Editor’s Note: Margaret Southern is now Cool Green Science’s green living blogger. Look for her posts on the daily struggle to live green — everything from why anyone would buy clothes made from bamboo to how to be green on a budget — in this space.
Bike commuting. I know what you’re thinking: “That sounds like more trouble than it’s worth.” Or maybe: “I live too far from the office.” Or perhaps it’s the incredibly common “I don’t feel like it.”
Believe me, I know. I had a million excuses until I finally took the plunge about four years ago, and I haven’t looked back since.
When I lived 10 miles from work, I averaged biking to work about twice a week from April to October. Then when I started working for the Conservancy, whose office was just over a mile away, I thought I’d won the commuting lottery. When it was too cold or rainy to bike, I’d just walk.
Now I have a condo a healthy 3.5 miles from the office and, since the housing market assures me that I will be living there for several more years, I’ve settled into quite the routine. I bike year-round, but will take the bus on days it calls for either heavy rain, temperatures below freezing, or the dreaded heavy rain with temperatures near freezing.
I know bike commuting can seem daunting if you haven’t tried it, but most of the time it just takes a little extra planning and a little motivation. Here are my top tips for how to get started:
Chapter 1: Get Your Gear
Find a bike. If you don’t have a bike, it’s kind of a requirement to get one before you begin bike commuting. (Sorry.) I promise it’s worth the investment, and you don’t need to spend more than about $500 for a very decent bike. But I strongly suggest going to a small local bike shop (known to bikers as your “LBS”) where the staff can help you pick out a bike that’s right for your needs and get you fitted properly. Online, Lighter Footstep just offered a round-up of 12 bikes that are good candidates to replace your car.
I love my hybrid for commuting. It’s much lighter than a mountain bike, but has more substantial tires (read: less likely to get a flat) than a road bike does.
If you still need incentive to shell out for a bike: Depending on how much you spend on gas, parking, tolls and car maintenance, your commuting savings could be enormous. Taking the bus daily would cost $48 a month and, according to this calculator, I’d save $223 a month over driving and paying for parking and gas.
Love your bike. When you buy your bike, make sure you pick up all the tools you’ll need to take care of it: a couple of spare tubes, a tire pump, a tire lever, a multi-tool, front and rear lights and a good lock. It sounds like a lot, but this stuff lasts forever, so hopefully you’ll only have to buy most of it once. Just be sure to upgrade a little from the bargain-basement level of quality. And a small pouch mounted under your seat will allow you to carry your emergency gear but keep it out of the way.
Once you make this initial investment, bike maintenance costs are pretty minimal, and a lot of it you can learn to do yourself at home. (For instance, Bicycle Tutor offers good video tutorials on the finer points of DIY bike maintenance.) You can even take it a step further than me and learn how to change a flat!
The right gear. You don’t have to dress like 2009 Tour de France winner Alberto Contador unless you want to. A lot of people dig buying and wearing jerseys, spandex pants, orange-tinted glasses, and special shoes. But really, light workout clothes and a good helmet should work for most short commutes. In colder or rainier weather, you’ll want to make sure you have several light layers and a protective outer shell. And when it gets really cold, gloves and ear protection are a must.
Next: Margaret talks about avoiding wrinkled clothes, the war against sweat, the value of packing the night before, and her at-work shoe drawer…
(Image: Margaret Southern and her bike. Credit: Darryl Tait.)
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