Ride About Now
Becoming a bike commuter might seem daunting, but the benefits can be worth it: exercising regularly, saving money, and absolving yourself of guilt over that office doughnut.
There are all kinds of benefits to ditching the car and biking to work, not the least of which is saving gas money. Riding your bike to work is good exercise and could certainly help you lose weight, as well as be a good way to release some stress and get those endorphins pumping.
Tulsa resident Jon Haring, 46, has been commuting with his bicycle since he was a student at Bishop Kelley High School in the late ‘80s. Graduating in 1990, Haring still rides his bike to work about twice a week, traveling about 20 miles round-trip.
“It clears my head,” says Haring, who works for Meals on Wheels, so his job sometimes requires his car, which is why he doesn’t ride every day. “I get up in the morning and I get kitted up and I start riding, and by the time I get to work, I haven’t had any coffee yet, but I’m already alert, I’ve already kind of planned my day. I don’t listen to music when I ride, so it just kind of helps me process all the background noise in my head, and by the time I hit my office, I know my direction already. And the same is true (for the ride home) if I’ve had a hard day at work.”
For those considering taking that step, Haring has helped us compile some guidelines, some born out of common sense, some from experience, to help make the transition a bit smoother.
Check with your boss
This may seem obvious, but you should let your boss know beforehand that you intend to start biking to work, if only to ensure there is an adequate and acceptable spot at your workplace to store the bicycle during your shift.
“Check with your boss, because where you think you might want to leave your bike, your boss could say, ‘Oh, you can’t put it in that hallway because if the fire marshal walks through here, you can’t have that,’” Haring says. “My boss was all for it. But you want a place where you can store your bike that’s out of the weather, preferably.”
Make sure your bike fits you properly
This is easy to overlook, but if your seat is not adjusted properly, you could end up gradually developing recurring-use injuries. And since those take a while to manifest themselves, you may not notice it until it’s too late.
“You want a bike that fits you right,” Haring says. “If your seat is too high, you can pull a hamstring and if your seat is too low, you can rip your patella tendon. I have done both. For the occasional weekend ride, you won’t notice that, but it’s the repetitive nature of it. If you’re doing it more and more, you’ll start to get that damage.”
Choose your route carefully
Avoid major intersections as much as possible, utilizing residential neighborhoods when possible, and don’t be shy about using sidewalks when necessary.
“On my commute, there’s like a two-block stretch where I’ll just ride on the sidewalk because it’s such a busy intersection. I’m not getting on that street,” he says. “It’s mostly industrial, mostly work trucks. If I rode on the street, I would probably be fine, but bicycles are allowed to ride on the sidewalk, so if it’s safer for all parties involved, I don’t mind doing it.”
Be prepared for weather conditions
It should go without saying that trying to bike to work in snow or icy conditions probably isn’t the safest idea, but rain isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker, as long as you are prepared. You can be covered to prevent yourself from getting wet, and there are relatively inexpensive fenders you can put on your bike (and that you can somewhat easily take off again when it isn’t wet out) that will prevent the road water from being kicked up all over you while you’re riding.
In dry, colder weather, Haring points out that you shouldn’t get too bundled up because your body will warm up as you ride, and it’s difficult to take layers off in transit. But definitely protect your hands and feet, the only areas of your body that won’t be actively moving. Haring suggests thick gloves and boots or slip cover booties that go over your shoes.
Leave enough time
“The average person who is slightly active can ride about 12 miles an hour,” Haring says. “Say somebody lives about 8 miles from work, that’s a 40 minute bicycle ride. As you get better and fitter, you’ll obviously go faster.”
Be prepared to cool down and change your clothes
You’re not going to want to ride to work in your suit or whatever your work outfit is (unless you work at a gym, perhaps), so wear workout clothes when you ride and then change into legitimate work attire once you arrive.
“I keep a towel and a spray bottle full of soap water, and I just kind of rinse off at work,” Haring says. “Allow yourself 15-20 minutes once you get there to cool down, change and get yourself cleaned up. I also use baby wipes.”
Make sure others can see you on the road
This may seem obvious, but since cars are not necessarily looking out for cyclists, you need to make sure they can see you. That means wearing bright or reflective clothing, having lights on your bike, or all of the above, especially in the dark.
Be polite to cars
You don’t own the road, and while cars have to account for bicycle riders, you are not entitled to do whatever you want out there. In other words, respect the car drivers, for both their safety and yours.
Watch for parked cars
If there’s a row of cars to your right, leave at least 3 to 4 feet of space between you and the doors just in case a driver opens a door without checking first for cyclists.
Communicate with cars as best you can
Similar to the last point, this is all about making sure everyone on the road is well-informed and reduces the chances of an accident. Since bikes don’t have turn signals, you need to find another way to inform other cars what your intentions are.
“I always use hand signals,” Haring says. “I wear white gloves, and in addition to using the standard car signals, left and right turn, I will also point so cars know where I’m going. If I’m at an intersection and a car is facing me and they don’t have a dedicated left turn, I’ll just kind of wave, point to me and point to what direction I’m going, so that they don’t have to wait for me. Just keep good communication with the other people who are using the road.”
Be prepared for things to go wrong
The most likely problem you might run into is getting a flat tire while riding. Be ready for any eventuality by carrying the proper gear in your backpack.
“Always carry things for a flat,” Haring said. “You may think, ‘I’m only going a few miles,’ but if you get a flat, 3 miles can seem a lot further, all of a sudden. I always carry two tubes, tire-changing tools, a multi-tool for my bicycle and a pump. Patch kits are slow and they don’t work very well.”
Connect with other riders
Other cyclists are your best allies in finding bike-friendly roads. Attention to detail matters when balancing on a few square inches of rubber. Regular riders know a city’s contours, bottlenecks and the school driveways where texting parents behind the wheel can pull out without looking. If you don’t know any bike commuters, seek out a nearby cycling advocacy group. Often these organizations publish maps showing bike-friendly and ride-at-your-own-risk routes.
Before You Ride be Aware of These Rules
- Always find and study local laws in areas you’ll be riding or commuting.
- Drivers are usually required to move over one lane when passing a cyclist on multilane roads. In other circumstances, drivers must move over 3 feet for cyclists when passing. They are not allowed to cross a double-yellow line.
- There is no law requiring the use of helmets, though their use is encouraged. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, nine of 10 cyclists killed are not wearing helmets. Only 20-25 percent wear helmets.
- You can get a ticket while riding a bicycle. Cyclists have almost the same rights as drivers — meaning it is lawful for them to travel in a lane, even if there is a designated bike lane available— so they must follow all applicable rules like going with traffic, not against it.
- Bicycles are supposed to stay in the right-most lane except when it is not safe to do so, or when they’re going the same speed as motor vehicles or making a left turn. Cyclists are allowed to ride a maximum of two abreast in a lane.
- Riders can carry belongings so long as they maintain one hand on the handlebars at all times.
- It is unlawful to carry more people than the bicycle is designed or equipped for. That means you can get an attachable seat for your infant to ride with you, and a couple can ride a tandem bicycle, but your buddy can’t ride on the handlebars.
- If five or more vehicles are lined up behind a cyclist, the cyclists are usually legally obligated to move off the roadway when it is safe to do so.
- Cyclists are allowed to run a traffic signal if the traffic signal did not detect them. They have to wait two light cycles, then must yield to pedestrians and other traffic.
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