Thursday, August 16, 2012

How I became a bike commuter

The following article originally appeared in the Saris Cycling Group company newsletter, and then was reprinted in a bicycle industry publication. The author recounts how she started as a non-cyclist working in the bicycle industry, and came to be a regular bicyclist and commuter.

How I became a bike commuter

By Andrea Wetzel

When I first started working at Saris, people asked me, "Do you ride?" And I would respond sheepishly, "Not really, but I have an old bike from college that could use some fixing up."

Now, thanks to the help of some supportive co-workers, I'm enjoying my 8-mile commute from home to work and have signed up for a couple of lengthy summer fundraising rides with my family.

Saris is a company full of people who love bikes. Fast bikes, cruiser bikes, mountain bike, tri bikes, commuter bikes--you name it, it is parked in our warehouse. It's hard not to be inspired when you're surrounded by people who are passionate about bikes. Also, our company has a great commuter incentive program, where employees who bike to and from work log their miles and earn cool prizes like massages or lunch at a local deli.

Save money on gas? Burn some calories? Free massage? I wanted in.

The first thing I needed to do was fix up my 10-year-old mountain bike that I hadn't used since college. The chain was in pretty bad shape and the knobby tires were a chore to ride on the street, so my co-worker Ryan offered to give my bike a tune-up and replace my mountain bike tires with more narrow, slicker, tires, since I'd be riding primarily on the road. He also added a more comfortable seat, fenders and a rack, and gave me a valuable lesson on how to change a flat.

Once my bike was all fixed up, I still wasn't ready to tackle my 8-mile commute each way. I lacked confidence in my bike handling skills and was intimidated by the amount of traffic I saw when driving. Luckily, Zac, our IT manager, pulled up Google Maps' bike route feature and showed me the city's network of bike lanes and paths as well as some quieter streets that I could take on my commute.

The next step was to get my butt into riding shape so I could handle 16 miles a day. I had been running regularly, but wanted to build a cycling base before trying the full commute, so I went out for a couple of easy rides around my house.

One morning, my co-worker Lindsay talked me into putting my bike on the rack of my car and meeting her three miles from the office for my first bike ride in. She showed me where the bike path met the main road and how easy it was to get to our office.

The weekend, I decided to ride all the way from my house to the office and back, 16 miles round trip, to make sure I could handle the miles. It was the most mileage I had ever ridden at once.

I biked in once the following week, meeting my co-worked Rachel en route, which helped me gain some confidence in the heavier traffic. I rode in twice the week after that. Then in May, I decided to ride very day during Bike to Work Week. I made it all five days that week and was thrilled that my legs did not fall off; in fact, they felt pretty good.

Now that I'm accustomed to biking to work, I'm much more likely to hop on my bike for some light grovery shopping or to meet up with friends. And for the days that I end up back in my car, sitting in construction traffic, I know there's an alternative.

Andrea Wetzel is digital marketing manager at Saris Cycling Group with headquarters in Madison, Wisconsin. This article was first published in the Saris email newsletter.

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