May 15 is Bike to Work Day, a part of National Bike Month, and an annual awareness drive for area bike associations to show commuters just how easy it can be to ditch their cars and subway passes. If Bike to Work Day will be your first time - or if the sight of other bicycle commuters inspires you - the first step to becoming a bicycle commuter (assuming you already have a bike and a helmet, of course) is to plan your route.
It seems easy - just use the same streets your car takes, right? Not quite. While the route you drive may be the most efficient, it's often not the best for you when you downsize to two wheels. Here are some tips for planning your bicycle commute:
- Consult Google Maps for a parallel route. Chances are, your regular car route is multi-laned and high-speed - not ideal conditions for a first time biker. Look for a parallel route that has slower roads, fewer cars and potholes, and less stressful conditions. Pay attention to grade, too - choose the flattest route possible if you don't want to arrive at work sweaty and disheveled. It may take you more time to get there, but you won't arrive at work with white knuckes and a clenched jaw.
- Ask your area bike association for advice. Many cities have bike associations with experienced bike commuters who have already plotted out the best and safest routes. There are also route-planning websites, such as Bikely, Map My Ride, or Ride the City (New York City) for pre-tested commute routes from experienced bikers. If you use streets that cyclists already frequent, you'll be safer, too: cars who drive regularly on that road will know to watch for them, and adjust their driving accordingly. Your local bike shop is also a good source of information.
- Utilize public transit. If some parts of your commute are inaccessible by bike, or simply too long, take public transit partway. Having a public transit route that runs parallel to your bike route is also a good idea in case of inclement weather or a mechanical problem with your bike.
- Enjoy the view. Biking to work should be enjoyable - you aren't stuck in traffic, and you have fresh air to breathe. Make sure your bike route is pleasant, too. Look for routes that go through parks, on trails, or even just past your favorite coffeeshop for a morning pit stop.