What does it take to be a bike commuter? You have to be in incredible shape, right? And bike to work every single day of the week? And have all the latest bike gear and garb?
Not so! In fact, such all-or-nothing thinking will go a long way toward discouraging would-be bicycle commuters.
Sure, some commuters are ultra-fit and some bike to work every day. But many of us—perhaps even most of us—don’t start out this way.
Take Birage Tandon, who works in finance for Bellevue Christian School. Birage hadn’t biked in over 25 years when co-worker Mare Sullivan invited her to join her team, the BCS Hillslugs, for the Group Health Commute Challenge.
Mare is one of those captains who really know how to motivate riders. She came over to Birage’s house and helped her take down her bike and clean it up. She offered to ride with Birage.
In short, Mare got Birage riding again, for the first time in years.
Birage committed to riding one day per week during last year’s Challenge. To meet her goal, she overcame some of the challenges that all new bike commuters face, such as coordinating necessary changes of clothes for a workplace that lacks showers; facing the fear of biking on stretches of road without bike lanes and with lots of traffic; and feeling self-conscious as a cyclist.
(When I asked her how she’d feel if there was a bike trail on her commute, she said, “Oh, if there was a bike trail leading from my house to work, I’d bike every day.” Safe bicycle infrastructure goes a long way toward encouraging riders.)
Birage did it! Not only that, but the 2010 Commute Challenge motivated her to begin a regular exercise routine, which she’s kept up all year. “Now I work out two to three times a week,” she says. She also goes on the occasional recreational bike ride with her husband. Because she’s in better shape, her commitment to the BCS Hillslugs this year is to bike two days per week during Bike Month.
Starting to commute by bike, like developing any new habit, can be difficult. Birage’s story shows that we can take small steps toward the goal and embrace benefits as we go, like the good health that comes from regular exercise. Sophie, in our video, does the same.
Her experience also points to bigger-picture shifts that encourage cycling, like more bike lanes and multi-use trails, and more workplaces that offer showers and bike parking.
With so many cyclists taking to the streets this May—a record 10,400 Commute Challenge sign-ups so far!—our region is demonstrating, loud and clear, the demand for community and employer investments in cycling. It stands to reason that in time we’ll see more and more people like Birage taking down their bikes, dusting them off and going for a ride.