Ditch the gas guzzler and embrace pedal power to get to work in style
“Biking keeps you tethered to your childhood.” If I had a dime for every time I’ve heard my husband say that phrase over the past year I’d be a mill...well okay maybe I’d only have a few dollars, but the point is, I’ve heard it a lot.
Could cycling really be a cord tying us back to that carefree, happy time of being a kid? I wasn’t convinced it was all that. My bicycle commuting attempts had been limited to about once a year on the annual Bike to Work Day. I’d arrive at the office all sweaty and tired—not much joy in that! But he seemed to think a quality bike would change my mind, so I humored him and we invested in Trek bikes about a year ago.
And well, as much as a wife hates to admit it, he was “kind of” right.
Now every time I hop on my super snazzy, lime green bike, with its 3-piece crank, sealed bearings and aluminum frame, the effort of biking is much easier and it takes me back to the joy of being a kid. (At least until I encounter a hill and a bit more effort is required.)
The new bike did make the effort of bike commuting much easier (I barely break a sweat!) and more fun, so much so that over the past year it has turned into an everyday thing for me. I now bike to work, to the grocery store, the post office, the coffee shop, the gym, the farmer’s market and pretty much every place within about a five-mile radius of our house.
Then a friend told me about the website GreenTrips (greentripscha.org) which offers a free program that provides incentives and educational resources for “green” trips whether they be walking, biking, carpooling, transit or telecommuting. We members log our green trips, accumulate points and then enter to win contests at the end of each month.
Incentives for doing something I love? Sign me up!
I’m proud to say I logged 79 green trips last month—burning 6,400 calories according to their calculations. That’s almost two pounds I would have lost if I didn’t reward myself with so much ice cream instead. But the process of logging my trips got me thinking about other people who bike to commute. I see a lot of fellow bikers on the road and it made me wonder if I was just seeing them more now since I was one of them, or if it really was a growing trend.
Turns out, the growth of bike commuting is exploding across the country. The National Household Travel Survey found that from 2000 to 2013 bicycle commuting rates increased 62 percent as a national average. What’s even more exciting is that the growth of bicycle commuting from 2005-2013 here in Tennessee has increased by more than 100 percent. Go us!
The city of Chattanooga has been rated a Silver Level bicycle-friendly community by the League of American Bicyclists—the highest of any other Tennessee city ranked (Knoxville, Nashville and Memphis all received the Bronze rating). Our list of Bicycle Friendly businesses includes everything from restaurants like 212 Market and our local hostel The Crash Pad, to Volkswagen Group of America and, not surprising, the Trek Store.
Suspicion confirmed, the trend is growing, and our city and local businesses are making it easier than ever to commute on two wheels. But, unlike me, not everyone has a Robert Fogle to convince them of the joy and childhood pleasure that biking will invoke, so what is convincing everyone else to jump on board?
“We see a combination of personal health and environmental health as main reasons for this mode of alternate transportation,” said GreenTrips Coordinator Jonathan Gibbons. “There is a trend component to cycling—right now it’s a little bit more stylish.”
Of the roughly 1,550 Chattanoogans that have signed up on GreenTrips, 456 have logged at least one bike trip. When you look at the statistics they’ve gathered it’s downright exciting. So far this year, 13,252 bike trips have been logged, covering 34,432 miles, saving 1,609 gallons of fuel and burning a whopping 1,828,095 calories.
Jonathan says the average bike trip is about three miles. “We don’t see many people going further than 10 miles, and less than a mile people are more inclined to walk” he noted. So who are these 456 (known) cyclist and what draws them to this mode of transportation?
Jordan McCay, 25, is one. He too loved to bike as a child and told me, “I feel like I’m on the tail end of the generation where you’d get up in the morning as a kid and get outside and you’d be gone for the rest of the day...be out till dark.” Nowadays he commutes about four miles round trip from his apartment in the Southside to his job on the North Shore.
“It started off initially as the fact that I needed transportation” he said, but now “it’s turned into ‘my time’ to myself. I’ve got a lot of stuff going on all the time so my biking is kind of my time. I throw my headphones in, get the blood pumping and endorphins going. I have great transportation whenever I need to for free. Period. And I’m getting a great workout.”
As Gibbons mentioned, environmental health was a factor for McCay too. “I’m big into living as green as possible and not being so ‘American’ and wasteful” he added.
While he is fortunate that his work schedule does not often put him on the roads during rush hour traffic, that’s not the case for many bicycle-commuters. Emily Wood, a Senior Planner at the Regional Planning Agency, says she has been a bike commuter since college. “I like the exercise and the fresh air outside, and not having the headaches of rush hour downtown” she said.
In fact, when she and her husband moved here a few months ago from Fisco, Colorado, they specifically looked for a place to live that would allow her to bike to work.
Nobody loves rush hour traffic stuck in their car, so why not consider the bicycle alternative? The frustration and stress of traffic can be detrimental to our health and frankly, it can put one in a bad mood to start (and end) the day.
“My wife says that I’m grouchy when I don’t ride” admits Nelson Barrios who has been commuting by bike about eight years now. “Traffic is everywhere here in Chattanooga and in cities across America. Dealing with traffic, road rage, and sitting idle in traffic can cause health problems” he said.
Biking does wonders for his everyday outlook and quality of life. His work commute is 9.5 miles round trip, but he and his family also bike to the grocery store, the park, library, events in downtown and pretty much wherever they can get to on a bike.
While having children to shuttle may seem like the perfect excuse to drive, the Barrios family doesn’t see it that way. “Our 10-year-old, Dante, and I ride to his school as long as it is not raining and above 50 degrees” says Barrios. His wife, Nicole, also rides as many places as possible with their two boys—Dante and younger brother, Marcelo, 4.
Barrios took pride in sharing with me how Marcelo recently started riding without training wheels and on his first ride he rode the entire St. Elmo section of the Riverwalk. “I had the trailer attached to my bike” he said, “and kept asking him to take a break and ride in the trailer but he was just too excited about riding.”
The dangers of distracted drivers, angry drivers, and uneducated drivers are some of the biggest hurdles of bike commuting according to Barrios. “Bike awareness is a work in progress” says McCay, adding, “people are aware that we have a cycling community but they aren’t quite as aware in the present moment, when they’re on the roads.”
Gibbons puts responsibility on both cyclists and drivers saying he has seen inconsiderate behavior from both drivers and cyclists, and adds that it is important to drive and cycle defensively.
Chattanooga is working towards making the city more bike friendly. Bikes lanes, shared lanes, and multi-use paths are popping up all over the city to connect residential areas with offices, schools, parks, restaurants and retail. “Our department of Transportation goes out of their way to seek public input as much as possible” said Gibbons. Barrios agreed, “Our city government has a vision to connect the sidewalks, bus routes, and green ways. Supporting this vision will improve the quality of all of our lives.”
In addition to GreenTrips, Chattanooga offers other resources to bikers as well. A Street Cycling 101 class meets the third Monday of each month at Outdoor Chattanooga to teach bicycle techniques, safety and rules of the road. Bike repair stations can be found all over the city. And, if you find yourself without a bike of your own, our local bicycle transit system—Bike Chattanooga—has hundreds of bikes at over 33 stations located throughout Chattanooga and they are available 24/7, 365 days per year.
Still intimidated? “I would tell people to remember how they felt the first time they rode a bike without training wheels, most people never forget that feeling” says Barrios. We’re all familiar with the old saying “it’s like riding a bike” —you never forget it. So maybe it’s time to tether yourself back to your childhood.
Give your SUV the day off and you might just find some fun in that morning commute.