NEW YORK -- Consider it a sign from the corner gas station. It's time to start biking to work.
With a gallon of gas topping $4 in many parts of the country -- though not yet in Charleston -- you may finally be willing to ditch the car and hop on a bike. Besides being better for the environment and your waistline, you could save hundreds of dollar a month on gas. The national average for a gallon is now just shy of $4. That means a fill-up tops $40 for most drivers, underscoring one of the many perks of biking.
"People get all the reasons to bike -- they're just not sure it can work for them," said Andy Clarke, president of the League of
American Bicyclists, an advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.
It's natural to have reservations about making such a major lifestyle change. But local governments and employers have become a lot more accommodating, and the switch might be easier than you imagine. With Bike to Work Day around the corner on May 20, here are four reasons to join the movement:
1.) Biking broadens your options.
Think of biking as a way to become an empowered commuter. If you see that there's a traffic jam on the news, for instance, you can hop on your bike and avoid the frustration of idling in traffic. When the weather is nice, biking to work can ease any regrets about being stuck inside.
Keep in mind that you don't have to bike every day. Depending on your comfort level, you might want to do it only on Fridays.
If you want to be sure that the investment will pay off, know that a quality bike should cost at least a couple hundred dollars. A helmet, air pump and bike lock might cost another $150 or so.
If you're not sure that it's a habit you'd stick with, borrow a bike from a friend or co-worker for a test run to the office one weekend. You can also rent a bike for about $35 a day or a discounted weekly rate, said George Gill, president of RentABikeNow.com, which lets users search for local bike shops.
2.) The world is getting more bike friendly.
It's always easier to make changes in your life when you have a support network. And the community of bikers is poised to keep growing.
Part of the reason is the unprecedented level of support from local governments. In just the past two years, several cities have significantly expanded on their networks of bike lanes and invested in education campaigns about biking.
Several bike sharing programs, which let riders pick up and drop off bikes at multiple locations, also have popped up around the country. The largest, Capital Bike Share, was launched in Washington, D.C. and Arlington, Va. this past September. The program has about 1,100 bikes at 115 stations, with costs varying depending on usage.
Even if you don't live in a city that has dedicated bike lanes, your local government website can probably point you toward bike-friendly paths in the area. If you're nervous about riding on roads with cars, Google Maps offers bike directions that might turn up less trafficked routes.
3.) A bike ride is more fun than the elliptical.
The financial perks of biking to work don't end at the gas station. Biking is also a reason to reconsider that gym membership.
The average gym membership costs $30 to $60 a month, according to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association. But you might be spending a lot more if you live in a major city. In addition to saving some pocket money, you also might free up some time in your schedule by combining your commute and workout.
Biking can prove a lot more effective. That's because a scenic bike ride is a lot more tempting than an hour on the elliptical at a gym, particularly during the summer.
So if you struggle to lug yourself to the gym, biking is a way to keep up your enthusiasm for working out.
4.) It's a low-maintenance habit.
All you really need to bike to work is a comfortable pair of pants and shoes.
The maintenance costs for a bike are also relatively minimal at about $155 a year, according to the League of American Bicyclists.
That's assuming you need two chains, two sets of tires, a set of brake pads, two tubes and chain lube. You also might want to take the bike in a for a checkup once a year.
Those costs might be covered by your employer as well. The Bicycle Commuter Act gives companies tax credits for offering workers a monthly stipend of up to $20 to cover biking expenses. If the benefit isn't offered, it might just be that your employer isn't aware of its availability.
Note that you can't use the biking stipend in conjunction with a transit or parking benefit, however. So depending on how you want to mix up your commute, it might make more sense to hold onto the other benefits.