Friday, May 20, 2011

Bike to Work Day!

So today is Bike to Work Day and since I've been biking to work (and everywhere else for that matter) for over a year, I figured I'd offer some on insight on the Who, What, Where, When, Why and How of bike commuting.

Who should commute by bike?  Just about anyone can ride a bike but bike commuting isn't for everyone.  It's natural and totally normal to feel a bit nervous riding along major roadways, especially during peak traffic hours.  While it would be great to get to a point where we had so many bikes on the roads that drivers really were more mindful, we are far from that point.  Days like today when so many more cyclists than normal take to the streets do go a long way towards helping as you have people who normally drive getting to see a cyclists point of view along with drivers being forced to interact with a greater number of cyclists for 1 day.  With that said, I still think you need to have a bit of an adventurous side to you.  As for physical condition, you don't need to be Lance Armstrong but you should be in reasonable enough health to be sure you can not only make your commute but also be able to handle yourself should problems arise.

My commuting bike.  27 Speed Touring Frame with front and
rear racks.
What should I ride?  People commute on all sorts of different kinds of bikes.  Here in Manhattan the terrain is mostly flat.  Many people ride single speed bikes that are super easy to maintain and less expensive because they don't require shifters or deraileurs.  If you live in a very hilly area, you may be on a regular road bike with gears.  Other things that determine what kind of bike you should ride is what you need to take to work with you.  If you simply need to get yourself to the job, almost any bike can work.  If you need to carry, lunch, a laptop, clothes to change into, etc than your going to need to figure out a way to do that.  Messenger bags, backpacks, rack & panniers are very common on commuter bikes.      The quality of the roads you ride on also plays a role in what you ride.  I take a lot of bumpy, potholed streets, so I need a frame that can accomodate wider tires than a typical road bike yet a MTB is overkill as it is heavy and knobby tires really aren't necessary for paved streets.
My uniquely coded "Pinhead" key to remove my wheels
Where do I keep my bike?  For many people here in NYC this is a huge issue.  Fortunately, Mayor Bloomberg is taking a lot of initiatives to make New York a more bike friendly city.  Legislation has been passed that requires all new office buildings to provide dedicated areas for bicycle storage.  There are also laws requiring parking garages to offer bicycle parking on a daily and monthly basis.  Granted, it's not incredibly cost effective but $60 a month for a bike parking space that frees up room in your apt or allows you to save on cab and subway fare to work each day is well worth it.  For me, I keep my commuter locked up outside all the time!  Some people think I'm crazy and I have had one bike stolen (ride bikes long enough and everyone does!).  I utilize several features to make my bike secure. My favorite security feature are my Pinhead skewers. is a company that makes special skewers that replace the quick release skewers on your wheels, seat post, saddle, and fork.  You cannot remove those components without the special key.  This also means that when locking the bike up, you simply lock the frame to something sturdy.  Without these skewers most people either have to weave a lock and chain through both wheels and their frame and then remove their seat and carry it with them.  It's time consuming and flat out annoying!  In addition to this I use the Kryptonite brand "New York Fuhgeddaboutit" lock and chain.  This lock and chain combo is the largest made and the lock and 3 foot length of chain weigh 13lbs!  It's important to know that no lock and security system is foolproof but most bike thieves are looking for easy targets.  If my bike is parked in a group of bikes, they are going to see all the security features on it and move on to another easier to steal bike!
Me getting prepped for a cold winter
When do I ride?  One of the fears of bike commuting is riding in traffic.  However many people find that because they get up earlier in the morning to ride to work they are actually on the road well before the bulk of the traffic is. Climate conditions may also play a role.  Most of my commutes are from 1-3 miles tops so I ride year round.  I commuted in 20 degree temps this winter!  Many people are 2 or 3 season commuters commuting in either spring and fall and reserving the extreme heat and cold of summer and winter for their cars and others simply skip winter since it's not only cold but the road conditions are often really bad.
Why commute by bike?  It wasn't long ago that people who commuted by bike were considered crazy, eccentric, or just flat out weird.  That was back when gas was .89 a gallon.  Lately, more and more people have been asking me about commuting by bike for one simple reason; GAS IS NOW $4.50 A GALLON!!!  It's simple math really, if your car gets 20MPG and you have a 20 mile round trip commute to work you can save $5 a day.  Doesn't sound like a huge amount but stick that $5 into a piggy bank each day.  At the end of the month you have a credit card payment, a nice dinner out, a new pair of jeans or whatever you desire.  Obviously the savings go up or down based on how far you commute and how efficient your car is.  A moderately fit cyclist on open roads with limited stopping for traffic lights can easily cover 15 miles in an hour.  Besides the obvious savings on gas what better way to squeeze your workout in by making it part of your commute.  You will not only save money but you will get healthier and more fit.  Then of course there is that thing called the environment, reducing emissions is good for everyone.  Then as a new yorker there is my favorite reason; IT'S FASTER!  I will challenge anyone to a race across manhattan during rush hour.  I will ride my bike and you can take, cab, bus, subway, whatever you want.  I can almost guarantee I will beat you!  (I live 1/2 a block from the East River and have a client that lives right on the Hudson River 15 blocks south, I get to him in 15 minutes or less everytime covering about 3.5 miles in the process)
How do I get started?  Dust off that old bike thats been in the garage, throw some oil on the chain, put some air in the tires, take it for a spin around the block.  You'd be surprised what a little TLC can do for an old bike.  Don't have an old bike kicking around, go down to your local bike shop and have a discussion with an expert.  They'll tell you about different styles of bikes and most importantly discuss getting you fitted properly to the bike of your choice!

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