The first day of Summer came with the first air advisory. The Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission asked people to reduce pollution by using transit, sharing rides, and riding bikes. Searching the internet about bike commuting provides an abundance of information. Some of it is really helpful, but some make bike commuting out to be a very complicated and dangerous thing. From personal experience, I can say it does not take special equipment to get started, and as far as safety is concerned, while I have had some “close calls,” mostly at street crossings, keeping my eyes open and not expecting car drivers to watch out for me has always kept me safe. So how does one go about riding a bike to work? What kind of bike works? What clothes are suitable? What is the best route? What else should be considered? Here is how I get around.
Obviously, the first thing is the bike. Any bicycle, that is safe, will do. If the bike has been standing for a while it should be checked by a professional. There are a couple of things, I like, that make life easier. I want to have fenders on my bike. A fair weather rider might not need them, but I prefer to commute without concerns of getting the infamous “skunk stripe” down my back if I hit an unexpected shower or can not avoid a puddle. Most bikes have fender mounts, for the ones without, there are fenders with zip-tie-like mounts available; your local bike shop is your friend. A chain guard can also come in handy, especially if the rider does not want to roll their pant leg up. A greasy gear imprint on suit pants or just the leg is never fun (I have a bleach pen in my desk, in case I manage to get one anyway). The third must-have for me are a rack and bike bags. I do not like back packs or messenger bags, I sweat under the straps and I prefer to arrive at work as sweat-free as possible. That is a concern very specific to me, though; many riders use regular bags and are perfectly happy with them. Lastly, no matter how old the bike, if it is not locked properly it might get stolen. A good lock is important. The City of Dayton also offers bicycle registration.
A lot of people seem concerned with wearing special clothes to ride to work. Maybe they worry about showing up to work sweaty and possibly stinky, or they assume that Lycra is needed to ride a bike, I do not know. I ride in my work clothes. I read in a comment on Corporette once, “Stop thinking of your commute as exercise.” I could not have worded it better. The ride to work does not have to be a crazy work out. I pace myself; if I get too warm I just take it easy and cool off with the wind before I arrive in the office. Of course, being a woman gives me the opportunity to wear plenty of skirts and dresses, that helps, but pants in natural fibers, which breathe, work just as well. A pair of spinning shorts under a skirt is a good idea if modesty is a concern. If I work up a sweat despite all my efforts I have some Paper Shower packs in my desk, consisting of a big wet wipe and a paper towel. They are pricey, and baby wipes and regular paper towels work probably just as well. I prefer Paper Shower because they are single serve packs; they do not dry out if I have no use for them for a while. The only thing that does not work for me are pencil skirts. They are simply too tight. Luckily, Sew Dayton is working on a class on how to convert a pencil skirt so it can be expanded for the ride and then zipped back up to its original form in the office. Other than that, on a warm day a blazer should probably go into the bag or stay in the office, and a rain coat, that packs small, can be a useful investment.
Route planning might be the biggest concern for new riders. Google Maps has a bicycle option above the address fields, that is a good place to start. The directions are in beta, so pre-riding the route on a non-work day might help, insuring the directions do not lead through something like a turnstile, which has happened to me. This also helps with getting an idea on how long the ride might take. If street riding does not feel safe, sticking to the bike paths as long as possible and then using side streets is a good option. Courteous Mass Dayton holds rides every First Friday, great for anyone who wants to try out riding in the streets with experienced riders. Another option is Pedal Pals from the Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission. Pedal Pals was designed to match up bike commuters with the same routes. If distance is a concern, a last mile solution could work. It means that commuters drive their cars closer to the work place, then park along bike path and ride the bike for the rest of the way. Five River Metro Parks has a list of good access points. The City of Dayton is planning on approaching businesses along the bike paths to provide a couple of parking spaces for interested cyclists, but this system is not in place, yet.
What else is there to say? If there is no place to lock up the bicycle during work, asking the building manager or HR if it is alright to bring it in does not hurt. It worked for me (friendly persistence is key). Bike commuters, who work downtown, might want to check out the Bike Hub.
Down the road it could be beneficial to take a simple maintenance class. It helps to know how to change a tire, how to adjust brakes, and how to keep a chain clean. Bicycles for All offers different classes, so does Five River Metro Parks. The Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission published brochures on basic cycling knowledge. And, like I said above, the Internet is full of information.
So, that is what I think about bike commuting, my suggestions might not be suitable for everybody, but it is a way to get started. I hope I could help some people out. If there are unanswered questions about bike commuting, Courteous Mass Dayton is hosting a Commuter Q and A at the Trolley Stop, Thursday, June 27th 2013, from 6-8pm. It is a great chance to meet with other commuters and the Courteous Mass Dayton people, get some help planning a route, and exchange knowledge.