If there was one simple thing you could do that would reduce greenhouse gases, make neighborhoods safer and more livable, ease congestion on the streets, reduce your stress and your cholesterol, get rid of unwanted flab, all while saving you money, would you do it? Would you leave your car at home and hop on a bike?
Those of you who ride are already in on the secret: getting there by bike is a great way to go. It’s fun, it’s easy and it has improved my life in many ways.
Here are some phrases I never have to use: “I have to go—my parking meter is about to run out;” “I’d like to go there, but it’s so hard to park...” and “Oy, those gas prices!”
So, on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of Bike to Work Day, I invite all of you who haven’t tried it yet to make bicycling part or all of your everyday transportation. If you haven’t been on a bike recently, Bike to Work Month (the month of May) is a great time to get started. You’ll have lots of company! More and more of us are making every day bike to work day.
One of the biggest concerns that keeps people from riding is safety. I think most people have a mental picture of their car in traffic replaced by a bike. But bike travel is actually not like car travel: you don’t have to fight with the SUVs to get where you’re going. One of the great pleasures of bike travel is freedom from snarling car traffic.
When I was new to riding, I rode my bike the way I knew to get around in a car and it was a bit stressful. The best route in a car is rarely the best way to go by bike. Cars like streets where lots of cars move through quickly. Bikes often do better on quieter streets where there’s more room to ride and traffic moves more slowly. Because traffic lights are timed for car speeds, bike travel can be faster on the secondary streets with fewer traffic controls. With a little research you can find routes where you won’t have to tangle with traffic. Berkeley, in particular, has done a great job of creating a connected network of safe bike routes that can take you to most parts of town.
Here are a few tips for the beginner:
1. Get a bike that fits you and make sure it’s properly adjusted. You will feel better and riding will be easier if your bike works for your size and riding style.
2. Find a bike shop you like and develop a relationship. What I look for in a bike shop is one that I can bike to, that sells the kind of bikes I like to ride, and, most importantly, has knowledgeable and friendly staff. A good bike shop is worth its weight in gold for the good advice and assistance they will give you.
3. Forget the car roads and find the bike roads. Try the routes recommended on the bike map for your area.
4. Use transit as a back-up to your bike travels. If you get tired, hop on a bus or BART for part of the journey. If you can add a bicycle component to your commute, you will probably find yourself wanting to ride more and more over time.
5. Ride with your friends. Friends can help you find the best bike routes, point out the potholes and be your cheerleader while you gain confidence on the road.
Bicycling is the best way to get around Berkeley and beyond. This is a great time to come along for the ride!
Laura McCamy is an Emeryville resident and was named Alameda County’s Bike Commuter of the Year for 2009.