangerous and you could get to the office smelling quite agricultural. A session in the gym might seem a more appealing workout. However cycling is a viable commutation option for many people, and the environmental benefits are well worth the effort.
Studies have found that bike-smart education can help cyclists avoid most types of accidents. "Bicyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles," says John Forester, pioneer of adult cycling classes with the League of American Bicyclists (the League). He suggests obeying all road rules, cooperating with other road-users and asserting cyclist road-use rights while acknowledging the rights of other traffic (www.johnforester.com).
The U.S. nationally-recognized BikeEd program, developed and delivered by the League of American Bicyclists, educates riders on how to avoid many crash scenarios. With evasive action like the "rock dodge," "panic stop" and "instant turn" riders can learn to maneuver defensively and travel cooperatively with fellow road-users. The League's website has more information.
In some jurisdictions, such as St. Louis, Missouri, a city notoriously unaccommodating for cyclists, you can legally ride on footpaths. However Englishman, Martin Pion, a certified instructor with the League who is determined to reclaim St. Louis roads for bicyclists, advises against the footpath-ride. In his version of the basic BikeEd course, Road I, he says that the footpath is the place a cyclist is most likely to crash. Pedestrians, dogs, children and cars entering from side roads or driveways pose a danger to sidewalk bicyclists. On the other hand, road accidents are most likely when a bicyclist rides the wrong way facing traffic, when a car turns unexpectedly in front of a bicyclist or when a bicyclist turns quickly in front of a car.
There are many ways to adapt a work routine to incorporate bike transport. It's not as difficult as you might think but it does take some planning and commitment. Many people ride to school or work every day. Below are a few hints to help you arrive tidy and refreshed:
- Drink plenty of water before, during and after your ride, so that you avoid dehydration. Dehydration can impair your brain function and ability to concentrate, so it’s really important to drink at least 20 ounces of water per hour on hot days
- Allow yourself 15 minutes of cool-down time before the start of work: go into the bathroom to splash water on your face, boof up your helmet hair and scrub the escaping make-up from your chin
- If you’re a particularly sweaty, smelly type, and your workplace has the facilities, you might find it necessary to take a shower. However, according to a pamphlet published by the St. Louis Regional Bicycle Federation (www.stlbikefed.org), 80 percent of bicycle commuters get away without showering at all
- Get a good lock for your bike. It'll ruin your day if you go out to the bike rack and find your wheels have been pedaled off by someone else
Rather than dragging yourself to the gym three times a week to slip around in other people's sweat, it might be easier to motivate yourself to cycle to work. Permaculture, a system of living more sustainably and mindfully, preaches multi-functionality in all features of a system - riding to work both transports you and improves your fitness, doubling the benefits of your effort.
The environmental benefits of cycling are expressed well in the St. Louis Regional Bicycle Federation's "Bike to Work Guide": "Bicycles do not use fossil fuels, cause ozone depletion, emit deadly pollutants such as lead and carbon monoxide, contribute to increases in asthma cases across the industrialized world, or leak disgusting things into the water table. They run on whatever you eat for breakfast."
Finally, the message emblazoned on an Australian t-shirt rounds out the case for cycling. Under a figure of a person riding a bike are the words, "No Iraqi was killed to power this bike."
So, on 'yer bike!