QUICK COLUMN: May is National Bike Month; columnist resolves to commit to bike commuting
I've long aspired to ride my bike to work, but between driving to assignments, “saving my legs” for marathon training runs and the weather, I kept coming up with excuses not to do it.
And I've flirted with it — riding for a string of days, here and there — for years. Sometimes I've biked out of necessity because every year my otherwise uber-economical '92 Honda Civic has to spend a day or two in the car hospital.
Last month, I finally resolved to just do it, inspired partly by a bike-commuting zealot, friend and neighbor, Dr. Lance Davis. He committed himself to it in 2011 and even pedaled through the relatively wet, chilly winter.
Two tasks in one
Interviewing Davis last year for a column and then continuing the dialogue in person and on Facebook, it finally sunk in that I could truly knock out two tasks by doing one thing: getting to work and exercising by ditching the car.
Not a hard concept.
I came to realize that while bike commuting will interrupt my running schedule to a degree and probably mean fewer trips to the gym, I'm OK with that.
Ultimately, I hope to integrate runs into my commute, much like my colleague at The Post and Courier, Chris Wainwright, has done for years. I want to come up with a system of running, biking and driving to work, which could mean leaving the car at work some nights.
It means more planning, but it will be a fun challenge.
The obvious merits are that bike commuting is the most eco-friendly way to commute (unless, of course, you're within walking distance of work), saves money on gas and involves exercising outside.
A less obvious benefit is that it's better than a cup of high-octane coffee for work productivity. The first two hours after arriving, I'm firing on all cylinders. Considering all the studies showing the connection between exercise and brain activity, it makes sense.
Like Davis, I couldn't deny any longer that my commute is no huge challenge. It's about seven miles with only about two of them along five-lane roads, busy sections of Coleman Boulevard and East Bay Street, and more than two on a bridge with one of the most gorgeous views in America.
And I don't have to worry about carting kids to and from school, which is a major obstacle for some people to bike.
One trick I've employed to make it easier is leaving a few sets of “work clothes” at the office, rather than packing a backpack with a shirt, pants, shoes, belt, etc., every time. What a deterrent.
So I'm vowing to keep it going, as much as possible, because I will need my car for in-person assignments to the hinterlands or when I'm deadline-constrained. And I'm vowing to do it even when summer leaves me drenched in sweat and threatens lightning storms on the ride home.
Not so much
I know that many people would like to bike to work, but that it's next to impossible.
Someone who lives in Summerville and works in downtown Charleston would have to be an elite cyclist to make that commute. And those who live closer, say someone in West Ashley who works in North Charleston, would have to take a near suicidal journey over the North Bridge.
Then there's the bureaucracy that stands in the way of a vital link for cycling for those who live and work on James Island and in downtown Charleston: the continued closure of the James Island connector to bikes and pedestrians.
But bike commuting doesn't necessarily mean going to work. Bike to the store. Bike with your kids to school. Bike to church. And by all means, bike to your gym.
May is National Bike Month and is filled with special days and “challenges” to encourage bicycling for transportation.
The most ambitious, yet a bit impersonal event, is the National Bike Challenge, an effort spearheaded by Endomondo (an application) and the League of American Bicyclists. It hopes to encourage 50,000 Americans to sign up and log 20 million miles from May 1 to Sept. 30.
Last year's challenge involved 30,000 people in 9,000 workplaces and 500 communities that put in 12 million miles.
Locally, Charleston Moves is collaborating on several efforts to promote bike commuting, including National Bike to Work Day on May 17.
Charleston Moves Director Tom Bradford says Bike Month is “part of the program” to keep plugging away at supporting efforts to create safer routes for cycling.”
“It's all about chipping away, chipping away, at creating more bike lanes,” says Bradford, noting that while big victories are harder to come by, cycling advocates in Charleston are scoring lots of little victories. “I think we're making great progress.”
He pointed to recent agreements for bike lanes on Morrison Drive and the first signs marking the Battery2Beach route going up later this year.
He admits to frustrations, such as the official closing of the James Island connector to bikes and the creeping process to try to reopen it.
“The connector was open (for bikes and pedestrians) for 18 years without any problems until a tragic accident that had nothing to do with cycling. It had everything to do with a distracted driver,” says Bradford.
Bradford says providing a safe crossing of the Ashley River is a top priority, vital to connectivity.
“The biggest challenge in cycling is connecting the dots,” says Bradford. “Until there's true connectivity, you're only going to see slow, incremental progress.”
Reach David Quick at email@example.com.