On a clear May morning, Dave Harris cruises through downtown Old Naples on a sleek black bicycle.
Around him, drivers fiddle with their radios, jockeying between obnoxious morning shows, warily watching their gas needle sink closer and closer to empty.
Oblivious to all this, Harris zips along, getting his workout checked off his “to do” list, his ride set to a soundtrack of Naples’ finest avian songs.
A bike commuter for almost 20 years, who has lived car-free in major cities like Chicago, San Francisco and San Diego, Harris now commutes 20 miles a day to his job as a bike fit specialist at Naples Cyclery.
Today is National Bike to Work Day, and with the current prices at the pump and several months of long, sunny summer days ahead, now just might be the perfect time to swap four wheels for two.
And while Harris has the chiseled legs of steel that even a Greek god might lust after, you don’t have to be a sinewy, lycra-clad road warrior to give bike commuting a try.
Plus, Naples is the perfect community to give it a try in. According to the Collier Metropolitan Planning Organization, the city boasts more than 200 miles of bike lanes. Add to that a year-round climate perfect for cycling and super flat terrain, and Naples is a bike commuter’s paradise.
Undoubtedly, the hardest part of starting a bike-to-work routine is getting started. From finding the right equipment, to planning your route and staying motivated, here’s your how-to for two wheeling it to work.
Pick your reason
“Whether you do it for health, economics, the environment or even because it’s patriotic, bike commuting is really easy not to do, so have a reason to do it,” offers Harris on getting and staying motivated to commute.
And the reasons to ride your bike to work are many.
For some it’s the lure of burning off breakfast before you even eat it. For others it’s the joy of being blissfully oblivious to rising gas prices.
And, as Harris argues, riding your bike to work can absolutely be described as patriotic. In a recent interview with CNN, former CIA Director James Woolsey described the biggest threat to American security as our dependence on foreign oil.
“Even if they have a monopoly of oil, they don’t have a monopoly on transportation. We need to break that link,” Woolsey told CNN.
Whatever your reason, seeing tangible numbers that show the results of your efforts is a great way to keep motivated, and the Internet is full of great tools for exactly this.
Want to see how many calories you burned during your commute? Try Livestrong.com’s calorie calculator. If you’re interested in seeing how much money you’re saving, try the cool gas savings calculator at www.commutebybike.com. Want to see how much carbon dioxide you’re taking out of the atmosphere? Try the LA Metro’s carbon emissions calculator at www.metro.net/projects_studies/bikeway_planning/biketowork/images/bike_to_work_calculator.htm.
Planning your route
Picking a suitable route is one of the most important parts of bike commuting.
“Make it fun; pick an enjoyable route. It’s a fun way to see your neighborhood; you’ll notice patterns and subtleties of where you live that you don’t see in a car,” suggests Susan Cone, a Naples-based bike commuter and triathlete who commutes to her job at Rookery Bay.
The best place to start is with a Naples bike map, available for free at most local bike shops and at the NCH Wellness Centers. These invaluable maps, produced by local bike advocacy group Naples Pathways Coalition, highlight which roads have bike lanes or shoulders wide enough for riding.
If you’re looking for turn-by-turn directions, Google’s map function can produce a custom-made bike friendly route for you. Simply go to www.google.com/maps, type in your start and end points, and click on the bike icon. Then, just to be sure you know what you’re going to be dealing with, you can use Google’s Street View functionality to literally see what the roads you’ll be traveling will look like.
Once you’ve done your initial research, drive the route in your car to double check that it is suitable.
Getting in gear
Now that you’ve figured out how to get to work, outfitting yourself properly for the ride will make your trip safer and more enjoyable.
The good news is, you don’t need a multi-thousand-dollar carbon fiber bike to commute — but you shouldn’t skimp too much either. While big box stores offer bargain basement bikes, consider going to a local bike shop to purchase your new ride. Not only are the bikes assembled by professional mechanics, but their sales staff will also make sure your bike is sized correctly for you. Beyond this, many local bike shops offer a first free tune up — a good idea since cables will stretch after a few rides.
Beyond a good bike, there are only a few other things absolutely necessary for bike commuting. First, you will need a spare inner tube should you get a flat (more on that later). Next, you’ll need a white light for the front of your bike, and a red light for the rear. Even if you don’t plan on riding at night it’s best to have these just in case you get caught out late-and Florida law requires them when riding after dark.
Finally, you’ll need a helmet. While, by Florida law, helmets are technically only required for riders 16 and under, they’re always a good idea for everyone.
While planning ahead and leaving a change of clothes at the office is a great idea, you’ll still need a bag of some sort to carry your lunch, a few safety items, and anything else you might need for work. Panniers, or bags that attach directly to your bike, are the traditional bike commuter option (and oh so Euro), but a sturdy backpack or over-the-shoulder messenger bag will work just fine too.
For those particularly sweaty commutes, pack a travel pack of baby wipes and an extra stick of deodorant. A hairbrush is a must-have for keeping helmet hair under control. Finally, always keep $3.25 zipped away somewhere in an emergency pocket — that’s the cost of a trip on the CAT with a transfer, in case you have a total mechanical breakdown.
Speaking of breakdowns, sadly, they do happen. Flat tires are a fact of life for anyone who rides a bike regularly. The good news is that changing a bike tire is pretty easy and both the Trek Store and Naples Cyclery offer free clinics that teach this all-important skill. The Trek Store’s Naples location is hosting a clinic on June 4, 2011, at 5 p.m. and Naples Cyclery hosts one the first Monday of each month at 6 p.m.
The other good news, when it comes to flats, is that there’s a moral code between cyclists. If we see another rider in distress we’re obligated to stop and help. If you break down and have a spare tube, it is highly likely that a passing cyclist will help you change it. However, no one will give you his or her only spare tube, so always carry your own.
Once you’ve got all your gear together and figured out your route, take a Saturday morning to do a dry run. Ride the route both ways to figure out exactly how much time you’ll need, then give yourself a few extra minutes just in case you run into a strong headwind or you catch more traffic lights than usual.
Finally, figure out what your routine will be once you get to work. If your employment place lacks safe, well-lit bike racks ask your boss if you can bring your bike into the office — it’s more common than you’d think!
Now that you’ve got your reason to ride, your route and your routine figured out, it’s time to talk about safety and the rules of the road.
If you’re confused on where to ride, a few general rules to follow will hopefully clear things up. First, a bike lane, when available, is the best place for riding. If a bike lane is not available ride as far right in the right hand lane as is practicable. The gutter does not count as part of the right hand lane, and because debris often gathers here, it is not advisable to ride in them.
If there is not room in the lane for a car to pass you with at least three feet of space, by Florida law, you may take the entire lane. Always ride with the flow of traffic, never against it. And, while riding on the sidewalk may seem like a good idea, it isn’t necessarily. Not only is it not allowed in some places, but you’re also more likely to be hit by a turning car as you cross into intersections from outside a car’s immediate line of sight.
For a complete list of rules and regulations, the Florida Bike Association produces a free Florida Bicycle Law Enforcement guide. This handy booklet lists all rules and regulations for Florida cyclists, and they’ll send you a free copy or your can download a PDF from their website.
Even when you do follow the rules of the road, bicycling, admittedly, can be risky.
Local cyclist Susan Cone offered this advice on staying safe, “Be very aware of what’s going on around you, be a little defensive, don’t make assumptions that drivers see you, and always make eye contact with drivers.”
Harris added, “Do 100 percent of the things in your power to be safe all the time, don’t listen to an iPod, and understand that life is risky.”
If the dangers of bike commuting are giving you pause, remember, far more people die from obesity related illnesses each year than from bike accidents. In 2009, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported 630 cycling related deaths in the U.S., while the Office of the Surgeon General each year blames 300,000 deaths on obesity related conditions.
Now that we’ve scared the living daylights out of you, it’s time to urge you to get out there and try it. Bike commuting is fun; it’s good for you, your wallet and the earth, and is the leading cause of enviable backsides.
And with a little preparation and effort, we think you’ll find that bike commuting, once you get the hang of it is easy, just like, well, riding a bike.
For more resources on bike commuting in Naples, visit the Naples Pathways Coalition website at http://naplespathways.org/.