Tomorrow is National Bike to Work Day, or as bicyclists refer to it, “a normal Friday.” I gave up all non-bike commute methods years ago, and it’s increased my quality of life immensely, even when you take into account all the times I’ve angrily bashed a lane-hogging driver’s side mirror with my u-lock and then had to quickly ride the wrong way up a one-way street to escape as they fumble in their glove compartment for their taser.
It can be daunting at first, riding your bike to work. But it doesn’t have to be. Here are a few basic tips from a seasoned DC cyclist to get you on your way, so grab your padded spandex shorts and make sure you’ve got a backup stick of deodorant in your cubicle. You’re going to need it.
If you’re like me, you probably skip breakfast most mornings so you can sleep an extra fifteen minutes. Don’t do that on Bike to Work Day. Little known fact: a bicycle is powered by your leg muscles. No seriously, look closely; there’s no motor or gas tank anything on there. That means your body needs fuel. And I know exactly what you’re thinking now. (You’re so predictable.) “Ooh, I’ll skip breakfast and ride to work on an empty stomach, and then I can skip the gym later.” We’ve probably read all the same articles about how working out on an empty stomach makes you burn fat at an insane rate. That may be true, but it also feels like you’re dying. It’s terrible. You’re weak as a baby, you get dizzy, you get cranky. It’s like a preview of being 90 years old. It’s just not a great way to start the “bike commute” chapter of your life. Have a bowl of cornflakes, man.
This point is up to you, obviously, and generates quite a bit of debate in bicycling circles. You have a legal and ethical right to the road, just as much as any car, truck, or bus, and if you’d like to assert that right to the fullest extent by riding slowly down the middle of the road while traffic piles up behind you, that’s your right. But the way I see it, you’re betting your well-being on the judgment and self-control of people who probably spent hundreds of dollars on Farmville expansion packs. You know all those jokes about how bad DC drivers are? Those aren’t jokes. DC drivers are terrible, full stop. Personally, I prefer to ride a bit defensively, off to the side, out of the direct path of the busily texting, uncaffeinated drivers with anger management issues. But hey, that’s me. You do you.
TO HELMET OR NOT TO HELMET?
Most people urge you to wear a helmet, and there are good reasons to follow their advice. Have you ever dropped a cantaloupe off a three-story building? Enough said. (For what it’s worth, DC law doesn’t *require* you to wear a helmet.) But just be aware that research has shown that wearing a helmet can actually make you more accident-prone. The effect is twofold; first, bicyclists feel safer when wearing helmets, so they tend to take more risks. Don’t let the tender neoprene embrace of your helmet embolden you to try and beat that yellow light. “But I was wearing a helmet,” you’ll say, when you wake up in the hospital and gaze incredulously down at your full body cast. The second part of the helmet effect is that research has shown that drivers give you less room if you’re wearing a helmet, since you appear to be “protected.” See, I told you drivers are terrible. *DCRE Residential and Urban Scrawl DC are not responsible for choices you make regarding the use of a helmet. Use or do not use a helmet at your own risk. Whatever you choose, just be cautious.
RIDE WITH THE PACK
There’s strength in numbers. For Bike to Work Day, the District is setting up 85 stations around the city, where you can get free bagels and meet up with other riders. Riding in a convoy with other bicyclists will hugely increase your comfort level, and make traffic much more navigable. Bring a ski-mask just in case you and your 35 new cyclist friends see your office rival sitting in her car in traffic. Throw on the mask, have everyone surround her, and toy with her until she pulls over crying hysterically. That’ll teach her to steal your yogurt from the break room.
CALL IN LATE
The best reason to bike to work is that it’s actually really pleasant; not only do you avoid the frustration and passivity of sitting in traffic or cramming onto the metro, but you get your blood pumping and take in some fresh air and sunshine to start the day. Bicycling to work very likely makes you better at your job, which is exactly the argument you should make in the email you send your boss telling them you’re going to be a little late. Have a nice leisurely morning ride.