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You Don't Have to be Fearless to Bike to Work

Commuters in New York. Photo by Julian Alexander.

Over half of Americans (ages 18 and over) would like to bicycle more often and perceive bicycling as a convenient mode of transportation. While safety is still a primary concern, more Americans are biking to work with over 800,000 bike commuters in 2013 alone. (US Census Bureau). That number has grown steadily over the past 10 years as cities improve biking infrastructure and road-safety policies. In Chicago the number of bike commuters increased 175% from 2000-2013 (American Community Survey) with even greater growth in many US Cities.

As we start a new year, now is the time to consider how you can join the growing numbers of people who bike to work or use the bicycle as a form of transportation. Here are five easy steps to help you start bike commuting.

5 Easy Steps to Start Bike Commuting

  • ​Adjust Your Mindset - Whenever I seek to make a change in my life, it is a process of discovery. First, I try to be open to the change so I can see things in a new light. Now that you've got it into your head that you want to start bike commuting, live with the notion even it you haven't actually started to bike to work. It will help you notice things you missed when this wasn't part of your life, such as people at work who already ride, or places where bike commuters lock their bikes, or the exact location of the bike lanes your city just installed.

  • Set a Specific Goal - Most resolution experts advise that a goal should be specific, measurable and observable. So let's apply this to bike commuting. You could tie your goal to number of rides such as 1 day/week or 5 days/month. Or you could use a different approach. From my own experience, the weather was the driving factor in making a commitment. For instance, when I first started bike commuting I committed to bike to work if it was 50 degrees and dry, If you live in Chicago, the average high temperature reaches 50 degrees on March 22. Find the historical average for your city.

Bike commuting to work along the lakefront in Chicago.
  • Ensure Your Wheels are Ready - Simply put, to commute you need access to a bike. This does not mean however that you need to own a bike. ​As an seasoned bike commuter, I love riding with my own bike. However, if I was starting over, I would take a serious look at bike sharing. The number of bike sharing programs has expanded dramatically in recent years and deserves consideration especially if you are just starting out. You can see if a program exists in your city and learn the options for accessing the bike. Alternatively, if you already own a bike, now would be a great time to take it to a local bike shop for a tune up. Many shops are less busy this time of the year and can give you extra attention. A tune-up is really important especially if you have not ridden the bike in a long time. Let the bike shop find any problems instead of you discovering them on the commute. Here are some bike shops to consider in Chicago.

  • Plan Your Route - In recent years, many cities and municipalities have significantly increased the number of streets designated as bike routes. In many instances they have created bike maps that highlight the safest streets for biking. If you don' have access to a bike map, check out the biking option in Google Maps. It works in the same manner as planning directions for a car but helps you to pick out the routes most suitable for biking. ​I recommend a practice ride of the route. It will help you to gauge the distance and time the commute actually takes, and what to expect on the ride. You will also learn where to lock the bike. Speaking of which, here's a link to the proper way to lock your bike.

​There is no substitute for actually biking to work ​and learning from the experience.

  • Form a Routine - Just like any commuter, you need a system. If you were driving or taking a train to work, you would know where your keys, phone, wallet/purse, backpack, lunch, coat, etc. are located and not try to find them as you are dashing out the door. For bike commuters, this means a little preparation is necessary. For instance, if your ride is over 5 miles, bring a change of clothes since you will sweat in the ones you wear on the bike. Pack the clothes the night before so you don't show up at work with no socks to wear! The same is true for your helmet, pack and keys to the bike lock. Over time you can tweak the routine based on what you need to carry.

There are other considerations such as getting a shower at work, dealing with unexpected situations such as a flat tire, and upgrading your bike with fenders and a rack. I'll cover these topics in future articles. For now however, the main point is to get started. ​Make this the year that one that biking becomes a bigger part of your life.​

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