Guardian Self Defense and Security Blog

Rising to the challenge of biking to work

I’m biking to work. For real. Even in last week’s 100-degree heat, I proudly rode four of the five days — ending up a little sweaty, but proud. The notion to go green/save gas/burn-fat-not-fuel was brewing in my brain for a while before I made the leap and bought a hybrid 21-speed bike that can handle a 16-mile round trip several days a week. I was inspired in part by Mercury freelance writer and Community Media Lab blogger Laura Catalano, who has been riding to her job at the Schuylkill River Heritage Area for the past few years, weather permitting. Laura lives a few miles from my home, along the same wooded ridge, and we’ve passed each other a few times on weekend mornings, as I jogged the back roads and she rode them. It unnerved me how much more fun she seemed to be having as I was laboring to run up the hills she was coasting down. One morning on the eight-mile drive to work in my car, I was pulled over by North Coventry Township police for “speeding” over the 25 mph limit on River Road. Laura, meanwhile, went zooming past on her bike. While I sat being ticketed, she pedaled along, wind at her back. In addition to staying on the right side of the law, another motivation to bike to work was my desire to try something new for the summer. I have been running several times a week for most of my adult life, and I thought it would be a good idea to mix it up with a new exercise regimen. As it turns out, I’m not alone. According to Shayne Trimbell, manager of marketing and development for the Greater Valley Forge Transportation Association, 160 people have signed on this summer to the Bike to Work Challenge, a program to encourage biking in Montgomery and Chester counties. “This is the third year we’ve done the challenge, and we see growth every year,” he said. “The first two years, the challenge was limited to our corporate partners, but this year we opened it up with a website to anyone who wants to use it.” The website allows people to log their miles and calculate how much gas they’ve saved and how many pounds of carbon dioxide emissions have been prevented. According to the website, biking commuters have logged 28,993 miles so far this year, conserving 1,342 gallons of fuel and preventing the release of 26,040 pounds of CO2 into the air. Trimbell said many participants ride the Perkiomen or Schuylkill River trails to work. I’m one of those “novice riders” who, he said, prefer trails to traffic. I bought my Fuji Crosstown hybrid at Tri County Bicycles in Pottstown, where shop owner John DiRenzo made sure I got the right stuff, including a spare tire, tools and a pump. I have a mirror to see who’s coming up behind me, a bell to alert who’s in front of me, and a vial of pepper spray on the handlebars — just in case. I have a helmet, gloves, wraparound sunglasses, and a can of insect repellent for the muggy evening ride home. Commuting by bike puts the day’s exercise into my normal routine instead of having to find time to fit in a workout before or after work. Granted, I have to leave earlier in the morning and discipline myself to leave work earlier at night, too, but in the longer summer daylight hours, it hasn’t been too difficult. I have work attire packed into my backpack, and the bare necessities to make the transition from recreation to work. No more day planner or half-dozen takeout menus. No wallet or clunky purse. “Playtime” starts when I walk away from my desk and change into my shorts and T-shirt — instead of after a drive home, putting stuff away, taking out the trash and starting dinner. There are a few disadvantages I wasn’t expecting. Those swarms of gnats on the river trail top the list. Being passed by dump trucks going full speed is another. Branches that jut out on the roadside or broken glass on the shoulder rank in that category, too. A few annoyances of the road carry over even on a bike trail. I couldn’t believe it the day when I saw the familiar orange PennDOT sign ‘ROADWORK AHEAD’ on the trail. Sure enough, highway bridge work involves the underside of the bridge smack in the middle of the trail. I pass some of the same walkers, riders and runners on a regular basis. One woman was out picking wild raspberries while in season. A morning group of serious bicyclists seem to be regular riders one day a week. So far this summer, according to the Bike to Work Challenge website, I’ve logged 350 miles, saved $58.59 in gas and reduced carbon-dioxide emissions by 314 pounds. More importantly, I’ve changed my lifestyle to travel lightly, move freely and breathe more fresh air. Not bad for a day’s way to work Follow Nancy March on Twitter @merceditor. Visit her blog The Editor's Desk at
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