Why not give bicycle commuting a try during May?

April 20, 2011 

May is the month of the Intercity Transit Bicycle Commuter Contest. Actually, it’s not so much a contest as an opportunity to join about 1,500 other people in the fun and fitness of riding bikes to work, school, and on errands.

The official contest not only provides fun events, free bicycle tune-ups and valuable coupons, but it also lends the respectability you may need to explain to skeptical family and colleagues your new adventure.

I started bike commuting in the spring of 1998 because I had recently moved close enough to bike to work, and I wanted to get healthier (I was overweight) and to reduce my environmental impact. The reasons I continue to bike commute have changed over time.

Looking back at the last 11 years of bicycle commuting, what stands out for me now is the element of vigor and adventure it has added to my daily life. It makes my body and mind feel alive and capable at the start and end of each workday.

It connects me to the sights, sounds, smells and feel of the world around me. I look forward to seeing the river and fields I pass by every morning and evening. A car now feels confining, a loss of independence or self-reliance. I would even admit to having experienced some of the endorphin bliss and mental clarity that science tells us comes with exercise such as bicycling. I have also increased my lung capacity, most useful to inflate party balloons and air mattresses.

Of course, bicycle commuting has its challenges: namely, distance from work, increased commute time, changing clothes, showering, wind, rain, cold, grit, flat tires, equipment and safety concerns. A surprising number of options exist to meet these challenges.

If you live farther away than you want to cycle, you can transport your bike on a car or a bus and start from a midway point. Alternatively you can ride your bike to a bus or colleague’s home and take the bus or carpool to work; or you can drive to work and bike home and back to work the next morning. If your employer doesn’t have a shower, you might take a Vermont shower using a wet wash cloth.

A hook behind your door or coat rack will hold an amazing number of clothing changes. For a bevy of great tips, including critical information on safe riding practices, check out the Washington State Bicycle Commute Guide on the web.

Safety remains a big concern.

The trend in Washington over the last seven years is a clear decline in fatal and serious bicycle/vehicle accidents. See www.wtsc.wa.gov/statistics-reports/crash-data. With the number of cyclists increasing, the accident rate predictably will continue to fall, as has happened throughout Europe. Further, Washington has recently passed laws requiring driver’s training students and adult drivers with infractions to take a class on driving safely among vulnerable users, such as bicyclists and pedestrians.

To put bicycling risk in perspective, the hourly rate of fatalities for popular activities such as swimming, snowmobiling, and waterskiing exceeds that of bicycling. More to the point, your cycling risks dramatically decline if you don’t ride at night without lights, ride drunk or erratically, ride against traffic, ride on sidewalks, cut corners on a left turn, ride close to parked cars with doors that might open, or run red lights or stop signs. Also, one of a cyclist’s greatest fears – being struck from behind – is one of the least common accidents.

Cycling undeniably poses special dangers, but the experience of many thousands of cyclists over a number of decades has shown that you can largely mitigate those risks by following safe riding practices and using visible clothing, a helmet, a mirror, and bright lights. To sign up for the contest go to www.intercitytransit.com/programs/bicyclecontest/.

Brian Faller, a local attorney, is a member of The Olympian’s Board of Contributors. He can be reached at brianfaller@comcast.net.

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