by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.
While the recent increase in gas prices have caused people to look at alternative methods for commuting to work, riding a bicycle at least a few days a week offers many more benefits besides having a bit more money in your pocket. Assuming your commute is not unreasonable (under 10 miles), riding a bike to work is a great way to increase your physical and mental health while also reducing your carbon footprint.
When you decide to bike to work, you’ll join the thousands of other bikers who have put aside concerns that biking to work is too complicated, too impractible, too physical, or too unsafe. Studies show that about one of every 200 people bike to work — and those numbers are rising.
Of course, before you even consider biking to work, consult with your doctor to be sure you are physically up to the challenge. Once you get the OK, start slowly, adding a few miles each couple of days until you build up the stamina and muscles for the full commute distance. The cardiovascular workout you’ll get is great for your physical health, and the blood pumping to your brain will make you alert and mentally active. Finally, when the endorphins kick in, you’ll feel a sense of calm and joy.
If you already have a bicycle — as many people do — you may be able to get by using it, but if you plan to make biking to work a regular part of your routine, you may want to make the investment into a good bike (such as a Trek) because cheap discount-store bikes typically are not safe or sturdy enough for commuting. You’ll also want to invest in a good lock, lights for the front and back, quality helmet, and a bag(s) to stow your gear. (You’ll want to keep a poncho and/or other rain gear handy too.)
Map out a safe route to work — avoiding major roads and highways. If you don’t know the neighborhoods around your commute well enough, use an online map site (such as MapQuest) that allows you to choose a route that avoids major roadways. Test the route on a weekend so that you have a good feel for it — and make any adjustments to the route that make sense to you.
If your commute is longer than 5-10 miles, consider finding a spot about 5 miles from your workplace where you can park your car and then ride your bike the remaining distance. You’ll still be saving on gas while improving your health.
Once you start your bike commuting, remember to follow all the rules of the road. Bicycles should follow the same rules as other vehicles on the road ‘ which means driving WITH traffic (ideally in bike lanes), stopping at traffic lights, obeying general road rules, and using turn signals to alert others to your actions.
Consult with your employer about safe places to park and lock your bike. Some companies are building bike shelters in employee parking lots to encourage bike commuters — providing both a safe place to park your bike and one that keeps the bike out of the elements.
What about safety? While it’s true that about 800 people die annually in bike accidents, many of them are typically avoidable (such as those caused by bicyclists riding at night without lights). Consider the study that reported that during an hour of biking, compared to an hour of driving, that people driving in cars are twice as likely to be killed in an accident as those riding their bikes.
One final option for those whose commute is long or whose health is not perfect is a motor-bike, which is a regular bicycle that has been converted using a small, two-stroke engine. Motor-bikes average at least 150 miles per gallon.
Final Thoughts on Biking to Work
Besides the health benefits and cost savings, by biking to work, you can also feel good about doing something positive for the environment. One expert states that for every four miles ridden on a bicycle, you are keeping 15 pounds of pollutants out of the atmosphere. No fossil fuels, no ozone depletion, no deadly pollutants.
Two more health tips before you begin your commute. First, If you are biking during prime sun times, wear effective sunblock to protect yourself from the sun’s effects. Second, always carry water with you to replenish the fluids you lose through riding your bike.
Don’t forget to check with your employer — especially if you have a workplace wellness plan. Some employers offer incentives to employees who bike to work — like free bike helmets or bike maintenance.
Finally, here’s a link to two more articles — where you’ll find more detailed information on how to get started biking and learn critical bike safety tips:
- The Basics of Bicycling for Health, Fun, and Environment.
- 10 Critical Bike Safety Tips: How to Be Safe on the Road.
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