Pedal With Purpose: Ride to Work

When you think of someone riding a bike to work, what's the first image that comes to mind?

Probably a rugged, solitary wheelman, wrapped in a wind-whipped nylon jacket and sweat-stained leather gloves, crowned with a 1975 Bell Biker hardshell helmet. Maybe he's even sporting a reflective orange safety vest.

He's slowly churning through a grey morning mist, grinding the rusty chain of a geriatric Stumpjumper into the flickering beam of a dim headlight. Abundant toe straps, duct tape and bungee cords keep this gritty rider in place and his cargo lashed to a rattletrap cargo rack.

It's time to overhaul your thinking. Commuting is cool, the gear is cool, and you don't have to suffer. Sure, that guy is still out there. And he and his compatriots deserve respect.

They've probably been pedaling to work, around town, and on errands since the first energy crisis of the 1970s. They've been saving fuel, reducing pollution and staying healthy well before the current recession and global warming again made cycling a trendy transportation alternative.

But these days, riding your bike to work or to the grocery store doesn't have to be an exercise in obsolete technology and crusty discomfort. In the last few years, even the major players in cycling have developed sweet, purpose-built bicycles, clothing and accessories that threaten to legitimize (or even popularize) what was once a fringe transportation mode.

"It's huge; commuting is the future," said Giant Bicycles communications manager Andrew Juskaitis. "The fastest growing segment, across the market, is flat handlebar road bikes, like our Defy," which double as efficient and agile commuter bikes.

The return of bicycle commuting is timely. As Trek company president John Burke succinctly notes, "The bicycle is a simple solution to some of the world's most complicated problems."

Riding a bike to work, even occasionally, helps reduce air pollution, traffic congestion, and carbon dioxide emissions, while elevating fitness levels, reducing obesity and improving the livability of communities. It's a low-cost, multi-pronged attack on some of the major ills that plague modern urban life.

Robbie Brennan, a manager at Mellow Johnny's bike shop in Austin, says riding a bike is good for mental health, too. Commuters are generally "in a better mood than people that aren't," he said. It doesn't hurt that Mellow Johnny's pampers Austin commuters with coffee, bike storage, showers and route maps, but more and more shops and businesses are following suit in progressive cities.

Riding a bike now and then is also good for your bottom line. Pedal two or three times a week, and you'll save on fuel, parking and vehicle maintenance costs, sometimes to the tune of hundreds of dollars annually.

Those spare ducats could fund a few extra race entries this season. Not to mention the training benefit of pedaling the easy miles to shake a weekend's worth of hill repeats out of your legs.

Are you convinced? Is it time to start riding to work, even just once a week? We think so. Here's how.

Homework Assignment: Plan Your Route

Before diving in and buying a new road bike with lights, fenders and panniers, consider the possible paths from your home to your workplace. The route you choose and the conditions you encounter will inform your bike and gear selections. And maybe you'll discover that some form of public transportation or a mixed commute will be necessary.

"'Plan the route' is number one," suggested former professional mountain bike racer Chris Eatough. He's now a program manager for Bike Arlington, a transportation initiative of Arlington County, Virginia. "Some people don't know or don't realize or don't have great routes to get from A to B," he said. "Definitely figure out the best route to have a safe and pleasant ride."

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