High of 50? Dust off your bike

Today marked the first day of my roughly seven-month biking season here in New York. The thermometer registered about 38° F when I left my house, which is a fine temperature for biking. A hat and some thin gloves keep the chill off, and the cool air keeps the tourist hordes away from the Brooklyn Bridge. Later in the summer the path pictured above will be thick with cyclists and pedestrians — which is great, actually. New York is a very walkable and bikeable city, and I’m happy to take in the views over the bridge at a more leisurely pace. But it’s nice to have it to myself every once and a while.

When does your bike commute begin?

manhattan-bridge.jpg

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  1. Mike - March 18, 2009

    i have geared up this winter to be able to ride more comfortably ten months a year in michigan: fenders for my mtn bike, waterproof pants and booties, red blinking lights, and a high powered bike light so i can ride in the dark. i don’t mind the cold too much, but when it drops below twenty, that’s too much for me. i arrive to my teaching job in such a better frame of mind when i don’t jump in my car.

  2. Tom Harrison - March 18, 2009

    Mike –
    That’s what I have done for the last three years, but this year it snowed in November and the roads have been pretty much solid ice until last week. Do you have studs on your tires, or are you just good at taking a fall? :-)
    Tom

  3. Dave in Ohio - March 18, 2009

    I started biking to work early in 2006 here in central Ohio. My trip distance is 4.5 miles each way, which takes me about 22 minutes with stoplights, etc. I usually take a few extra moments to pick up some trash near the creek or storm drains (which lead straight to the river), and recycle it at home or work. My carbon footprint has to be low!
    Biking is a great way to travel in town, where the streets are in a grid pattern. I usually ride a block off the main arterial roads. I figure biking to work has saved me $1200 and 17 8-hour days of time vs. waiting for and taking the city bus, and $3400 vs. driving my car to work (since 2006). I’ve also reduced my carbon footprint by over 1400 lbs. compared to either the bus or my hybrid Insight (which I learned coincidentally each have about the same CO2 emissions rate per passenger mile).
    The first year I biked from April to November. The second year was from March on into December. Last year I biked in every month, at least 5 times each month. It’s been fun to log and tally my results: 78 bike roundtrips in ’06, 136 in ’07, and 156 in ’08. For ’09 I’m already +18 trips over last year’s numbers at this time.
    I used to not ride if AM temperatures were below 20 degrees F, but realized it didn’t matter if I dressed properly. Wearing layers and wicking shirts, thin fleece tops etc. has been the secret. I have a reflective jacket with a treatment called Illuminite that lights up like a street sign when car lights shine on it, for the winter. LED headlamps and taillights are great lightweight safety items during the darker months (now past). In the winter, I found that fleece lined leather mittens were my ticket to avoiding cold fingers on the bike (which generates a windchill as you ride).
    This morning when I arrived at work (in a large downtown office building) there were 22 bikes already parked in the basement bike parking room. The idea’s catching on!
    Going car-free for most of each week is quite feasible, I’ve learned. Biking has been a great boost for my mental and physical health. Although I do spend money on bike equipment, it seems better than throwing away dues on a health club to use a glorified hamster treadmill.

  4. atoms - March 18, 2009

    Dave,
    ..”better than throwing away dues on a health club to use a glorified hamster treadmill” is the greatest line I’ve read in months. Brilliant! I hope I remember to give you credit when I use it…

  5. Monty - March 18, 2009

    I live in the Seattle area, so the only time I pause biking is when it snows. Which, unfortunately, has happened a bunch this winter – but I still manage to ride all 12 months, usually 2 days a week in the winter and 3-5 in the summer.

  6. Shirley - March 18, 2009

    I workout on an exercise bike at our university gym in addition to using other machines. I want to buy a bike to ride around our area for exercise but my husband strongly objects, he says it is too dangerous. Our dentist was hit by a truck while riding a bike and almost died, he was in rehab for a year and retired early. He says that could happen to me. How can I convince him it is safe and that accident was unusual. (I am 67)

  7. Adam Stein - March 18, 2009

    Great question, Shirley. I looked around a bit for information online. This page is very dense with information:
    http://www.kenkifer.com/bikepages/health/risks.htm
    Of course, cycling is not a no-risk activity (nothing is). But it’s no more dangerous than driving a car, and the health benefits are enormous. Good luck to you.

  8. ben - March 18, 2009

    A – you should say that thanks for the concern but its important to me and that is what you should really care about.
    B- make sure you do your biking in safe areas during non-busy times, wear bright clothing.
    C – Practice first on bike paths.

  9. Anonymous - March 18, 2009

    Thank you for the website full of bicycling information. I should note that the dentist was riding with headphones and did not hear the truck. His prime form of exercise was bicycling until then. He was wearing a helmet.

  10. Phoenix Woman - March 18, 2009

    Shirley, it’s the headphones that did it!
    1) Don’t wear headphones while riding. Focus on your surroundings — don’t zone out listening to tunes on the iPod or transistor radio. This is especially important for seniors whose hearing may already be compromised.
    2) Get a helmet AND a folding rear-view mirror to mount on your helmet. It’s easier to avoid those big trucks if you can see them coming. Bell helmets have visors that are designed to hold the mounts for folding mirrors.
    3) Get a front light (white) and a rear light (red) for your bike. Make sure you can be seen, especially at night!
    4) Take your cellphone with you in case of problems, or if you need to get directions or even a cab ride home if desired.
    5) Talk to your local bike shop about commuter bikes or step-through bikes (the “girl frame” bikes with the lowered top tube) if you want to be able to mount and dismount easily.
    6) Get a rear rack and bike bags or panniers. Now you can run errands!
    Happy riding!

  11. MG - March 19, 2009

    My first year biking has been rather successful. I began my adventure in May when I headed back to school to get a 2nd Bachelors degree and found the bus routes too long and the parking situation a nightmare!
    Luckily I was able to salvage a 1980′s Nishiki bike from my parents basement which I have outfitted as the almost-perfect commuter bike. It’s only real downside is that it’s a tall men’s bike and I am a relatively short woman! I gave it a tune-up, new tubes and tires, a rear rack, front and rear lights, fenders, and new comfort grip handlebars! I also splurged for waterproof pants and a waterproof bag which I hope will come in handy this Spring!
    Living in Boston and a bit uneasy about the winter weather, I only stopped biking in December and just got back out there yesterday! I am planning to bike every day from now until AT LEAST next December. I liked the idea of tracking how many days I ride this year and I hope to improve each year.
    HAPPY RIDING!

  12. Adrian - March 19, 2009

    As a Boston area bike commuter, it’s only ice that really stops me. Though that happens before the temp gets too low — I have to cross a highway and the only routes are either a bike path that ices up, a four-lane interchange, or a windy narrow road. I’ll bike above 20F and am usually dripping with sweat within minutes of stepping inside.

  13. Shirley - March 21, 2009

    Thank you for the helpful comments on bike riding.

  14. Peter Raymond - March 25, 2009

    I ride two miles to my job all year around; my colleagues think it’s heroic, but there’s a paradox in that being out in the weather gives me a different relationship to it than scurrying between heated house, car heater, and heated workplace. Intense cold is problematic only on exposed skin, so I wear a mask, etc.
    My bike has studded tires which work well on hard ice, but snow narrows the streets and closes sidewalks, so I have to time passage through narrow spots to fit with traffic.
    I didn’t plan all this, but when I stopped driving my old car, its bottom rusted out and became dangerous, so I never bought another; my wife has a car for trips and heavy shopping, but I get by with a Burley trailer for light shopping.
    Hardest thing about winter biking, ironically, is not getting overheated; clothing is so effective that I have to slow to a crawl in order not to come to work dripping.
    The greatest benefit beside $aving is freedom from traffic constraints. And one hears birds, smells the wind, and can sing anything one wishes…

  15. Albert - March 25, 2009

    Like Dave in Ohio, I, too, have an Insight hybrid. I put on 14,000 miles in seven years. I bike to work all the time. I bike to the grocery shop, to the gym and to whatever else most of the time. Besides the health benefit, I enjoy the freedom from my car. I don’t feel particularly heroic riding my bike but I enjoy not being a slave to my car. I think people who bike in Michigan, Boston and Ohio are heroic. I just wonder why, given our year-round dry, warm weather (very hot in the summer) in El Paso, not more people use bikes. It definitely has to do with our state of mind that personal mobility must be tied to the fossil-fuel-consuming automobile. Owning a late model monstrous truck-SUV is still very much a status symbol in Texas. Any suggestion on how to promote my idea of practicing reversed snobbery?

  16. Adam Stein - March 25, 2009

    Yes! Get involved in the Livable Streets movement:
    http://www.livablestreets.com
    Better infrastructure will bring out more cyclists, which in turns creates a positive feedback loop.
    I don’t see a chapter in El Paso, which means you could become a local hero by starting one. You could also try linking up to the Austin group for ideas and support:
    http://www.livablestreets.com/projects/urban-austin

  17. steve - March 25, 2009

    I ride 12 months of the year in Massachusetts.
    I use studded tires from November through April 1.
    Anyone who is planning to ride their bike for commuting would be well served by reading the traffic cycling sections of Effective Cycling by Forester or by taking a class from the League of American Bicyclists.
    If you haven’t done either one of these, there are vastly important gaps of information you are missing about biking well on the roads. This applies to everyone, even the lyca-clad and cyclists with 30 years of experience.