Tuesday, May 2, 2017

It’s time to get rolling: May Is National Bike Month

By Barb Chamberlain

There’s no better time than National Bike Month to try a bike ride for transportation, whether you’re heading to a neighborhood coffee shop on a Saturday morning, riding with your child to school in a “bike train,” or commuting to work for the first time on Bike to Work Day, May 19.

Even one ride contributes to your own health and pocketbook and cleaner air for all of us. Riding your bike to work takes one motor vehicle off the road and also takes away the stress of looking for and paying for parking.
May is National Bike Month and it’s the perfect time for you and your friends and co-workers to give riding a try.

But maybe riding to work sounds too daunting. For those not used to riding a bike, doing so during heavy traffic times can sound pretty intimidating. If that sounds familiar, maybe test your skills on a non-workday when traffic is lower to test the route and see how long it would take.

Even so, riding to work may feel like too big a step. In that case, think of the other places you go and whether you could go by bike. Given a basket, backpack, or set of bags made to hang on a rack on the bike, you’d be surprised what you can carry home from the grocery store, library, or shopping center. Even better, maybe you and a friend bike to a coffee shop, the park, or the movies — no hauling involved and no parking stress.
The keys to getting started on your bike riding journey are a decent, safe bike,
a pre-planned route and a good helmet are always a good idea.

What you DON’T need to ride your bike

Novice bike riders may look at those who regularly bike and think, “No way, I can’t do that.” But it’s easier than you think. Don’t get caught up in what you don’t need, including:
  • Expensive equipment
  • Special clothing or shoes
  • A high level of fitness or athleticism
  • Special lingo or insider status
Keep it simple. Start slow and see how it fits.
If you can identify a route with designated bike lanes or
a bike path, that will add to your comfort and safety.

What you DO need

While there are plenty of things you don’t need to get started, there are some things that you will need. Safety and comfort is key to a successful bike riding experience.
  • A bike in working condition. If you haven’t ridden it in a long time, get it checked out at a local bike shop so your brakes work, the chain is lubed, and your tires are pumped up. Looking for an affordable used bike? See if your area has a community bike shop or if your local bike shop sells used bikes they take in trade-in; these bikes have been tuned up and are ready to roll. Be careful if you’re looking online, though: Check the serial number with project529.com and bikeindex.org; stolen bikes turn up for sale at prices that are too good to be true.
  • A route to your destination. Don’t assume you’d bike on the same streets you drive on. Google Maps can suggest a biking route based on information provided by your town. Crowd-sourced suggestion sites like RideWithGPS.com or Strava will show routes that lots of people use and are usually good options. Your town or region may have an online or print map of designated bike routes. You want a route with the lowest possible level of stress so you can enjoy the ride, so finding routes with dedicated bike infrastructure like striped or separated bike lane or a shared-used path, lower traffic volume and speeds, bike route signage and walking connections as a fallback can be important.
  • Headlight and taillight. State law requires a headlight and rear reflector but a taillight makes you more visible.
  • A helmet. While sometimes this is required by a local ordinance, it’s always a good idea to protect the only brain you have. 
  • A good lock if you plan to leave your bike; always run the lock through your bike frame and lock it to something that’s attached to the ground if there’s no bike rack.
  • Everyday clothes and ordinary shoes; just plan your route and departure time to ride at a manageable pace.
  • Baby wipes if you’re concerned about the afterglow. Remember, never let them see you sweat.
A good basket, trailer, backpack or bag allows you to transport books,
groceries or laptops while also getting in some great exercise.
A few more keys

You’ve got your gear (or maybe you’re still thinking about it), have your route planned, maybe have taken a practice run or two. What else is important?
  • Knowledge of state bike laws and where to ride so you’re visible and predictable. For a free pocket guide to state bike laws contact info@WAbikes.org to request yours. People who have a Share the Road license plate on their vehicles help fund this educational publication.
  • Some extra motivation. If you’re one of those who finds motivation in making a commitment and recording your progress, sign up for your local bike challenge or the statewide #BikeEverywhere Challenge
Tips for people driving

Even if you won’t be riding a bike, you can still help this month be a success. Safety is the primary goal, so if you’re driving:
  • Be aware there will be more riders on the road than usual during National Bike Month. 
  • Leave at least three feet, preferably more, when passing someone on a bike. You can’t see what the rider can that may present a safety issue, such as broken glass or a grate they need to avoid.
  • When parked, check behind you before opening your car door so you don’t open it unexpectedly in the path of a passing rider. Better yet, make a habit of the “Dutch reach”—reach across your body to open the door with the hand that’s farther away and that will make you twist, giving you the chance to look back.