Friday, May 2, 2014

May is Bike Month

As far as I'm concerned, every month is a bike month. But to much of the country, and according to the League of American Bicyclists, May is Bike Month.

Bike shops, clubs, and advocacy groups all over the country will likely have events planned -- group rides, challenges, etc. May 7, for example, is "National Bike to School Day," while the 16th is "National Bike to Work Day." Some of these events, and the mention of them on the news, etc., might help raise some awareness of cyclists out on the roads, though as a regular commuter I can attest that convincing many drivers out there that we actually have the right to the road is an uphill battle. Some of us don't need a "bike month" or "bike to work day" to convince us to ride -- but it might be the thing that gets some other people out there to at least give it a try.

Looking back, it was about two years ago that I started commuting by bike regularly to my current job. I was not exactly new to bike commuting. When I was in high school I quickly discovered that I hated buying gas and so I often rode my bike to school or to my part-time and summer jobs. I regularly rode my bike to classes in college from my off-campus apartment. And when I first started teaching (as a substitute, originally), and lived only a few miles from the school, I often rode my bike to work when the weather permitted. But for the past 20 years, I've worked at a high school that is about 14 miles from my home. I had long wanted to ride to work, but had been hesitant to do it for various reasons. There were no "bike friendly" routes between home and work. With that kind of distance, I was concerned about things like showering, the need to dress professionally, and other necessities. For a long time it just didn't seem like a practical option.

A great way to get to work.
But then two years ago in May, and yes, "Bike to Work Day" was coming up, I thought, "hell with it" and determined to give it a try. And once I made that determination, it turned out that all those "obstacles" that had been keeping me from riding either didn't materialize, or turned out to be much easier to handle than I'd imagined.

To prepare for the commute, I first had to figure out a route. I had to choose between the main thoroughfares or the back roads. The main routes were much more direct, but also much more likely to be busy with traffic. The back roads would end up taking much longer, and I had to consider how much time I was willing to spend on the road and how early I wanted to get up in the morning. Ultimately, I found that the main thoroughfares were best in the morning. Traffic at that early hour was actually pretty light for most of the trip, and the route was well-lit which could be a benefit for several reasons. In the afternoon, when traffic would be heavier, I decided to take the back roads -- the added time and distance not being so much of a concern.

The other thing I needed to figure out was showering and clothing. I prepared by taking some professional clothes into work ahead of time and keeping them there. I also brought in a towel and some shower supplies. Compared to some people, I'm lucky in that we do have showers available (it's a high school -- we have a gym and showers). As it turned out, however, the shower is generally unnecessary as I can clean up as much as I need to in a typical bathroom sink. Cleaning up with a wash cloth and changing into fresh clothes is enough, and people have no idea I rode my bike in to work.

My "experiment" in biking to work showed me that the obstacles were not as difficult as I had feared, and I soon began riding much more frequently. Nowadays, I keep a couple of suits, dress shoes, and other necessities in a cabinet at work. On days that I do drive to work, I bring in fresh shirts and such, and I try to keep several days worth on hand. That simplifies things quite a bit, as I have less to worry about and less to pack up in the mornings.

Last year, I was able to manage a bike-to-work average of 50% -- not bad considering the climate of NE Ohio. I was hoping to beat that this year (I measure by school year, by the way, not calendar year) and back in the fall I was well on track to do so. But this past winter was absolutely brutal. Weeks passed without temperatures rising above single digits. Snow and sleet were unending. I barely managed to ride at all during January and February, and even March and April provided limited opportunities. Unfortunately I won't make my goal this year, but I will at least still finish the year above 40% -- I don't like it, but I'll try not to feel too disappointed. Some would still find it respectable.

I hope the awareness of "Bike Month" might spur some others to think about how they might be able to work bike commuting into their own lives. Sure, not everyone is able to do it. My own commute of 14 - 15 miles is workable for me, but any longer than that would probably be pushing the limit. But I'd encourage others to look at the obstacles keeping them from riding to work -- it's possible that, like mine, those obstacles might just be easier to overcome than we imagine.


  1. Excellent account, Brook! Here in the UK, we have Bike Week - usually the second week in June. I know quite a few people who (re-)started cycling on the back of that. Also the #30daysofbiking campaign during the month of April.

    Sometimes people just need a little nudge. :)

  2. I got bed up too, so in Feb. I purchased some Black Diamond Everest-quality mittens (literally), continued to put hand warmers in my shoes, and just got going. I already had a bunch of other cold weather gear. Coldest I have ridden so far is 15 F, and I am pretty sure I know how to push it lower. It is a challenge, but better than not riding. My coworkers are a little concerned when snow is falling, but I know how to deal with that too. Good lights are a must for inclement weather.