I’ve been meaning to try commuting to my office by bike ever since I opened four years ago. Bike Commute Week was just the push I needed to stop thinking about it and actually give it a try.
Now some history … I am not an avid rider. I have an on-again, off-again relationship with my bike that lately has been stuck solidly in the off position. I did go to college in Davis so I have used a bike as a primary mode of transportation in the past, but that was 12 years ago so I’m a little rusty.
If you are thinking about bicycle commuting, I don’t recommend jumping in cold turkey. The Healthy Shasta website www.healthyshasta.org has some great downloadable resources for planning your first bike commute, including the Bike Redding Map and Commuter Tips & Checklist.
I decided to do a test ride the weekend before to check out my route to work. I was still in the honeymoon phase of my relationship with my bike, so I picked out a scenic route along the Sacramento River Trail. That added some distance to the overall ride, but I thought it would be worth it for the beauty and added safety of less mingling with traffic. The only hiccup was I had to find a path that connected to the neighborhood behind my office. I figured, how hard could it be?
So, first ride, I got lost riding to my own office. The path I did find was even more scenic and out of the way than the one I planned. I was so covered in sweat by the time I reached my office, I knew that the scenic route was out. My honeymoon with the bike was now over.
Monday morning, the bike was serviced and I had a bag with my work clothes all set. Not knowing exactly how long it would take with my new direct route, I set out extra early. My shorter, more direct route worked well. Leaving early meant I had very little traffic to contend with. And in areas where there was little room for a bike moving at a snail’s pace (I admit, I’m out of shape), I could easily hop up on the sidewalk, as there were no pedestrians. Yes, I know riding on the sidewalk is not a hundred percent kosher, but I find if I’m moving at a pedestrian’s pace, it is the safest place for me. So downhill I’m in the bike lane and uphill I’m on the sidewalk.
I made it to work without getting lost and started working out how to get ready for my day. Cooling down was priority number one. Depending on how your workplace is set up this can be problematic, as the easiest way is to take a shower. My office doesn’t have a shower. This quickly illustrated to me what I found to be one of the largest barriers to bicycle commuting. I lease my office, and installing a larger bathroom with a shower is cost-prohibitive. I have heard stories of building owners wanting to install a shower and running into building code problems where they then had to install a second shower due to code requirements, causing them to scrap the idea entirely.
I was able to make due with a private bathroom and office where I could shed clothes and sponge off in the sink, but this won’t work for everyone. Should there be incentives for employers and building owners to add bicycle-friendly restrooms/changing rooms? I think so.
Now others may have different experiences, but I have to say that when I biked to work I felt like I had less stress (or was better able to deal with the stress) and I felt more alert throughout the day. I was also forced to pack lunches, which is another money saver if someone is looking at bike commuting for financial reasons, on top of saving money on gas. Doing some small part to reduce my effect on the environment also felt good. I even told myself that because I drive a classic (read: gas-guzzler) car, keeping it off the road for a few days felt like I was having a greater positive impact on the environment than the people that were biking instead of driving their hybrids.
Some of the drawbacks I found included having to rearrange how I schedule things like trips to the bank, or lunch meetings with a specialist (thanks for picking me up, Dr. Look!). There was more unused time at the office either cooling off or changing clothes, which meant more time away from the wife and kids, although I guess that could be a positive (just kidding, honey!).
One surprising drawback was I’d expected to sleep better at night with the extra exercise, but I kept having a nightmare that I had a flat tire on my bike … I expect that will get better as I ride more regularly.
John Waldrop of the NorCal Bicycle Partnership forwarded me the following information on the results from the bike to work week. “Last year’s Bike Commute Week drew about 11 teams who rode 1,400 miles. This year, we had 25 teams comprising 152 individuals, who rode 3,065 miles over the 8-day period. That saved about 2,835 lbs of global warming CO2 emissions, 39.85 lbs of other pollutants, 145 gallons of fuel, and $436.40 of fuel at $2.99/gallon.” Note, I don’t think John figured in that both he and I drive gas-guzzlers, because that fuel-saving estimate seems low to me.
So bike to work week is growing. Would I do it again? Definitely. I even plan on riding to the office again as I heal up from my first bike to work week, which brings me to my last and final tip: Buy a soft seat for your bike. Trust me, if you haven’t been riding, you’ll need it!
Below is a list of the businesses that participated in Bike Commute Week from John Waldrop:
Chartwells Café at Simpson University
The Rose Center Physical Therapy
CA Department Public Health/ Drinking Water
Redding Fire Station 8
Redding School District
Whiskeytown Environmental School
Eric Waits DMD
Quigley Real Estate
City of Redding Solid Waste
Sun Oaks Health Club
Shasta Family YMCA
The McConnell Foundation
Redding Bank of Commerce
Shasta County Regional Services
Shasta County Public Health
Shasta County Adult and Childrens Services
Todd Gandy is a Redding dentist whose journey to dentistry was circuitous. He attended UC Davis and worked as a mechanical engineer in his then-chosen field before he realized dentistry was his true calling. He returned to school, this time in San Francisco, to become a dentist. He graduated from UOP School of Dentistry and returned to Redding with his wife and two daughters to start a practice. Todd T. Gandy DDS Comprehensive Dental Care is at 2950 Eureka Way, Suite B, Redding, CA 96001. His number is 243-1855.