by Nathan Dooley [Email address: ndooley #AT# austin.rr.com - replace #AT# with @ ]
Tom Watterson has been riding his bike to work every day for several
years. Originally, he rode to Austin High School, where he was a
teacher. Now he teaches at McCallum HS, and his daily ride has become
much shorter and easier. Tom commutes by bike for several reasons: it’s
a healthy choice, it’s less stressful (and often quicker) than driving
in rush hour traffic, and it helps him set a good example for his
Like Tom, other Allandale neighbors have found bikes to be well-suited to their daily commute. They have varying reasons for choosing to ride instead of driving:
• Caden Schaefer loves cycling, but also plans to save money by reducing his gasoline consumption.
• MeriJayd O’Connor bikes to help the environment by decreasing her carbon output and buying less gas.
• Like MeriJayd and Caden, Steven Zettner is motivated by environmental concerns. Additionally, he finds that cycling helps to fit exercise into his schedule and is less stressful than driving.
• Charlie Scott enjoys being able to get exercise while on his way to work, and finds that biking saves both parking and gas money.
Chris LeBlanc, who often bikes to work with his wife Pam, has been commuting by bike for the last 9 years or so. “All in all,” says Chris, “it’s been very good.” So good, in fact, that he now serves on the Austin Bicycle Advisory Committee, which seeks to give a voice to cyclists in our city.
In addition to helping the environment and being a money saver, biking can be a fun family activity, too. Steven Zettner says, “I bought a forward-positioned child seat to take my 2-year-old daughter to school. It’s like she’s sitting in my lap, and she gets to hold the handlebars. She was every bit as excited as Daddy about getting a bike, and has just loved riding it to school.”
Of course, biking to work is not exactly a leisurely ride in the park. For one thing, Austin is hot for much of the year, and most cyclists don’t want to show up to work sweaty. Cold weather can also be very uncomfortable, as can hard rain. Seasonal allergies may occasionally make it difficult to ride regularly. Also, bikes can be easier to steal than cars (Pam LeBlanc had a bike stolen from work). Finally, drivers can occasionally be rude or inconsiderate, and car traffic can be heavy or fast on some roads.
Despite these limitations, the neighbors interviewed for this article were uniformly positive about their cycling experiences. In part, this may be because riding a bike to work is not necessarily an all-or-nothing choice. Many regular bike commuters choose to drive at least once a week, and some commuters drive more frequently than they cycle. Starting out by biking just one day a week may be a good way to test the concept and ease into a more regular bike commute.
A few other neighborly tips on bike commuting:
• Get appropriate equipment. Your needs will vary depending on your circumstances, but might include a trail-friendly bike, a helmet, a sturdy lock, and a backpack or rack/saddle bags to carry papers or a change of clothes (if you plan to change after cycling). Many of these items are available used, and need not cost a lot of money.
• If you have trouble shifting gears on most bikes, consider a bike with internal hub gears—or, if you’d like a physical challenge, a single-speed bike.
• Be able and willing to change a flat tire on occasion. It’s not very difficult, and small, portable tire-changing kits are widely available for little cost.
• Use flashing lights when out after dark (and perhaps during the day in order to be more noticeable).
• Plan your route carefully. Many of the streets that are best suited for driving (Burnet, Lamar, Mopac, etc.) have heavy traffic that moves too quickly to be safe for cyclists. Take bike routes and/or ride through neighborhoods—they’re more scenic, anyway!
• Obey traffic laws. Bikes are moving vehicles that are expected to obey the law. Traffic violations can lead to tickets, and, even more importantly, can be dangerous because they make it hard for drivers to predict what cyclists will do.
If you’re considering biking to work, now is a great time to try it out. May is National Bike Month, and the festivities include Bike-to-Work Week (May 12–16) and Bike-to-Work Day (Friday, May 16). On the morning of May 16, you can even get breakfast with your morning commute, since many locations around town will be providing free food for cyclists.
For more details about Bike Month events around town, see www.austincycling.org/bike_month.php.