Pedaling your way to work is more popular than ever. And with good reason: It’s great for your finances (no gas, no parking, no tolls!), the environment, and, of course, your health. In addition to burning up to 500 calories per hour, you’ll strengthen your muscles, improve your circulation, and get tons of fresh air, too.
But, even with all these benefits, the vast majority of bike commuters—82% to be exact—are men. Ladies, it’s time to join in on the fun! Whether it’s not having a bike, being wary of the roads, or just not wanting to deal with helmet hair that’s holding you back, we’ve got your solution. Here’s everything you need to know to get started riding.
1. Decide on the Bike
First things first: pick out your ride! Your best bet is to go for a hybrid or commuter bike (a “hybrid” is what you get if you leave a skinny road bike alone in a shed with a chunky mountain bike: fast but grippy tires, a comfortable saddle, and flat handlebars). You’ll also want your bike outfitted with lights, and fenders to avoid that oh-so-unattractive streak of mud up your back. Tip: If you buy at your local bike store, they’ll set everything up before you walk out the door.
But new bikes can be pricey, and one perk of biking to work is saving money, right? So before you flex your credit card, ask around about secondhand rides. Someone might have an old bike in a basement, and it’s a good way to try before you buy, as long as you don’t mind a little creaking and rattling. You can also scour Craigslist, though if you’re not chock-full of cycle knowledge, take a bike-savvy friend with you to check over potential purchases. It’s not a bargain if you end up with a huge repair bill! And for those who live in NYC, there’s a public bike share scheme—think ZipCar for bicycles—headed your way in Spring 2012!
2. Gather the Essentials
Once you have your bike, make sure you’re well-equipped. Instead of wearing a backpack to store your wallet, keys, phone, and purse, check out a pannier rack (a small metal rack that sits on the back of your bike)—it’s better for your back. Also, there’s no need to spend a fortune on fancy technical clothing. For commuting, all you really need is loose-fitting pants and stiff-soled shoes. Top off your outfit with a waterproof jacket, lightweight gloves, and a helmet—and you’re good to go! Also keep in mind that you should wear bright, reflective clothing to keep yourself visible. (Awesome fact: neon is always in when it comes to biking apparel.)
3. Mind Your (Road) Manners
Those city streets can be scary. You can read advice online on how to safely navigate them, but nothing beats learning with a small group. Ask your local bike store or search the directory on the League of American Bicyclists website to find one in your area.
Once you’re on the road, the best advice is to ride assertively: Don’t cower along at the side of the road, but ride about a yard or so out from the curb, marking clear ownership of the road. And remain fully aware at all times—ditch the iPod, and never use your cell phone.
4. Find Your Way
If you live in Minneapolis, you’ve got 120 miles of bike-friendly routes—it’s the nation’s top city for biking. However, if you live in a less bike-orientated locale, you’ll need to think wisely about how you’re going to get places. Remember: shortest isn’t always safest (or flattest). You can find route planners online, but the easiest tool is Google Maps, where you can customize what types of road to show and see alternate route suggestions.
5. Keep it Safe
Once you get to work, make sure your bike stays safe and sound. If your building doesn’t offer secure lockers, ensure you have sturdy locks—I recommend using both a padlock and a combination. You can also pick a bike with quick-release wheels, so you can remove them and bring them inside. Regardless, always chain up to something immoveable in a well-lit area, especially if you leave work once it’s begun to get dark out
6. Beauty & The Bike
You’ve now got the bike purchased, the gear ready to go, and the route planned. Now, let’s talk sweat and hair.
Fresh sweat on your body doesn’t smell. But sweaty clothes do. If your workplace offers a gym with showering facilities, that’s ideal, but if not, a change of clothes—and a quick rub down with a wet wipe—is usually sufficient.
And if you’re worried about helmet hair, here’s a trick that works for me: I stick my helmet on while my hair’s still damp. Then, when I arrive, I comb serum through, and it actually improves the look of my hair. Also, plan ahead and keep a small bag of essentials in your desk—hair products, combs, and a headband or ponytail holder in case of real hair emergency.
If you’re up for the challenge, biking to work can be a fantastic way to save money, go green, and improve your health all at once (not to mention, never be stuck in traffic again). Just be sure you’ve got the basics covered—equipment, apparel, safety, and of course, a plan for maintaining your tresses. Then, enjoy the ride!