Bicycle commuters still make up less than 1% of the daily commuting stream in the U.S., though the number is growing in cities like New York, San Francisco, Portland (Oregon) and Minneapolis. It's generally a combination of factors—like bypassing traffic and parking hassles, desire for a healthier lifestyle and freedom from public transit schedules—that pushes a perfectly level-headed person to take up bike commuting. Predictably, the first signs of spring cause an annual rush of would-be commuters into local bike shops to gear up for the daily ride. Don't be one of those people! There are plenty of good reasons to saddle up now (as in right this minute) and start commuting before summer melts away.
1. Bike Shops Want Your Business
Every April, stir-crazy downtown office workers pour into Portland's Clever Cycles bike shop, according to owner Martina Fahrner. They want bikes and commuting accessories, so they can bookend long days behind a desk with warm-weather bike rides. Fahrner also sees a smaller bump in sales around mid-September, when local students come in to get geared up. Want more attention when you swing by your local bike shops? Go now, after the initial craze has died and before the back-to-school rush starts.
2. It's Cheap
The cost of gas (and tires) continues to rise, which means the operational costs of a car are going up, too. Earlier this year, AAA determined that a sedan costs its operator 59.6 cents per mile, a mini-van is 63.4 cents and an SUV 75.7 cents. If you shift your 10-mile (each way) commute from car to bike, you can still, this year, save between $476 and $605. Some employers may also pay you up to $20 a month for bike commuting, thanks to the 2008 Bicycle Commuter Act. That amount, though small, brings bicycle commuters closer to parity with their coworkers who receive transit or parking benefits.
3. It's Good For You
Last year, a systematic review of 16 studies on health and cycling came to the conclusion that (duh!) there’s a positive relationship between commuter biking and cardiorespiratory fitness. Also, commuter cycling appears to decrease mortality and cancer rates among older subjects. The reviewers concluded by saying that this type of cycling is “an important contributor for better population health.” It doesn’t take that much low-intensity cycling to stave off obesity and weight gain: Anne Lusk at Harvard used data from the well-known Nurses Study to show that just 35 minutes of daily biking helped healthy-weight cyclists forestall weight gain; overweight women in the study needed just 20 to 25 minutes of biking to cut their risk of gaining new weight in half.
4. Route Finding is Easier Now
The actual physical process of finding the best route to and from your workplace is much easier when summer wanes. Not only are temps pleasant in the mornings and late afternoons, but longer light helps you wayfind more easily.
5. Commute "Challenges" Can Be Fun...Really
For the past 17 years, bike commuters in Portland have competed each September to see which team (company teams, non-profit organization teams, school teams) can consistently log the most miles for the highest ‘commute rate.’ Last year, for example, 12,000 riders from nearly 1,500 different work places rode more than a million miles during their bike commutes in September. Challenges like this one help commuters have fun and find their ‘tribe.’ If you start commuting prior to work and school, you’ll have a jump when your city’s challenge program rolls around, or you might be inspired to get a challenge going at your office.
6. It's Winter Tune-Up Time
It might seem far off now, but eventually the dog days will be behind us, and the first rains, snows and winds of winter will begin. That’s when fair-weather recreational riders hang up their wheels in favor of stationary spinning classes. But hardened commuters often won't let go of the stress-busting and performance benefits of biking, so they keep right on riding. Of course, there's truth to the old Scandinavian adage that there's no such thing as bad weather, only insufficient clothing. You'll need layers of Merino gear and breathable waterproof outerwear, and your bike might need thicker (even nubby) tires. Technical apparel for everyday bike commuting has never been better, so now is the time to get equipped.