Thursday, May 7, 2009

May is Bike Month. Minneapolis St Paul Cycle Commuting Primer

May is National Bike Month. Bike to Work Week is May 11 - May 15. And Bike to Work Day Friday, May 15th!

And wow, cycling to the office gets a day, a week, and a month!

Biking to work will save you some gas money, reduce greenhouse gases, and help get you a bit more fit all at once! Plus, you can then handle that loaded Chipotle Burrito for lunch without even thinking twice about the 945 calories therein :-)

But there are a few tricks for making it enjoyable and easy. So, here are my 6 Secrets to Successful Cyclist Commuting on your bike here in the Twin Cities:

1. The right Gear. You don't need to spend thousands on a bike or clothing, but you do need to have a well maintained bike and layered clothing. Go to your local bike shop to get set up (NOT Walmart or Sams). If you end up riding a lot (3+ days per week), you would do well to get fit for your bike - bike shop specialists match the geometry of the bike to the dimensions of your torso, arms, and legs. The basic gear will get you started, but if you do spend extra, spend it on rain gear: you will get caught in the rain at some point in your commuter lifetime, and being prepared to ride in the rain will help keep you in the saddle.

Additionally, despite the highly enviable fashion appeal of bright, multi-colored jerseys, most cyclists really are not pretending to be from the Tour de France: they're simply trying to BE SEEN and remain upright on the roadways! And you should too. As it turns out, the best materials and workmanship normally do get tattooed with logos and sponsor graffiti (which helps pay for the more expensive materials), so they are indeed popular with experienced cyclists. What's important is that you own something very brightly colored to be seen on the road. Yellow, Orange, and Red are best.

2. The right route. Planning a route is essential. And rewarding. You will discover and appreciate roads and neighborhoods cycling to work that you would otherwise never see. However, some planning is required. Your local bike shop will have local maps for commuters. First look for routes that overpass freeways where auto traffic does not interchange with the freeway, and plan the rest of your commute around those: the most dangerous part of any commute is crossing a freeway where cars and trucks are accelerating into merge lanes to jump onto the on ramps. Mornings tend to be better than evenings, but you will want to avoid freeway interchanges. Bike pathways, bike lanes, and other wide avenues are normally well marked on local bike maps, but you will sometimes find local residential street routes just as bike friendly.

Plan on trying a few different options: you'll need to experiment a bit to discover the best places to cross arterial roads, avoid traffic, avoid traffic lights, and feel separated from or safe with auto and truck traffic.

3. The Right Backup Plan. Perhaps most important of all - have a Plan B. Identify service organizations (coffee shops, convenience stores, bike shops) along or near the route that might come in handy if you have a breakdown, get caught in a storm, or need to rehydrate. Carry a cell phone so that you can always call a cab for a ride, or call 911 if you're really in trouble. Beware, however, that if you do call a taxi you will need a physical street address for a pickup ... "The Park by the river bend" will not work.

4. The right light. Lengthy Minnesota days are a true delight for cyclists. Mid summer you can start as early as 5:45AM and finish as late as 9:00 PM without the need serious lighting. For these hours, you need just two things: $25 flashing headlight and a $25 flashing tail light. Buy and use these if you're riding before 8:00AM or after 7:00PM. While you may not notice any light from them, twilight hours, shadows, and sun glare make seeing cyclists difficult for motorists when the sun is low on the horizon. You'll need a more expensive halogen system if you ride earlier or later, and as daylight diminishes towards fall.

5. A change of clothes. Plan to sweat a bit, especially in humid summer conditions. You have two choices: you can either carry a pack, or bring a change of clothes to your office the day (or days) before your ride. Supply your office with soap and sundries if you are privileged enough to work for an employer who has a shower and locker room. If not, stock your change of clothes bag with a supply of pre-moistened handy wipes. HOT TIP! Baby butt wipes do a fabulous job of cleaning the crevices and deodorizing after a ride. You'll smell a bit like baby powder for a day, but do your co-workers a huge favor!

6. The right place for your Bike. Many offices and office building have bike racks for daytime storage. It's plenty safe to leave your bike there if it is a well lit area with plenty of foot traffic. If it's secluded, however, or in a bad neighborhood, or if you're in love with your bike (which isn't too crazy - heck, mine have names!), or if you simply want everyone in your office to know that you are riding your bike to work (it is contiguous!), you may prefer to stow it in your office or someplace nearby.

In 30 years of riding to work, I've never been denied access to my office with my bike. You may get some curious looks and a few raised eyebrows, but no one will tell you that you can't bring your bike in the building. It is sometimes more convenient and less conspicuous to take the freight elevator or service entrance to avoid other workers arriving before you clean up and change. Mingling with coworkers in biker shorts can be awkward.

So there you have it! Enough to get started! Do Post a comment if you have a tip I've missed!

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