Imagine this: Before beginning the daily grind (where you may, unfortunately, sit all day), you get an exhilarating workout. The workout is outside (good morning, sunshine and serotonin!), and it's absolutely free. Oh, and by the end of it, you are at your place of work, more energized than your co-workers who sat in traffic – after they've had a few cups of coffee. This can be your morning routine, if you chose to bike to work. While yes, it can be scary (and sweaty) at first, here's a road map to get you started:
Make sure your bike is fit to ride. Even the most skilled, experienced cyclist is in for trouble if her brakes are too worn or her chain is rusted. So whether your bike is new, used or a neglected relic from Christmas '02, you must check that it's safe to ride. Check out BikeLeague.org's guidelines for basic bike maintenance safety, or talk to an expert. "In most cases, your local bike shop is one of your best resources," says Carolyn Szczepanski, spokeswoman for the League of American Bicyclists. She adds that experts at bike shops, along with local bike advocacy groups and co-ops, cannot only help ensure the safety of your bike, but they can often help determine the best bike type and size for you, so you're comfortable and safe as you ride. These experts may steer you away from a thick-wheeled mountain bike, for example, if you plan to use it for city commuting. And they would ensure that the height and other dimensions of the bike allow you to move comfortably and efficiently.
Get educated. Those bike shops, advocacy groups and co-ops that may have helped you tune your bike may also offer bike safety classes – or, if you ask, they may be able to point you in the right direction toward local resources. Szczepanski and Tori Bortman, author of Bicycling magazine's "The Big Book of Cycling for Beginners," both suggest taking a class or two, which will likely teach you about hand signals, bike-friendly routes, where on the road you should bike and more.
Plus, Bortman says, taking classes can be a great way to practice your riding skills, such as breaking, steering and overall coordination and balance. "A huge part of biking is just getting used to being on a bike again," she says. If you haven't ridden a bike in the last few (or 20) years, you may find that the idiom about how easy it is to remember is a little misleading. Sure, you may have biked the neighborhood block as a kid, but did 12-year-old you need to know how to bike with one hand so you can signal a left-hand turn? On the cul-de-sac, did you have to share the road with cars zipping by you, which Bortman identifies as a big anxiety for most new adult cyclists? Probably not. Plus, "You're not the same strength as you were as a kid, you're not the same weight and your center of balance is totally different," Bortman says. She adds that we can adapt to these changes fairly quickly, and practicing will help.
Don't be afraid of a little sweat. Folks who want to bike to work often hesitate to do so, because they don't want to show up looking like they, well, biked to work, Bortman says. If you're worried about sweat, helmet hair or general disheveled-ness, Bortman suggests gleaning insight from other co-workers who bike to work. Maybe your office has a shower you didn't know about, or there's a gym nearby where they freshen up. Maybe folks leave a little early to style their hair and makeup at work. Many websites, too, have advice for heading into a 9 a.m. meeting without looking like you just ran a marathon. These LifeHacker and LiveStrong posts, for example, suggest slowing your pace, wearing workout clothes, hydrating, checking the dreaded humidity levels before leaving and investing in pannier bags, which hold your stuff on the side of the bike wheels instead of your back.
Find a buddy. While sweat can be annoying to cyclists, cars can be downright scary. "People are intimidated by traffic," Bortman says. "There's a good reason for that: Cars are bigger than bikes." Owning a safe bike that fits you and learning about safe cycling are good first steps to becoming more comfortable on the road. Another way to learn? Bike with someone who knows what they're doing. Bortman suggests this as a "fantastic" way to see firsthand how others bike and to ask them questions. "Don't be intimidated if this person is a more advanced rider," she says, adding that it's key that he or she stays within your comfort zone. "Generally, if they're a patient person, they're going to go at your pace."
Smart small. Before gearing up and huffing 10 miles to work, bike around your neighborhood, Bortman suggests. Or bike to the cafe a mile away, or run a nearby errand. This way, she says, "you're taking off smaller bites to chew and working up from there."
Similarly, Szczepanski suggests taking it slow. Maybe start biking to work a few times a month, then once a week, then eventually more frequently. People often get "this notion that becoming a bicyclist means all-weather, every day, come hell or high water – and that's not necessarily super realistic," she says. "Becoming a bicyclist just means giving it a try and seeing how it goes. And then graduating slowly as you have the comfort and confidence to do so."