Biking or walking isn’t as scary as it seems—in fact, 40 percent of trips taken in the US are fewer than two miles from home, according to the League of American Bicyclists, so integrating more biking and walking into a daily routine is often convenient and manageable.
When starting to bike or walk more, however, you don’t have to quit driving cold turkey, says David Mozer, director of the International Bicycle Fund (IBF). “It’s like any new activity—you build up to it, and you can sort of train for it,” says Mozer.
Kathy Holwadel, the 53-year-old president of Cincinnati’s pedestrian and bicycle advisory committee Bike/PAC, began biking in November 2006 at age 50, when she got nervous about rising gas prices. After three years of pedal practice and testing bike routes, she now bikes at least five days a week as her main form of transportation, and she has also completed two 500-mile bike rides across Ohio.
First Steps to Walk or Bicycle More
1. Before you try to commute by foot or bicycle, invite a friend or neighbor on a leisurely walk or bike ride to test how much you can handle.
2. Visit a local bike shop to make sure your bike is in working order (especially the brakes).
3. Mix walking or biking into your commute. To build endurance, drive to work, but stop short of your workplace (walkers, try a half-mile; bikers, try two miles). Then bike or walk the rest of the way, gradually increasing the distance each week.
Walking or Bicycling More, Once You're Comfortable
4. Practice biking or walking to the store, school, or work on a day when you aren’t rushed. It’ll help you figure out how much time to allot for travel.
5. If there are public transit stations nearby, try biking or walking to them.
6. Ask neighbors who work close to or in your office if they want to commute together using foot or pedal power.
7. For bicyclists, ask members of a local bike group if they’ll bike around town with you and show you the ropes. Some cities have programs like San Francisco’s Bike Buddy, which pairs experienced cyclists with novice cyclists to ride together around the city.
“When you bike commute, that’s often the best part of your day, as opposed to a commute being drudgery and the worst part of the day,” says Mozer. “Hopefully, things click well, and you’ll soon be enjoying yourself out there.”
RESOURCES: According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, 26 percent of people who aren’t biking don’t have access to a bike. Read our article about how to start a bike-share program ). Local bike shops often refurbish bicycles and sell them at a discount, and don’t forget garage sales and website like Freecycle, eBay, and Craigslist.
Facing Your Fears
“How can I possibly be safe in that traffic lane next to all these cars?” is the concern Green America member Lucy Gigli hears from many prospective bicyclists as part of her work with the group Bike Alameda. Walking near traffic worries pedestrians, too. But don’t be intimidated by the cars and trucks that seem to dominate the roadway—you have the right to walk or bike to your destination without hesitation, and there are plenty of ways to do so safely and confidently.
Be Visible to Drivers
8. Bicyclists can increase the likelihood that drivers will easily spot them by riding near the center of their lane, using hand signals when turning or changing lanes, attaching an LED safety light to their bike, and wearing a reflective vest at night. Pedestrians should also use LED safety lights and consider reflective vests so motorists can see them, especially at night.
Obey the Law
If you’ve ever had to slam on the brakes because a fellow motorist has swerved in front of you without using a turn signal, you know how unsafe rule-breakers can be on the road. Avoid jaywalking—motorists aren’t watching out for pedestrians to cross the road outside of crosswalks. If you’re biking, follow traffic signals, use hand signals when turning or switching lanes, and try not to weave between street- and sidewalk-riding.
Practice makes perfect: Plan a walking or biking route based on how comfortable you are alongside traffic.
9. Call your city hall, city transportation department, or department of parks and recreation to see if your city has a bike map, which highlights not only city streets, but bike lanes, bike paths, and sometimes one-way streets, steep hills, and public transit stations.
10. Bike paths allow you to travel with less traffic. Main streets are also good choices: For pedestrians, there will likely be more sidewalks and crosswalks. And for bicyclists, there will likely be more traffic signals— rather than blind intersections—and even bike lanes.
11. Solicit advice from a loc al bike group about your bike-travel plans, because they’ll likely have tips on the best and worst paths and streets to use.
12. Some local bike groups offer bike education classes, which can provide resources and direct contact with bicyclists who know how to navigate your city.
It’s hard to imagine carrying a watermelon or four bags of groceries home from the supermarket by hand, let alone while trying to ride a bike. But once you feel confident traveling without a car, consider investing in some helpful contraptions to make it easier to run errands and even commute with cargo. In comparison to the price of a car, along with its associated insurance and
maintenance costs, a bike and some helpful attachments have significant economic and environmental advantages.
13. When it comes to carrying groceries and office paperwork, pedestrians can use a shopping trolley, a rectangular-shaped carrier perched on two back wheels, or a wheeled backpack to easily carry heavy items. Green America executive director Alisa Gravitz doubled the distance she could walk when she invested in her own “bag on wheels.”
14. For bikes, racks that sit on a bike’s back wheel or trailers that attach behind the bike can carry small loads.
15. Bike attachments also work well for commutes. Panniers (bags that hook onto the back of a bike) and rear racks are ideal attachments to hold paperwork, purses, and briefcases. Over-the shoulder and messenger bags work as well. (Some bikers avoid backpacks, because they can add to sweat build-up.)
16. Bikes are also useful for carrying large items, if you get a cargo trailer. Don’t underestimate how much bike trailers can haul—Revolution Rickshawsm rents out cargo trailers in New York City that can carry hundreds of pounds. “We move a lot of big catering jobs, for around 100 people,” says Gregg Zukowski, the company’s owner. “We’ll move 500–600 lbs. or more between restaurants.”
17. To take small children on the road, invest in a special bike trailer with seats, or in child-size bike seats that attach to the back of your bicycle.
David Mozer participates in a carpool to get his kids to school, and not everyone can bike. So he compromises by driving the kids to the school, parking his car, and walking or biking to the rest of his destinations for the day.
“I cut my driving in half. I wasn’t pleased with driving, [but] I essentially only did one trip to the school,” says Mozer.
Confronting the Elements
Snow, rain, steep hills, hot days. It just takes a little extra planning and practice to deal with the elements on foot or on bike.
18. Start practicing during warm, sunny weather, when the climate is welcoming to novice walkers and cyclists. As you become more acclimated to temperature cycles, it will be easier to ride in less ideal conditions.
19. A rain jacket, gloves, extra layers, and weather-proof bags can protect you and your belongings from the rain or cold.
20. Many buses sport bike racks these days, so you can bus your bike home if the weather changes for the worse.
Don’t feel obligated to always bike or walk—if the weather is dangerous, take the bus, call a taxi, or carpool instead. For instance, although Mozer says fresh snow is pretty easy to bike in, he warns that settled snow can be icy and dangerous. The same goes for 95-degree heat waves and other severe weather events.
Also, don’t let a little perspiration stop you from commuting sans your car—walking or biking can be a fun way to incorporate exercise into your daily routine.
21. To sweat less, adjust your route to include fewer hills, or allow more time so you won’t have to walk or pedal as fast.
22. If sweat is inevitable, pack a spare outfit in your pannier or shoulder bag, so you can change when you get to work. Some commuters even bring a week’s worth of clothes to the office every Monday.
23. See if your workplace has a shower, or if there is a fitness center nearby that will allow you to use its showers for a small fee. If you can’t shower, don’t sweat it—many bike commuters say that cooling down for ten minutes and washing your face before changing clothes is an adequate substitute. A spray bottle and a hand towel can get you ready for the work day.
Don't Let Hills Get You Down
24. Try powering up the ones on your shortest, safest route to see if you can handle them. Or, you can walk your bike uphill. “I live at the top of a one-mile steep hill,” says Holwadel. “I’m old, and I have weak lungs; if I can do it, anyone can.”
25. If you’d like some extra oomph to get up the steeper inclines, consider an electric assist for your bike, which can be especially helpful if you’re carrying cargo.
26. There are also ready-made electric bikes on the market to add some power to your pedaling. It can take anywhere from 30 minutes to eight hours for an electric bike to charge, depending on the model.
RESOURCES: Visit your local sporting goods store for outdoor gear and cycling apparel. Lightfoot Cycles sells different types of electric assists. To browse electric bikes, visit Optibike, Schwinn Bikes, or Electric Cyclery.
You also might be sweating about the unforeseeable. When you have to bolt from the office to deal with a sick child at school or a family member in the hospital.
27. Stash the cash you save on gas in your pocket in case you have to call for a taxi. Some organizations, such as Ecology Action in Santa Cruz, CA, offer free emergency taxi rides to people who walk, bike, or take transit to work or school. Check to see if your city has a similar program.
28. Ask for permission to leave your bike in the workplace in the event of an emergency.
29. If you’re worried about your bike getting a flat or breaking down, sign up for the Better World Club’s 24-hour roadside assistance for bikes, as well as cars.
30. Get to know your local bike repair shop so you’re prepared when it comes time to make repairs.
31. Or, join a bike group or ask neighbors who cycle for help with bike maintenance. Many organizations, like BICAS in Tucson, AZ, empower bicyclists to learn bike repair for themselves, offering workshops and tools to assist them.