Health and environmentally conscious people like myself are frustrated by our society’s reliance on automobiles and oil. I felt powerless to do anything about it until last summer when, in an effort to live with integrity, I started biking to work.
That summer, commuter trains in Chicagoland began allowing people to carry bikes on non-rush hour cars. Since I reverse-commute; I decided to take advantage of the opportunity. I rode my red hybrid bike with its gel-cushioned seat four miles through mostly residential streets to the train stop, carried my bike up two flights of stairs and brought it on the train. Apparently I was the first person on my line to do so, because each conductor came by to read me the rules and to make sure I had securely fastened my bike. It was the first time anyone had talked to me on the train! Soon, several commuters brought their bikes, and I felt like a biking pioneer.
Riding my bike to work was exhilarating. I enjoyed being outside, exercising without paying for a gym, avoiding traffic, saving gas money and doing my part for the environment. It was a stress-relieving, prayer-filled commute.
But I also came to work sweaty and with helmet hair. People who make biking commutes a permanent part of their lifestyles have to find places to shower after the bike ride. Baby wipes behind closed office doors are also an option.
Many major cities are doing their part to encourage biking commutes. In Millennium Park located in downtown Chicago, the city opened a Bikestation that includes free secure bike parking and showers with towel service available for a minimal membership fee. With these accommodations, Chicago has found a great way to encourage exercise and to reduce the number of cars on the city roads.
But a biking lifestyle is not without its risks. I volunteer for the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation, an organization dedicated to making the road safe for everyone. The prevalent attitude of non-bikers is that cars own the road. It can be a deadly assumption. According to CBF’s newsletter BikeTraffic, cars kill an average of 200 bikers and pedestrians each year in northern Illinois. Bicycling advocates want safer bike lanes to encourage more people to ride their bikes instead of driving. The more people bike, the more governments will pay attention to the needs of bikers, which in turn, will lead to safer biking lanes and more accommodations for the growing number of bikers. I invite you to join this biking revolution!
If riding in bike lanes on busy streets scares you, bike paths are safe alternatives. They are usually tucked away from roads and bordered by trees, bushes and wildlife. Chicagoans have 120 miles of bike paths to choose from, and cities such as Denver and Portland also have extensive bike path networks. If you live or work near a bike path, you have no excuse for not biking to work once in a while. Spring is around the corner. Here are a few tips to get you started.
Start slowly – You may want to drive part of the way for the first month to increase your endurance. Ride twice a week and work up to four or five times a week.
Prepare the day before by bringing water and work clothes – Many biking commuters drive once a week to bring supplies to and from the office.
Plan out your route ahead of time – Don’t find out the hard way that a road is not biker-friendly. You don’t want to find yourself competing with semi-trucks for road space! Check train and bus schedules and rules to assure they allow bikes.
Find secure parking for your bike – After a long day at work, you don’t want to look forward to a relaxing bike ride only to find your bike missing!
Allow yourself plenty of time in case of emergencies – Especially in inclement weather, plan for a few “bumps in the road.”
Prepare for emergencies – Bring a cell phone, an air pump and plenty of water. Learn how to fix a chain.
Be alert, stay safe, and enjoy your commute!