National Bike Month: Time to Try Commuting to Work?
Spring is here, which means warm weather is approaching the Jersey Shore. Locals and visitors alike are looking forward to outdoor activities. Lucky for us, May is National Bike Month – a great excuse for digging the bike out of the garage and hitting the pavement or the dirt trail, letting the wind freely blow through your hair.
National Bike Month started out as American Bike Month on behalf of the Cycle Trade Association as a way to promote the sale of bicycles. Inaugurated by the League of American Bicyclists in 1956, the month-long celebration now aims to promote cycling as a fun, healthy, cost-efficient and environmentally friendly means of travel.
The League of American Bicyclists was established in Newport, Rhode Island as the League of American Wheelmen, about 40 years after Kirkpatrick Macmillan supposedly invented the first pedal-driven, two-wheel bicycle in 1839. Throughout the 19th century, cyclists – or wheelmen as they were originally called – had to ride their bikes across uneven terrain and were often antagonized by jockeys, carriage drivers and foot-travelers. Hoping to improve road conditions and gain respect from fellow travelers, over 100,000 cyclists across the nation joined the League and the Good Roads Movement to campaign for paved roads, which ultimately led to the National Highway System. New Jersey was the first state to enact a law in favor of road-building projects.
Today, commuting by bicycle is, in many ways, a very liberating experience for some, according to the League. Not only is it a great way to factor in the recommended 30 minutes of daily moderate exercise, it also saves money on those ever-increasing gas prices and helps reduce a person’s carbon footprint. When substituted for city car driving, which is three times more polluting per mile than highway car driving, bike riding saves the environment 3.6 pounds of pollutants per mile. Riding a bike is also more maneuverable than driving a car, which can make biking more convenient than driving in traffic – especially heavy summer shore traffic.
To further emphasize the advantages of bicycle commuting, the League has designated May 14-18 as “Bike to Work Week” and Friday, May 18 as “Bike to Work Day.” This year, for the first time ever, the National Center for Safe Routes to School has partnered with the League to promote Wednesday, May 9, as “National Bike to School Day.”
But before jumping on the bike saddle, it’s important to get familiar with the rules of the road. In New Jersey, cyclists have the same rights – and the same legal responsibilities – as automobile drivers. According to the New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety, this means bike commuters must ride on the right side of the road, with traffic, and traveling no more than two abreast and only if traffic is not encumbered. It’s also extremely important to obey all traffic signals and signs, especially stop signs.
Riding at dusk or night requires running lights. And New Jersey law requires children under the age of 17 to wear a helmet. Everyone else is strongly encouraged to follow suit, considering head trauma is the most common cause of death or serious injury in cycling accidents. Nowadays, many helmets only weigh about six ounces, which means most people will barely notice wearing one. Helmets are also practical on hot, sunny days as they shade the head and the open vents allow a cooling airflow.
Cyclists must make sure their ride is in good, working condition and properly fits their build. Before heading out, the League suggests making sure the bike’s tires are properly inflated and the quick-release wheel levers are closed. Working brakes and a smooth-running chain are also necessities. Tommy Walters, owner of Walters Bicycles in Ship Bottom, says reflectors and working headlights are vital if you’re riding around on cloudy days or at night. He says it’s also important to have a noisemaker, such as a bell or a horn, to help inform pedestrians and cars of your whereabouts.
It’s a good idea to carry a few repair tools in case of an emergency. Walters suggests getting a small tool bag that can be hung behind the seat or on the handlebars to carry a tire tube patch kit, tire pump, and multi-tool that includes both an Allen wrench to adjust the seat and handlebars, and a tire iron to slip a damaged tire off the wheel rim. It’s also a good idea to carry a cell phone in case you need help.
Walters Bicycles will hold a bike rodeo at the end of the month for students at the Long Beach Island Grade School in Ship Bottom. The rodeo will consist of free bicycle repairs and minor adjustments for children who bring their bikes in for maintenance. Walters says he’s been providing bike rodeos all around the area for the past 20 years and he fixes between 50 and 80 bicycles per event, as a way of giving back to the community.
“I only sell bikes I can fix,” said Walters. “I love what I do, and I want customers to come back to my shop,” he added.
“There are a lot of folks who maintain their bikes, and a lot of people who don’t do anything,” said Walters. “Maintenance comes along with safety. Sometimes people come in and they have no brakes or pads left. If they don’t want to come in for a regular tune-up, they should at least look over their bike themselves.”
Cyclists nowadays have many riding options, from performance road bikes to recreational cruisers. Walters says commuter bicycles are more comfortable than ever, complete with extra-padded saddles and upright handlebars. Bike shorts have padding in all the right places, especially for the buttocks, and bike shirts are great for wicking away moisture. Though many people see bike gloves as gimmicky, they’re actually good for preventing carpal tunnel syndrome, as the gel in the palms cushions much of the vibration pulsing through the hands when riding a bike.
If you still find cycling to be a struggle, Walters suggests investing in an electric bike by Pedego or Tommy Bahama, equipped with battery-operated electric motors. The bicycles look just like regular bikes, and the lithium ion batteries are lightweight and packed with power. A fully charged battery should get you as far as 30 miles at 20 miles per hour – the legal speed limit for electric bicycles. Of course, wind resistance and a person’s height and weight will play a role in how long the battery actually lasts. Electric bicycles are great for those commuting to work because they don’t require any real physical activity, which means there’s no sweat involved. They’re also great for people with heart conditions or knee problems, or senior citizens who want to keep up with their children and grandchildren, while also enjoying the benefits of riding a bike on a beautiful, sunny day. And if you want to use the electric bikes for exercise, they can also be pedaled manually.
Pedego and Tommy Bahama electric bicycles run in price from $1,850 and up at Walters Bicycles. Walters says the price is worth it, and many people are opting to buy them.
For more suggestions on how to get involved in bicycle commuting, visit the League of American Bicyclists at www.bikeleague.org or call Walters Bicycles at 609-494-1991.