Tired of high gasoline prices? Ride your bike to work

Not only will riding your bike to work save money, it's fun and good for you.  Credit: Nathan Bilow/Allsport
They are among the rarest of creatures. If you get out at dawn and wait patiently by a travel route, you might catch a fleeting glimpse of one speeding along. Even if you spot one, positive identification can be tough.

Was that really a bike commuter? Or just someone out for a ride?

While bike commuting is big in many major cities, it hasn't really caught on everywhere. In Southwest Virginia, some members of the Blue Ridge Bicycle Club would like to see that change. The group has been busy trying to get the word out that Friday is the League of American Bicyclists' "Bike to Work Day" (May is Bike to Work month.)

The club wants to hear from riders who pedal to work on Friday, or any other time. They want to hear about the routes people take, commute distances and any other information riders are willing to share about their experiences.

I plan to participate, and not just because my truck is in the shop.

Bike commuting is a great thing. It's good for the environment. It can reduce traffic congestion. Of course, it's also a great way to get in shape.

So why isn't it a bigger deal? There are some obvious reasons.

Key among them is the traffic, or lack of it.

In large cities where bike commuting is popular, traffic is usually a nightmare. Often, a person on a bike can get to work faster than if he were driving. Bikers also don't have to worry about parking, which can be expensive, inconvenient or both.

The list of cities where cycling can cut your commute time includes not only those you'd expect, such as Seattle, San Francisco and Boston, but some you might not.

When I was in the Navy, I hated the stop-and-go, seven-mile drive from my Norfolk neighborhood to the base. During the morning commute, the trip took no less than 35 minutes, and often an hour. It took me about 25 minutes to ride to work on my bike. I avoided terminal road rage by riding my bike at least three times a week.

Commuters don't have that kind of incentive around here. Because traffic gridlock is not an issue in Roanoke and the region's other cities and towns, a ride will almost certainly take longer than a drive to work.

Distance is another challenge to commuting by bike. Many people live far from their workplace. A 15-minute car trip could take an hour or more by bike.

It doesn't help if your workplace doesn't have locker or shower facilities. If you've got to drop off and pick up kids from day care, school or other activities, that also makes biking to work tough.

Even with all those road blocks, there are a lot of us who could and probably should ride our bikes to work at least a day or two a week.

Safety

  • Choose a route with safety in mind. Make sure the roads have shoulders. Try to avoid heavily congested roads and streets and always ride with the flow of traffic.

  • Obey traffic signals. Blasting through red lights and stop signs is not only dangerous, it gives motorists a reason to hate us.

  • Be seen. Commute during daylight hours if possible. Even when riding during the day, outfit your bike with a high-intensity flashing tail light. After dusk or before dawn, add a high-power halogen headlight and don't hesitate to wear a reflective safety vest.

    Gear

  • Ride a tough bike. A mountain bike with a set of semi-slick commuter tires is a good choice. It can take the pounding dished out by city streets and is easier to maneuver than a racing-style bike.

  • -Keep your stuff out the way. Carry your things in a day pack or a bike messenger bag. Neither should interfere with your riding. Overloading a backpack can throw off your balance, however. Consider installing a rear rack, to which you can strap gear.

    Incidentals

  • Cleaning up. If your workplace doesn't have locker facilitiesand, unfortunatelynot many do, clean up from your ride at the nearest athletic club. They all open early. If you plan ahead, you can stash a clean change of clothes in a locker.

  • Start slow. If you're new to bike commuting, don't stress about riding every day. Try it once or twice a week and go from there. Also try to get co-workers involved.

    If you plan to ride to work Friday, or are a regular bike commuter, share your thoughts on our message boards.

    Want to ride 100 miles? Check out our Century Challenge section

    Find and register for a bike tour or race in your area!


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