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Earth Week 2013 on AOL: Biking to Work

First Posted: 04/22/13 EDT Updated: 04/23/13 EDT

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Bike to Work: 10 ways to stress-free commuting

Content sponsored by the All Hands on Earth campaign benefiting The Nature Conservancy. Here’s how you can get involved.

I know what you’re thinking: “Biking to work sounds like more trouble than it’s worth.” Or perhaps it’s the incredibly common, “I don’t feel like it.” Believe me, I know. I had a million excuses until I finally took the plunge almost 10 years ago, and I haven’t looked back.

Bike commuting can seem daunting if you haven’t tried it, but most of the time, it just takes a little extra planning and some motivation. Here are my top tips for how to make commuting by bike stress-free:

Get a bike. If you don’t have a bike, it’s kind of a requirement. Sorry. I promise it’s worth the investment, and you don’t need to spend more than about $500 for a decent bike. I strongly suggest going to a small local bike shop (known to bikers as your “LBS”), where the staff can help you pick out a bike that’s right for you.

If you still need incentive to shell out for a bike: Depending on how much you spend on gas, parking, tolls and car maintenance, your commuting savings could be enormous.

Must-have tools. When you buy your bike, make sure you pick up all the tools you’ll need to take care of it: a couple of spare tubes, a tire pump, a tire lever, a multi-tool, front and rear lights and a good lock. It sounds like a lot, but this stuff lasts forever. Just be sure to upgrade a little from the bargain-basement level of quality. Plus, a small pouch mounted under your seat will allow you to carry your emergency gear but keep it out of the way.

The right gear. You don’t have to dress like 2009 Tour de France winner Alberto Contador unless you want to. A lot of people dig buying and wearing jerseys, spandex pants, orange-tinted glasses, and special shoes. But really, light workout clothes and a good helmet should work for most short commutes. In colder or rainier weather, you’ll want to make sure you have several light layers and a protective outer shell. And when it gets really cold, gloves, and ear protection are a must.

Preventing wrinkled clothes. Rolling up my clothes and carrying them in a messenger bag has worked for me, but then again I don’t have to wear a suit every day. If you have to wear a crisply ironed suit or just can’t carry the clothes on your bike, try biking three days a week and carrying an extra set or two on the other days. For women, try saving the easy-to-wear stuff for the days you ride your bike. That might mean packing a simple sheath dress or a top and skirt in a hard-to-wrinkle fabric.

Have a shoe drawer. The bottom drawer of my desk has…let me count them…eight different pairs of dress shoes. Shoes are heavy and it’s great not to have to carry them with you every day. Come on, how often do you need all your dress shoes on the weekend?

Dealing with sweat. Yes, we all sweat and, depending on the time of year and length of your commute, you might need to shower. Many of us are lucky enough to work in buildings with gyms or locker rooms. If so, stash a towel, flip flops, toiletries and a hair dryer in your office or in a locker. If your office doesn’t have shower facilities, one possibility is to join a gym or rec center near your building. Or, if you have to, bring in some baby wipes and take a “bird bath.”

Pack your bags. Get a good messenger bag or panniers (saddlebags) and pack them with everything you’ll need the night before. If you keep an extra set of toiletries and a towel stashed in your bike bag at all times, packing won’t take more than five minutes. It’s a lot easier than trying to pack when you are in a hurry and showing up at work without an important article of clothing. Not that that’s ever happened to me….

Plan your route.
Before you bike for the first time, do a test run on a weekend. This will give you a chance to see how long it will take, find the best route, and get comfortable with the ride when there is less traffic.

Stick with your route. Maybe it’s just me, but when riding with traffic I want to be prepared for every pothole, the length of every stoplight, and hidden driveways — and the only way to do that is to become familiar with your route. Safety first! And keep your head on a swivel — don’t assume anything.

Make it work! There are a lot of superficially “good” reasons not to try biking, but most of them can be overcome with a little creativity. And it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing activity. If your commute is really long, try driving or taking mass transit part of the way. Or bike just one way every day (carry your bike on your car Monday morning, ride home Monday afternoon, ride in Tuesday morning, drive your bike home Tuesday afternoon, etc.).

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