Bike to Work Day: This rider is not yet convinced

I used to ride my bike to work on quiet Sundays, then gave it up when my work schedule changed. Concerns about traffic and safety on the streets of Washington, DC deterred me. National Bike to Work Day prompted me to try again. Here's what happened.

Eloise Quintanilla/The Christian Science Monitor
Yours truly in front of the White House, just two blocks from the Monitor bureau. One good thing about Bike to Work Day: I saw a blue heron on the way.

This morning, at 6:45, I wheeled my bike out of the garage and joined a nation of first-timers and old-timers on Bike To Work Day. It was a nudge I needed.

I bought a new bike last year with the intention of cycling regularly to the office. Saving the planet, getting exercise – the typical reasons. I started riding right away, but set the goal realistically low: just once a week.

In my favor was the fact that I worked Sundays, a perfect riding day because of the low traffic. And so I enjoyed a series of nearly deserted morning rides from my bungalow in a leafy Washington, DC neighborhood to the Monitor’s bureau, just two blocks from the White House.

I loved it. Most of the ride covered a rails-to-trails route that followed the Potomac River. Once, a buck leapt across my path – at a safe distance, thankfully. And I often stopped to watch the sun-drenched mist rising off the river, or rowers pulling silently upstream. I hadn’t expected such serenity.

But then I no longer needed to work on Sundays. And my bike stayed parked in the garage. The last part of my cycle route covered busy urban streets, and I worried about traffic and safety.

Today prompted me to give bike commuting a second try.

On the plus side: I pedaled past a stately blue heron; other bikers who were faster than me rang their bells politely and quietly said “good morning” as they passed; a local bike group greeted new commuters with maps and muffins where the trail ends and the city streets begin; it felt great to get in 45 minutes of physical activity.

On the negative side: The bike trail hums with cyclists, some of them roaring down the asphalt – I nearly caused an accident when I entered the trail; downtown, I made a wrong turn, and ended up on busy K St. (that’s right, lobbyist boulevard); and unlike Sundays, I had to pack a change of work clothes; no shower, but I don’t sweat much.

Bike commuting is on the rise in America. The Census Bureau reported last year that 0.55 percent of Americans use a bicycle as the primary means of getting to work, up 43 percent since 2000.

But don’t count on me to bump up that percentage. I’m a fair-weather rider, deterred by rain, snow, sleet, and August humidity. More importantly, this morning did little to calm my worries about commuter traffic. Some of the problem is my inexperience, and I’m willing to learn from that. But I can see now that if commuter biking is to really take off, cities and workplaces need to encourage it, from bike lanes (finally, Washington is creating some) to workplace showers.

Otherwise, it’s more days in the garage for my bike.

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