Cycle of Life
The other day I hopped in my Subaru Outback only to discover the battery was dead, which I thought was odd until I realized: I hadn’t driven the car in two months. I’d gotten so jazzed about bike commuting that I’d been riding nearly everywhere—to the supermarket, the dentist, the hair salon—and had forgotten the Outback was parked in our alley. The one time I drove to yoga since buying my bike, I got a $160 speeding ticket and missed the class. Karma, if you ask me.
For years I cycled for fitness on a skinny-tired road bike without even considering I could pedal the half mile to the grocery store. Then I ran into a 60- something neighbor, bike helmet on her head, pushing a cart down the pasta aisle at the market and felt silly and lazy for having polluted the air in pursuit of a box of penne. Now that I’ve invested in a comfy, upright bike with wide tires, a basket and panniers, I’ve found cycling is actually a practical way to get around. Plus, bike commuting makes you feel like a million bucks. While everyone’s circling the bank parking lot in frustration, you pull up and hop off your bike, newly energized and remarkably unbothered by delays in the teller line.
Americans are only beginning to discover that bike commuting rocks—in Amsterdam’s city center, 41 percent of trips are made by bike, whereas in Portland, Ore., the most bike-happy U.S. city, just 6 percent of residents pedal to work. But things are looking up. “We in the U.S. are finally realizing that there’s a limited supply of oil, and there are environmental consequences to excessive car use,” says John Pucher, Ph.D., a professor of urban planning and transportation at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Pucher notes that bike commuting rates have tripled or quadrupled over the past 20 years in cities such as San Francisco and Chicago, thanks to added bike lanes and paths, improved bike parking and more widespread “bike to work” and other promotional programs.
Of course, for all the benefits—burning calories, saving money, reducing your carbon footprint—plenty of people don’t even give commuter biking a chance because of perceived barriers, from crummy weather to concerns about safety (and getting stinky). That’s why we put together this guide to getting in the saddle, complete with all the details on why it’s so good for you and the planet—and how you can make it a part of your lifestyle. With the right gear, planning and practice, you might just discover that bike commuting is not only feasible but, like me, you don’t need your gas-guzzler quite so much (if at all!).