Considering Biking to Work?

I enjoy feeling the wind in my hair and getting the healthy glow of exercise as much as the next woman.  But whether using a bicycle as means of transportation to work is beneficial, harmful or even possible is dependent on many factors including vocation, amount of hours worked per week, family life, weather, and city infrastructure.  It is not a one-size-fits-all answer; just as our lifestyles are significantly varied across the country, so are appropriate options for transportation.

When should I consider riding a bicycle to work?  It can be boiled down to checking these boxes: have enough energy to add additional exercise without reaching exhaustion throughout the day or week; have a reasonable distance to commute, have facilities and time to shower or freshen up before beginning the workday; have mild weather; have roads with bike lanes or that are otherwise bike friendly; and have proficiency at riding/maintenance.

When should I avoid riding a bicycle to work?  I suggest avoiding biking if you meet the follow criteria: your job is excessively tiring, either physically or through amount of hours worked; it is simply too far; there are no facilities where you can shower and regain a professional appearance; the roads are crowded with aggressive traffic; there are no bike lanes; and you are uncomfortable riding bike.

During this unprecedented time of COVID-19, an additional planning factor of avoiding exposure to the virus should also be addressed.  There are certainly steps that can be taken in order to follow a safe route, including wearing a mask and maintaining distance.  Another lesser publicized way to avoid the virus is to ensure that you are not directly behind another person exercising (especially unmasked).  Particulates will actually trail behind the person as they are moving forward and be directly in your path (https://dven.org/safe-running-and-cycling-distance-to-prevent-virus-spread/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI7OSWloLN6gIV-QiICR2BFgSGEAAYAyAAEgIxFvD_BwE).  If you can find a route that satisfies this requirement, you are less likely to contract the virus from biking to work.

How do I evaluate biking safety?  While deciding whether biking is right for you, perform a basic reconnaissance of the route you will be travelling.  Take note of the lanes that are designated for bikes only.  Look to see if there are any turns or crossings that seem unsafe.  Observe the general flow of traffic to see if there are many aggressive drivers, excessively crowded conditions, or frequently vehicles parked illegally that would force you out of your bike lane.  If these conditions are present, it elevates the amount of risk you will face when biking.

When you are making your safety determination, you should identify all the areas that seem they would add risk to your commute.  After doing that, try to find ways to lessen each risk.  For example, say you notice that early in the morning the roads have fewer vehicles that speed.  You know that you have the flexibility to begin your workday either early in the morning or mid-morning.  To lessen the risk of being struck by a speeding vehicle, you may opt to travel to work earlier in the morning.

After all this route analysis, commuting by way of bicycle may appear externally safe, but it is only effectively as safe as the rider herself can be.  A basic proficiency with riding should be undertaken before ever taking to the streets and dealing with traffic.  The actual operation of the bicycle should be almost unconscious so that the rider may pay adequate attention to traffic and the surroundings.  Many people have grown up riding bikes and will already be performing at this level.  However, new riders should first gain practice riding on trails (preferably in the company of more experienced bikers).

Another layer of proficiency that should be established before committing to riding to work is basic maintenance of a bike, including what to do if you get a flat tire.  Just as you would have a plan for a flat tire in a car, so must you with a bicycle.  You are in an even more vulnerable position when your bike tire is flat, because you are exposed to the weather and unable to sit behind a door that you can lock.  If this is not something you are capable of dealing with, it can quickly become personally dangerous if you are on the road.

As well as knowing what to do if you experience mechanical failure, you should be familiar with accident procedures.  “If you have been in a bicycle accident, you may be entitled to recover money damages for any medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.” (https://ankinlaw.com/what-should-i-do-if-i-am-injured-in-a-bicycle-accident/).  It takes pre-planning to be aware of the steps you should take immediately following an accident, as listen in the aforementioned link.  If an accident happens, the stress of the situation may cause you to forget important steps to take in order to ensure you are properly compensated unless you have taken steps to ensure that you know what to do.

Because it is so vital to become familiar with the mechanical operation of a bicycle and how to safely share the road, the “U.S. Department of Transportation launched the Safer People, Safe Streets Initiative. This Initiative utilizes a grassroots approach to educate bicyclists, pedestrians and drivers on safety and road sharing (https://ankinlaw.com/bicycle-pedestrian-car-accidents-numbers/).   Cyclists can use this as a tool to help them gain the skills they need to be able to safely bicycle to work.

The decision to ride a bicycle to work is a choice we must make individually after weighing all the factors that apply to our situation.  If safe, it can provide additional exercise that is indeed beneficial.  If safety standards cannot be met, however, it is not advisable to take this on.  Additionally, if it causes a net negative impact to a person’s energy level and ability to spend time with loved ones, it may not be the best choice for them.

by Madalena Noyes