As the weather warms up, there's no better time to start pedal-powering your way to the office each morning.
Beyond the obvious benefits of adding exercise to your day, saving you money on transportation costs, and preserving the environment, new research shows that cycling may save you time on your morning commute, too. Forget waiting for a delayed SEPTA bus or cursing your way through heavy traffic — hopping on a bike as soon as you get out the door can be a savior when running late for work.
Nervous about hitting the streets on a two-wheeled vehicle? These tips are designed to help first-time bicycle commuters become comfortable cruising around the city.
Despite the recent death of cyclist Pablo Avendano on Saturday, the Bicycle Coalition of Philadelphia notes that cycling is still a great way to get around and that improvements are continuously being made across the city to make it even safer.
"Obviously what happened this past weekend is a really terrible thing," Bicycle Coalition spokesman Randy LoBasso said. "But cycling has always been a quick and healthy commuting option. Just be aware that rules are being broken all the time by people in cars and that you need to stay continuously aware of your surroundings."
Friday is officially Bike to Work Day in cities throughout the nation, so be sure to save the date and pump those tires in advance. You'll join many others in Philadelphia kickstarting their day in an energizing way.
Helmets are cool
Like a wallet or phone, a helmet is a quintessential part of every bicycle commuter's morning and evening attire. If you're not ready to embrace the emerging nerdy-is-cool trend, have no fear: plenty of stylish options exist.
Lucas Drechsage, owner of Philadelphia Bikesmith, recommends the ABUS Hyban, a German-designed "urban" helmet that provides plenty of ventilation — a feature absent in many other fashionable options — as well as an integrated rear LED light. Other fun offerings include those from Nutcase, which sells helmets that look like watermelons, that are covered with images of cats in space, and that have other eye-catching designs.
Bike lights will make you shine
Grabbing a bite after work? If you plan to bike after dark, rear blinkers are a must, and front lights are encouraged, too. "You should also use lights during the day," says Fernando Silvestre, manager at Breakaway Bikes. "When you're traveling unprotected, you need to maximize your visibility — a bright flashing light will help the driver catch you in their peripheral."
Silvestre recommends two daytime running lights that are designed to blink brighter than traditional options: The Bontrager Ion 100 R/Flare R City Bike Light Set and the Specialized Stix Comp combination set are meant to flash day or night and are both USB rechargeable.
Lock it up
If you want your bike to be your everlasting partner-in-crime, you must lock it up correctly. "I would never sell a customer anything other than a U-lock from Abus or Kryptonite," says Lee Rogers, owner of Bicycle Therapy, who notes that cable locks should be used only to tether quick-release wheels and seats to the U-lock. They're cheaper, but cable locks can easily be severed with wire cutters, a tool bike thieves aren't afraid to use.
Always make sure to attach your bike to a solid object it cannot be lifted up and over, but avoid trees (an illegal locking choice). And if possible, never leave your bike locked up outside overnight.
Follow the rules
There's nothing more irritating than watching a biker ride down the road the wrong way. Perhaps the most obvious rule to remember is: Always ride in the direction of traffic, and stick to the street — sidewalk riding is illegal unless you're under 13. If riding on the road makes you nervous, note that it's 100 percent legal to center yourself in the middle of the lane in Philadelphia. Take the space you need to make yourself comfortable.
Bicyclists must obey all street signs and signals. Just like driving a car, running red lights, as well as whizzing through stop signs and crosswalks, is illegal.
Seek out bike lanes
Finding yourself in the heat of traffic can be a bit stressful. Reduce some of the chaos by figuring out which bike lanes you can take to work. Even if it means adding a few blocks to your commute, finding a bike lane is almost always worth it. You can find a map of bike lanes in Philadelphia through the Bicycle Coalition. Google Maps' bike option will also default to bike lane routes, even if it means a longer ride.
Patience is key
Is it worth running that stop sign? Or weaving through cars that are inches from one another? When you weigh saving 20 seconds of time against the value of your life, the answer is an easy no. Bicycle commuting is not like bicycle racing. Set out with a leisurely mind-set and you'll save yourself a lot of stress and potential accident-induced injuries.
Assume the worst from drivers
Whether flinging open a car door, switching lanes, or making a right turn, most motorists don't have bikers at the top of their minds. It's important to be hyper-vigilant of your surroundings and try to predict the next moves of the cars around you. Crosswalks and four-way stops are two places in which to pay particular attention — you won't always get an immediate right-of-way or even your turn in line. Remember that patience is key, and also that what might seem like a jerk move from a motorist could simply be a mistake. It's easy for bikers to end up in drivers' blind spots.
Wear sneakers and bring a change of shoes/clothes for work
You want to be comfortable when riding so you can quickly navigate small turns and sudden stops when needed. Avoid open-toe shoes when cruising through town so there's never any hesitation in putting your feet down. Worried about arriving at the office in a pool of sweat? A quick outfit change can mitigate that issue. Consider investing in a pannier, a bag that can be fitted to the side of your bicycle and that allows you to easily transport items, no backpack needed.
» READ MORE: Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia
From transit maps to cycling laws to information on how to report unsafe street conditions, the nonprofit Bicycle Coalition serves as a resource hub for all things bike-related in Philadelphia. Head to the website, bicyclecoalition.org to learn more and to find out about events ranging from group rides to bicycle classes.
Last, always harness your inner, caffeinated cat
As Rogers of Bicycle Therapy notes, it's important to have catlike instincts when cruising around. "You need to try and reach your inner cat," he says. "Always be prepared for something, keep your eyes up, look where you want to go, listen to your surroundings, and focus. And never ride your bike unless you've had lots of coffee."