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Be a daily bicycle commuter

05/03/2007

By Jeremy Gulley

With Bike to Work and Bike to Market Days approaching on May 18 and 19, I wanted to share my perspective as a bicycle commuter. My hope is to encourage others to consider making more miles of their daily wanderings on a bicycle. This spring as I dug around looking for my bicycle gear, fretted over the needed maintenance on my bicycle and dreaded that leaden feeling in my legs on that first commute, I wondered how anyone ends up using their bicycle for transportation at all. After only two weeks and several commutes behind me, I wonder why everyone does not make a bicycle one of their means of transportation! To help get you from that first place to the second, I thought that a brief list of challenges that will inevitably arise when you set out to use your bicycle for transportation might help you to anticipate and deal with these challenges.

1. Preparing your bicycle: This might include tuning it up so that it is a pleasure, not a chore, to ride, outfitting it with fenders, a headlight and taillight, saddlebag and/or panniers. Unfortunately, most bicycles do not come ready to ride comfortably in wet conditions or after dark.

2. Fitness: Realizing that no matter how active you are, unless you rode a trainer all winter, the first couple of rides will feel tiring, slow and probably make you sore the next day. Start slowly and stick with it; it only gets better!


3. Riding gear: Riding apparel should include a helmet and adequate raingear. Specialized riding gear does exist but, to start with, raid your existing gloves, waterproof jackets, hats, etc. Over time you will find what works for you.

4. Ease on the bicycle: Comfort riding on the road in traffic comes with time. Choose carefully what you initially bite off and build your confidence incrementally if you need to.

When I talk to people about commuting, many speak of cycling on Route 100 with trepidation (these are mostly motorists fearing for me). I commute between Waitsfield and Duxbury and my experience with motorists has been extremely positive. In general, folks do all they can to look out for my safety and I appreciate it. I am viscerally aware of my vulnerability on the road, although I choose to not dwell on it. If you are nervous about getting out on your bicycle to commute to work, I suggest giving it a try. I think that you will be surprised at how thoughtful and courteous most motorists are. There is in fact a lot of space between the yellow and white lines. Cars and trucks can pass you without leaving their lane although they do often swing wide to give you extra space. Return motorists' courtesy. Your behavior on the road goes a long way towards ensuring your safety. Signal what you are going to do and keep your riding even and predictable. Think about how you would view your riding as a motorist.

I am a motorist for most of my annual locomotion and I can empathize with motorists. It does not always feel easy to negotiate around a cyclist when there is oncoming traffic. I believe some of our anxiety comes not only from the perceived physical constraints of the road but also from encountering something that we are unaccustomed to encountering on the road-a bicycle! Although novel and possibly somewhat uncomfortable, I suggest that more bicycles on the road are good for everyone. Good for the cyclist because you will never feel as good as you do when you arrive at work or at home after riding there on your bike; good for your health because you just got good cardiovascular exercise doing something that you had to do anyway (get to work); and good for us all (including the folks who passed you with care on your ride) because one less trip was made in a car with its polluting emissions.

So to anyone thinking about getting on their bike and using it for transportation, go for it! Yes, it will be an adjustment at first. Prepare yourself and your bike, take incremental steps toward your goal, and enjoy the journey. The world that you see every day from your car looks a lot different on your bike. There is a lot more between point A and point B that you never get to see at 50 mph. Get out there and see it!

Gulley lives in Waitsfield.
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