Commuting by Bike: A Free Ride to the Good Life
As the cost of gas takes an ever-bigger bite from household budgets, casual cyclists across the country are transforming from recreational riders to full-blown commuters. Not only do bike commuters save money at the gas pump, they save on medical bills, too. A study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control ranked bicycling as one of the best ways to reduce the risk of sedentary-related diseases like diabetes, heart conditions and some cancers. In fact, according to Bicycling Magazine , most new commuters can expect to lose 13 pounds during their first year of riding. And the benefits don't stop there. While commuting by car is a notorious stressor for millions of people, riding a bike actually reduces stress and related conditions like anxiety and depression.
Yet for every cyclist enjoying the benefits of commuting, there are ten would-be riders who need encouragement and advice. Your local shop can provide an invaluable resource for customers who want to trace a safe route to work, get advice about gear and equipment, and make informed choices about what to wear.
For most cyclists, spring and summer riding means minimal—if any—layers. Still, frequent commuters need to be prepared for extremes in weather, especially in the spring. A brisk morning commute might require a base layer, arm warmers and a windbreaker, while the ride home calls for nothing more than shorts and a t-shirt. Though clothing choices are largely a matter of preference and style, a lightweight rain jacket is a handy item that should be tucked away in the corner of every bag or pack. Many experienced commuters prefer baggy shorts and loose-fitting jerseys instead of body-hugging performance clothing.
Apart from a bike, a helmet is the single most important piece of equipment any cyclist owns. Even though bicycling is one of the safest forms of transportation, head injuries account for 75 percent of the nation’s 750 annual bike-related deaths. Yet wearing a properly fitted helmet can prevent 85 percent of head injuries. The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute advises riders to only use helmets certified by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Helmets come in a wide range of styles from sedate urban commuter models to colorful aero-streamed racers.
With their aura of urban chic, messenger bags are very popular. Designed with a single strap to provide couriers lightning-fast access to parcels and packages, they are built for carrying light loads short distances. Cyclists bearing heavier loads on longer rides might want to consider other options, especially if prone to back or neck problems. For overall utility and convenience, nothing beats a backpack. When properly loaded, they are well balanced and easy to carry. Those planning to carry heavier loads should consider packs with sternum and waist straps. These help distribute weight more evenly across the chest and back.
Rack Packs and Panniers
Of course, when carrying a back pack even a mild ride in the heat will leave a big sweat stain on clothing. For riders who don’t want the added heat or inconvenience of wet clothes, bike-mounted options like rack packs or panniers offer another solution. Rack packs are great for getting weight off a rider’s back or toting extra items like rain gear, a sweat shirt, tire-repair tools, etc. Some models come with insulated hard-shell interiors, making it easy to keep perishable food items cool with a couple ice packs. Staples for bike touring and camping, panniers are built for cyclists who need to carry heavy loads. While most commuters try to travel lighter, some circumstances demand carrying more stuff. Panniers offer plenty of cargo capacity and can easily accommodate items like laptop computers and other equipment. As with all packs, riders should take care to balance loads in panniers and not exceed the carrying capacity of their bike rack. Failure to do so can make the bike dangerously unstable and difficult to handle.
As the days lengthen through spring and summer, lighting becomes less critical for riders. Still, it is important to maintain high visibility, especially when riding at dawn, dusk or in foul weather. A small headlight and blinking rear reflector light should be standard issue for all commuters. Helmet-mounted units provide an added level of visibility. In fact some helmets come equipped with built-in blinkers. Lightweight LED systems make bikes highly visible to motorists without bogging riders down with heavy batteries. Garments with reflective patches and stripes also effectively get the attention of motorists.