Most folks know why cycling is awesome. We understand the good it does for the planet as a sustainable form of transportation. We’re fully aware that it’s a great way to stay healthy. And we sure as heck don’t need to be reminded of the hit our wallets take at the gas pumps when we choose cars instead. So knowing all this, why aren’t more people making their bicycle a go-to choice for getting from A to B?
At The Otesha Project – a charitable organization that organizes sustainability-focused cycling tours – we’re all about the bike love. So to help spread some of that love, we thought we’d take a look at some of the common barriers that keep people from incorporating cycling into their daily routine.
With several Otesha bicycle tours under her belt, Kayla Siefried knows how important it is to have the right equipment. “If you are just getting into cycling and you have a bicycle that doesn't fit you properly, has a bad seat and doesn't switch gears smoothly, it may turn you off of cycling,” she says.
You don’t need to spend a fortune on a new bike, but visiting your local bike co-op or shop to get one properly fitted can be the difference between a jolly jaunt and gruelling grind. Tune-ups are key too – a bit of air in the tires, grease on the chain and new brake pads go a long way.
A few accessories can also make your commutes to work or the grocery store a lot more enjoyable. A backpack for your work clothes and lunch will get the job done, but investing in a pannier or two means less weight (and sweat) on your back. Meanwhile, fenders help keep mud puddles and wet streets at bay. And at the very least, safe cycling means you’ll want a good helmet, lock and bell, as well as front and rear lights for those late nights at the office.
As for what to wear, relax: you don’t need to be decked from head to toe in spandex. For increased visibility, choose bright clothes or a safety vest. Kayla also recommends layers. “Sometimes the clothes you start out with aren't the same ones you want on after you've climbed a big hill or when it starts to drizzle!” she says.
Want to know more? Check out Otesha’s primer on choosing the right bike gear.
Safety concerns are another oft-cited reason people hesitate when it comes to cycling. “Many people want to try cycling in the city for transportation, but are intimidated by unsafe road conditions and inexperience,” says Gareth Davies, Director of the Ottawa-based non-profit Citizens for Safe Cycling.
Getting past that intimidation takes a bit of forethought and planning. Get to know the rules of the road and map out a safe route. I remember several nerve-wracking months when I first started cycling to and from work in Mississauga. I eventually wised up, and thanks to Google Map’s bike directions feature and some helpful tips from colleagues already making the pedal-powered commute, I found a much safer and quieter way to go. Sure it took an extra five minutes, but the peace of mind was well worth it.
When you are on the road, be on the lookout for potholes, sewer grates and road debris. “Keep your head on a swivel,” says Gareth. “Shoulder check often, be aware of people and cars moving, and anticipate to avoid conflict.”
The bigger picture
Of course, the path to truly awesome cycling goes beyond a tuned-up bike and an understanding of traffic laws. Creating a vibrant cycling community often means addressing structural barriers. Show your support by attending bike festivals and joining local campaigns that advocate for more and better bike lanes. Contact your city councillor about investing more in cycling infrastructure. Talk to your kids’ school about implementing cycling education programs.
On the nine-to-five front, chat with your boss or HR manager about making your workplace more bike-friendly. Whether it’s installing bike racks and showers, providing a secure place to store your ride or spearheading bike-to-work days, there are loads of ways companies can build cycling into their corporate culture.
From a motivation perspective, be sure to give cycling a fair shake. Sure, you’ll have a sore bum the first couple rides, but stick with it – you’ll be a comfortable and confident rider in no time. Try easing into it by committing to bike to work every other day for a month. That’ll also give you time to work out the kinks as your body and mind get used to the new routine. Riding with a buddy or co-worker is also a great way to stay motivated.
Finally, remind yourself that choosing a bike means shrinking your gas bill, shrinking your waistline and – most importantly – shrinking you carbon footprint. “It's super empowering,” says Kayla. “Using a bike to get around a town or city, you are free – you can come and go as you please, you get great incidental exercise and it's a hoot.”
Gareth couldn’t agree more. “It’s easier than you think,” he says, “and it could change your whole life.”
Check out the six essential pieces of cycling gear for commuters at Green Living online.
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