Happy New Year! As the calendar turns once again to January, New Year’s resolutions are often made. Perhaps one of your resolutions this year is: “I’m going to try biking to work”. If so, here are some tips.
Well, don’t …yet. January’s a pretty miserable month to ride in, and one of the keys to biking to work and sticking with it is not to get discouraged early on. If you try to ride in January, February, March, or even April, then you’re going to be cold and wet. Wait until a dryer, warmer month to get started. It’ll keep the excuses to a minimum, and once you get in the habit of riding to work, a little cold or a little rain won’t bother you.
2a. Get a bike that’s comfortable for you
If you don’t already have a bike, or have a bike that you’re willing to ride to work, get yourself one that’s comfortable. It doesn’t need to be particularly sleek, stylish, light-weight, or expensive. Sure these things might help, but in the end, pretty much any bike will get you from point A to point B as long as it’s comfortable for you. Go to one of our fine local bike shops and ask questions. The people working there love questions and will happily chat about the different options available. Don’t overlook the used-bike options either. There are definitely some non-bank-breaking alternatives. Test-drive the bike before buying it, making sure that it fits you and that your posture on the bike is comfortable. My preference would be for a bike with relatively wide tires, front and seat suspension, and a more upright riding position. A bike that’s not comfortable to ride becomes an easy excuse not to ride.
2b. Get your bike tuned up
It’s no fun riding a bike that is out of tune. Maybe your gears slip or skip. Maybe the brakes don’t work well or squeal. Maybe the chain makes lots of noise as you pedal. Maybe your wheels wobble a bit as they go around. No matter what the issue is, they also make for easy excuses not to ride. Take your bike to the local bike shop and get them to do a good tune-up. This will include cleaning the bike, replacing or tightening cables, lubricating the drive train, replacing or tightening the brakes, truing the wheels, and inspecting the bike for any other problems.
3. A little planning goes a long way
Plan your route well. Use UBC’s Metro Vancouver BIke Route Planner to figure out what the best route is for you. The handy planner allows you to choose what your priorities are: designated and alternate cycling routes with or without arterial roads, minimizing distance, elevation changes, traffic pollution, hill grades, or maximizing how vegetated the route is. Choose a route before you head out on your first work-day ride, and test-ride it on a day off. Check to see that it actually is appropriate for you, and you’ll get a sense for how long the route will take without the stress of needing to get there by a particular time.
In addition to planning your route, plan what you’re going to do when you arrive at work. Where will you park your bike? Will you be changing from riding gear to work clothes? Where? Do you have a locker or somewhere else to store gear and/or sweaty clothes? Do you have a shower or change-room that you can use?
4. Find a ride buddy
Riding to work doesn’t need to be a solitary activity. Find someone to ride with. It will help you stay motivated, increase your comfort level riding on the roads, and will provide entertainment on your ride!
5. Stick with it
Much like other resolutions, this seems to be the hardest thing. Set reasonable goals initially (two or three times a week) and stick with it. It’s too easy to find excuses not to ride. The first day might suck as muscles get used in ways you’re not used to. The second day might suck less, but the third day will suck more as your buttocks suddenly start complaining. From what I can tell, it takes about a week of riding to get over the initial saddle-related aches. Don’t use these aches and pains as an excuse not to ride, but pay attention to them too. Cycling is a low-impact activity and shouldn’t put excessive strain on your knees, hips, shoulders, or other joints. Ongoing aches and pains when riding can indicate that your bike isn’t fitting you properly and continued cycling will make things worse.
Cycling to work is a fun, healthy activity and a great, invigorating way to start your day. Driving or riding transit will quickly become less-favoured ways of getting to work: transit’s too crowded and driving’s too stressful. And both are too expensive.
Have you decided to try biking to work this year? What concerns or worries do you have? Do you have suggestions for new bike commuters?