Today, America kicks off National Bike Month, our annual homage to two-wheeled travel. Here in Seattle, Grist’s hometown, every month can seem like bike month: Hearty souls ride in weather when full scuba gear is requisite. But today brought sunshine, and cyclists swarmed the streets, swerving through traffic, towing kiddie trailers through downtown rush hour, and generally acting like they owned the place.
It was great to see so many people out riding. I was also afraid I was going to see someone die. So for the sake of a safe and successful Bike Month, Grist is offering up a challenge to would-be bike commuters everywhere — and a few suggestions on how to get started.
Get your ass on that bike!
This is a call to all y’all who have threatened for years to pedal to work but just can’t get in the saddle. We know, we know — your bike tires are flat, the chain is rusty, you’re not sure your legs will get you up that last hill. Spare us the excuses: Follow the simple steps below and you’ll be blowing past standstill traffic in no time. If it seems like a lot to learn, don’t worry. Bike Month is in full swing, but official Bike to Work Week doesn’t start until May 14, so you’ve got time to prepare.
Post your stories and/or photos in the comments section below, and we’ll include our faves on the website later in the month. Points given for high fashion, unicycles, unicorns, and Iron-Man commutes that include swimming and/or running sections.
And lest you think we’re all bluster, we’re challenging the Grist staff to get off the bus and start riding as well. We’ll share a few of our most triumphant and harrowing tales in the weeks to come.
Three easy steps to getting your ass (and bike) in gear:
1. Get the thing tuned. Two things, actually — body and bike. Lurch out onto streets when your brakes, shifters, etc. aren’t working properly, and your inaugural commute could turn into a short trip to the curb and back.
Even if you know how to make all the adjustments yourself, consider having a professional bike mechanic do the work. They’re really good at what they do — and besides, it’s way more fun to ride when your bike is tuned to perfection. (Looking for a trusty mechanic? Just ask the hardcore, spandex-clad commuter in your office.)
Likewise, you won’t want to attempt a commute if it’s the first time you’ve been on a bike in three years. That old saying about “it’s just like riding a bike” is true, but again, consider the fun factor: A few spins around the block will prepare your legs and your lungs for the ride ahead, and just make the whole experience that much more enjoyable.
2. Make a plan. When it comes to bike commuting, your route makes all the difference. End up on the shoulder of some freeway, or riding down a narrow street between fast-moving traffic and a line of parked cars, and 50 years from now, you’ll be telling the grandkids about the one time you biked to work and nearly met your end. On the other hand, chart a route that takes you down bike paths and lanes and little-used back streets, and you’ll not only set yourself up for success, but also learn a few things about your hometown in the process. It’s true that you see more, hear more, smell more from the back of a bike than you do in a car.
Google Maps can help you find good bike routes, local cycling groups often produce good bikeway maps — and that mechanic you hire to pimp your ride ought to be a font of local biking beta.
Once you’ve established your route, or a couple of options, consider taking a test run on a weekend morning when traffic is light. It’ll give you a chance to check the route for potholes, blind corners, and other unpleasant surprises. You’ll also get a workout and a sense for how long it will take you to get to the office. Take a friend along who has done a lot of riding so you can pick up tips on gear, shortcuts, and scenic routes.
3. Be safe. One last thought before you roll onto the street: Don’t get yourself run over. That means following the traffic laws — yes, just like you’re driving a car — and not acting like the crazy people I saw this morning in Seattle.
Also, as some wise soul once told me, “Ride like you’re invisible.” It’s best to assume that every driver on the road is completely oblivious to your presence, even if you’re covered from head to toe in blinky lights. You’d be amazed at how often they really don’t see you. It’s not their fault. They’re daydreaming about getting a little exercise.
Want more tricks of the trade? The Grist archives are full of useful info about everything from bicycling fashion to dealing with irate drivers, and from biking with kids to what all those funny markings on the road mean. We encourage seasoned cyclists to add tips in the comments section at the bottom of this post, as the best advice comes from fellow travelers.
Our bet: Once you’ve tried it, you’ll be back for more.
Happy Bike Month everyone! We’ll see you one the roads.
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