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Making bike commuting work

Posted: May 19, 2011 - 6:52pm  |  Updated: May 20, 2011 - 7:30am
  Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File

Biking to work is a noble idea. May being Bike Month there is no better time to try. I’ve enjoyed biking for years and appreciate the benefits. Biking to work can be difficult, however.

Why bike to work? My answer was a combination of guilt and practicality. I’ve always supported Juneau Freewheeler events, but every time I try to plan on biking to work my plans fall flat. So I’m giving up planning and just riding my bike. Second, my car was in the shop for a week, so I took alternative transportation.

What is needed to bike to work? A good working bike, a basic level of fitness, the right gear for bad weather and a plan to get out of the house a little earlier than usual for the commute.

I take the first two for granted and many friends have mentioned the difficulty of their first ride. It’s important to remember to make sure tires have enough air, that gears can shift and the seat is the correct height. A well-working, comfortable bike makes the trip much easier. Try riding part of the way rather than the entire way for a long commute. Get a ride to work with a friend or by bus, then ride home. People out the road could avoid construction areas by parking in the valley and riding from there. Corey Pavitt has offered Pavitt’s Fitness Center parking lot for such a ride.

At work prepare to clean up after your ride. The Alaska Club offers free showers to anyone bringing in a bicycle helmet. Plan a place to park your bike, either locked to a secure post or placed in a storage area. Workers will be impressed at your efforts, especially if you look and smell refreshed.

Dressing for the weather can be a challenge. Mornings are always cooler than afternoons, and gloves can make a significant difference. Rain provides its own challenges. The beginning commuter should often have a back-up plan. Putting your bike on the bus is always an option. Fenders are no longer standard on bikes, but detachable fenders make a difference. Full fenders mounted to a commuting bike make a world a difference in the rain.

After years of recreational cycling, I’ve taken the commuter plunge. On rainy days, I put on shoe covers, rain pants and place important papers in garbage bags inside my pack (not that different than when I backpack to camp). Most days the weather surprises me. It is usually worse to think about riding in rainy Juneau conditions then to get out and actually ride.

Riding to work, I arrive fully awake and invigorated. My five mile commute takes 20 minutes by bike, about twice the time of my car commute. I find that riding relaxes me at the end of the day. I also no longer need to carve out some extra exercise time. I come from a family with a history of health problems, but my exercise is keeping my weight down and my fitness up.

I made it through one week of biking to work. I cleaned and greased my chain, checked my tires and look forward to continuing this practice through Bike Week. The weather may not be perfect, but every ride makes me feel better.

 

• Dave Ringle is active in Juneau Freewheelers, the local bicycling club.

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