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No Shower, No Problem

Think back to when you were a kid. Did you enjoy getting stuck in a car more than the riding your bike through the neighborhood? Then why do we default to cars as adults?

Maybe we shouldn’t and a lot of us are taking that to heart and commuting by bike to work.

There are many reasons people commute by bike. MANY. For the love of the environment, ease of parking, fiscal responsibility, workout opportunity are among some of the reasons.

Some bikers never commute. They ride only for fun and fitness. And that is ok too- biking is awesome for many reasons to many people and I welcome everyone to the road however they see fit.

I do commute to work by bike everyday for all the reasons mentioned but the main reason is for my children. I ride to show them you can do ‘it’ and the world is not just about getting from A to B by car. You can make a difference, you can do something both good for you and others AND you can share your love of biking with those you love most. Kids really do emulate their parents and the more active you are, the more active they will be in their lives.

As recently as 2013, transportation contributed more than half of the carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides, and almost a quarter of the hydrocarbons emitted into our air (citing USCS.org). Roughly only one percent of commuting trips to work are by bike (Bike Commuting Statistics). But this is growing and YOU can make it grow further!

Commuting by bike is GROWING!
Commuting by bike is GROWING!

Imagine if every 1 in 10 of the cars you see on the road commuted to work at least twice a week. Imagine the investment in bike infrastructure you would be given due to the demand. Think about the quality of life, work achievements (#8 Tips for Unleashing Creativity at Work ), cleaner air and lower traffic you would have.

light_and_motion_sunset

Now, biking to working AND being a parent IS NOT easy. Getting them to school, getting you to work and getting back home in time before sundown seems almost insane if you add biking.

Depending on how far you live from work you could face quite a trip. BUT according to the commuting statistics most people travel 15miles or less to work. This distance is do-able in 45min and provides a nice 1h 30min+ work out daily. Even just 2 times a week.

This biking would enable you to quit your gym membership AND there is chance you could ride to school with your children (Tips for Biking to School). Your kids would get more time outdoors, benefits from the exercise (Kids and Physical Activity) and get a chance to really see their neighborhood(s) maybe for the first time.

So is it easy- NOPE. Is it possible- YES! Why should you even try if it isn’t easy? Because it matters- to you, your health and your kids.

Don’t know where to start?

There are a LOT of tips for commuting. One for example is Bike Commuting which discusses new routes, tools to take are discussed here with tools to take riding with kids and absolutely applicable for your commute into work.

Seasonal Commuting By Bike Temperature Compass
Seasonal Commuting By Bike Temperature Compass

Here are a few pointers:

1.) Leave the laptop at work if you can. Remote in to your computer if possible from your home computer and ask your company if they don’t have this option to add it (this would make it safer for the company too not having assets offsite).

2.) If you have to drive into work- do it on Monday. Get the kids to school a little earlier, pack everything you can for the week- food, clothes, soap, towels, etc in the car to take to work.

3.) Do NOT forget deodorant.

4.) Do NOT panic if you cannot shower. You can still clean up after the ride. Shower or bathe at night before and using a wash cloth and soap of your choice (nice smelling is helpful) you can bath just enough to get through the day.

5.) Consider going minimalist to none on the makeup if you are a woman- some jobs may not allow this but for those that do this may help you liberate off makeup and lighten your load on your pocket book and your skin.

6.) Do NOT panic. You don’t even have to take of these recommendations. As long as you bike – it will benefit the whole family and you will see it.

7.) Know that more people are joining you. They are riding more and some cities may see the rise in bike commuting than other BUT just maybe by see you on the bike you have inspired others to join.

8.) Tell EVERYONE you know you bike. Tell them bikers need 3ft by law and 5ft courtesy when passing. This will matter when you are on the roads. Now people can put a face with the bikers out there and that IS power. You will have influenced a vast amount of drivers to respect bikers without even realizing it.

9.) Find a co-worker or friend if possible to commute with to help for safety and motivation. Bike clubs are a good way to reach out to find contacts and your company may even reward biking so motivating co-workers may be easy than you would think.

10.) SAFETY, SAFETY, SAFETY. Lights (rear and front), mirrors and reflective clothing preferably fluorescent colored . And eye gear PLUS be aware ALWAYS. Ride defensively.

The hardest parts of biking to work with kids is time. It may take you a little longer during the day so you may need some flexibility to work from home or on the weekend when the kids are asleep. This may sound like a lot to give up BUT each day you commute you are not having to spend extra time without the kids driving to work or the gym or biking on the weekend while the kids hang with a babysitter.

YOU and the KIDS CAN then bike together on the weekends and hone you biking skills to go to school during the week. You CAN talk about why you ride and how much better it is than driving and you CAN inspire you kids to aspire for more and challenge what is normal.

This all just from changing your commute from drive time to bike time!

Change the world from your garage- one family at a time!

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A Dutch woman's take on biking in the U.S.

Most anyone reading these words is well aware of The Netherlands’ reputation as a haven for biking. An estimated 30 percent of people in the country count the bicycle as their primary mode of transportation to work, a staggering figure compared to American standards, even amid recent bicycling gains. In this country, fewer than 1 percent of Americans commute on two wheels.

The first and only time I traveled to The Netherlands was a couple years ago, when my husband and I spent an idyllic and mind-blowing week biking the streets of Amsterdam. The experience left me inspired by the possibilities for other cities to follow suit and my husband threatening to pack up and move. Because many of us in this country would like to mimic our Dutch counterparts, I thought it could be instructive to talk to someone with lots of experience pedaling around both places.

Janneka van der Molen is a native of The Netherlands who moved to the U.S. in 1996 for work as an occupational therapist. She first arrived in Florida and is now living in New Orleans, where she works at a local hospital, serves on the board of the city’s bicycle advocacy organization, and hosts the bicycle-themed radio show Outspoken, which airs on the station WHIV, 102.3 FM.

Below, van der Molen weighs in on what her adopted country is getting right, what it’s still missing, and what it feels like as a Dutch person to bike in a place that is only starting to embrace the idea that the streets are not the exclusive domain of two-ton steel vessels.

This interview has been edited for space and clarity.

van der Molen. Photo courtesy Edward Carlson.
van der Molen. Photo courtesy Edward Carlson.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Groningen, a university town where the average age of people is very young. In the late 1960s and early 70s, they implemented a traffic circulation plan whereby if you needed to get to a place by car you had to leave essentially to get back in, unless you were traveling by bus, bike or walking. If you used those modes, you could get from place to place much more directly. Everybody hated it at first, but the whole idea was to stimulate biking in the inner city. It’s a small city and it really worked there. Within the city center now, trips done by bike are super high. Biking is the primary mode of transport.

The town of Groningen. Photo courtesy of The Guardian.
The town of Groningen. Photo courtesy of The Guardian.

What’s your earliest memory of riding your bike alone?

I don’t really remember that at all. I have some pictures of me biking when I was maybe four. I remember that my aunt tried to teach me. I must have been even younger then. My sisters helped me out a little bit. We also did a lot of walking. I would walk to school because we lived really close. My mom didn’t drive, so if we had to go to the dentist and stuff like that, I would go on the back of my mom’s bike because I didn’t go fast enough.

In The Netherlands kids often get a new bike when they go to high school when they’re about 12. But I lived so close, I never really got a bike with gears. Growing up, high school was when people typically got a bike with gears because that’s when they might ride from the suburbs to the city for school.

What is your experience with car ownership and driving?

I didn’t get my drivers’ license until I was 22 to be able to go to the United States. I’m on my third car now. I got the first when I came to the U.S. My parents (who still live in The Netherlands) don’t have a car. And one of my sisters doesn’t have a car. Even when we did have a car, we would go to the grocery store and most other places on the bike with my parents. We never really used a car except to go on holiday.

In The Netherlands, before you go to high school that’s when you usually have to take the exam to ride your bike on the street. It makes sure you’re giving proper signals, right of way, making turns correctly. It’s part of schooling, part of the curriculum. They start teaching bicycling in elementary school.

What’s your daily commute like?

I bike 98 percent of the time. I sometimes take my car in when they have the car wash here at work (a service offered to employees) or if I have a meeting elsewhere. Normally it takes me like 8 minutes to get here. I have to cross (a major intersection) that can get complicated. I stand there quite a lot looking at cars driving by and I try to look to see who is on their phone in the mornings. I think the number of people on phones has decreased over the past year.

What are the biggest differences you experience riding a bike here as compared with back home?

The last time I went there, I realized I have never thought about getting doored in The Netherlands, or three feet passing space. So now because I’ve been here, riding in The Netherlands is almost kind of scary because I could reach out and touch the bus passing me by at high speed, but staying in its lane.

In the Netherlands, you have so many more bike paths (separated from motorized traffic) that you’re just away from everything. In certain areas, you’re just riding and people are zooming past. But they’re aware of you and you know as a cyclist cars are aware of you. Here nobody is even looking. I don’t think people are really aware and I think that’s the biggest difference. People are aware (of all types of traffic) in The Netherlands because they have to be aware. It also drives me nuts how many stop signs there are here.

In The Netherlands, very few people wear helmets. Do you wear one now that you’re in the U.S.?

No. Only when I go road racing. My sister like six months ago got into an accident where somebody nicked her on the back of her bike and she got a concussion. She wore a helmet because she used to live in Paris. That makes me think I probably should wear a helmet, but I’m just not there. People yell at me all the time, definitely here at work, for not wearing a helmet. I pointed out to my boyfriend that you often see cyclists at night here wearing a helmet but they don’t have lights on their bikes. I think that’s a lot more important for safety. I am much safer because I’m wearing lights. Also, I don’t get distracted; I use the same roads, so I know where big potholes are; and I went through the (League Cycling Instructor) training.

People here often worry that they can’t bike to work because they’ll get sweaty and disheveled and won’t look professional. Do you find this problematic?

I mainly wear scrubs for work, but when it gets really hot, I wear shorts and a tank top to go to work and freshen up a little bit when I get there. I work in an office in the hospital seeing patients so I never really wear a whole lot of makeup, and what I do wear doesn’t really get messed up biking. Hair is more of an issue. They’re redoing part of
my hospital and I hear they’re gonna put in employee showers. I’m hoping that’s the case.

Europeans tend to wear a lot less makeup than Americans. There’s a lot of people here that wear a lot of makeup and have their hair perfectly done up, and that can be an impediment to biking. I went to the Zoo to Do (a local charity event) two years ago on my bike, and I remember thinking, ‘I can only bike on this side of my boyfriend so the wind won’t mess up my hair.’

van der Molen and her boyfriend on their way to the Zoo to Do. Photo courtesy Edward Carlson.
van der Molen and her boyfriend on their way to the Zoo to Do. Photo courtesy Edward Carlson.

I noticed in Amsterdam that bikes don’t tend to be very fancy. In fact, they seem built to blend in and take a lot of wear and tear. What kind of bike do you ride?

I am using this hybrid bike, somebody’s old mountain bike that I got after my bike got stolen. It was a gift from my coworker’s brother. It’s a little too big for me, so I ride it mainly without my hands on the handlebars. I really should get something different. It’s black. It’s nothing fancy. I decorate it with some flowers. My boyfriend thinks that I should get another bike. Something that’s maybe more stylish, but I don’t want it to get stolen. I had a fancy bike, which was not really even that fancy, but it got stolen. I would be afraid if I got a really nice bike it would get stolen. I would be worried about it.

The first bike that I ever bought for myself was when I lived in Daytona, Florida and it got stolen in the same week. It was some kind of cruiser. I bought it for Spring Break. I went to the pawn shop. It was green.

Do you think transportation culture here is changing here in any measurable way?

There’s definitely more people riding. People don’t seem as surprised that I ride my bike. It seems it’s becoming more mainstream. Drivers are also more accepting (of bicyclists on the road). On the other hand, I’m looking at people (bicyclists and drivers) riding around town that I think are doing stuff that is so stupid and dangerous. We have a lot more cyclists and bike lanes than when I first got here. But ten years ago, you didn’t have to deal as much with distracted drivers.

What’s one thing U.S. cities could do to significantly improve conditions for cyclists?

Apply more traffic calming measures in neighborhoods so that cyclists are able to enjoy easy riding. A woonerf is a good example of this.

Emilie Bahr is a writer and urban planner who lives in New Orleans. She is the author of the book Urban Revolutions: A woman’s guide to two-wheeled transportation. Follow her on Twitter @EmilieBahr.