Skip to content

Why you should bike to work this week.

May 21, 2010
This is a photograph of my own Trek L-300s bic...
Image via Wikipedia

Buckle up (your helmet) — it’s Bike-to-Work Week.

Cyclists cite lots of reasons for trading in the car, bus or train for a two-wheel commute: a good workout, a minuscule carbon footprint, fewer worries about finding a parking space — but one of the most-enticing benefits is the cost savings.

Last year Congress added another perk, putting bicycle commuters on the list of those eligible for a transportation tax benefit. Just as employers can provide tax-free reimbursement for the cost of parking or transit passes, now they can also subsidize the cost of biking to work. (To see how much you can save biking to work, use our calculator.)

The benefit is capped at a modest $20 per month, but bicyclists’ demand for this benefit over the past year has been steadily growing. For example, Commuter Check, a company that helps employers implement commuter benefits, says that demand has exceeded expectations — especially on the West Coast and the San Francisco area.

The cap on tax-free money for cycling is far less than what’s available for parking ($230 a month) and transit passes ($120 a month). And unfortunately, the subsidy cannot be combined with any other transportation benefits. But every little bit helps. To qualify for the biking benefit, employees must ride their bicycle for a substantial portion of their commute at least three days per week. The money is added to your income or distributed as a separate check, but you won’t have to pay federal or state taxes on it. You are required to use the subsidy for qualified expenses — bikes, locks, helmets and general maintenance and repairs. At companies that use Commuter Check, employees get a paper check that can be cashed only at bicycle shops for qualified expenses.

If your company doesn’t offer reimbursement for bicycle commuting, ask your human resources department to consider the benefit. According to Commuter Check, employers rarely offer the benefit until prompted by their employees. The American League of Bicyclists has helpful information about the new law and offers commuter pledge cards that can be used for implementing the benefit.

The $20-per-month subsidy is chump change compared with what you’ll save just by leaving the car at home. Roger Crawford, 53, rides his bike part of the way to his job in Arlington, Va. He started biking three days each week in August 2008 — and for only ten miles of his brutal commute of 75 miles each way. “Step into [cycling] gradually,” Crawford advises. “Be conservative in your goals, and stick to them.” Now, he drives 50 miles and bikes the remaining 25 miles, five days a week. Crawford says he saves $260 a month in highway tolls, $60 a month in parking fees and $81 a month in gas — a combined monthly savings of more than $400, not including vehicle-maintenance costs.

More important, Crawford says, he’s lost 30 pounds and kept his blood-sugar level under control. He was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes last summer.

Other commuter cyclists achieve additional cost savings by trading in a workout at the gym for a rush-hour bike ride. “I used to spend an hour at the gym and an hour driving. Now, I get my commuting and exercise in, and I save gas money,” says Mike Schechter, 32, who recently started cycling seven miles per day, each way, to his job at a law firm in Seattle. He also scaled back his gym membership from $300 a month to just $40 a month by foregoing benefits such as one-on-one time with a trainer.

Surviving the commute

A bicycle commute to work surrounded by rush-hour traffic isn’t the same as a weekend ride through the countryside. First, be sure to get a helmet ($20 to $30). Head injuries cause 75% of annual bicycle deaths, and helmets can prevent 85% of head injuries from bicycle accidents, according to the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute.

Other gear that might be useful for biking to and from work:

— Lights ($35) for early-morning or nighttime riding. Get a white LED front light to attach to your handlebars so you’ll stay visible when approaching intersections, and buy a red, blinking light to attach to your seat post or clip onto your back so approaching drivers will see you from behind.

–A rack or panniers ($40), either of which can attach to the back of your bike, to carry files, a change of clothes or other personal items. A small messenger bag or backpack might suffice but can strain your back. Most mountain bikes or hybrids easily accommodate a rack or panniers.

–Shoes with clips ($30 to $90), which will give you more control and power for the faster pace and tighter turns you’ll navigate during a rush-hour ride.

–A fender ($15 to $25) to keep water from splashing onto you from your rear tire.

–A cycling computer ($10 to $50) to track your speed and trip length.

But don’t drop money on loads of gear until you take a few spins out on your bike. “I always tell people to start with the basics and then come up with their own formula for what works,” says Tony Leongini, manager of Bicycle Pro Shop in Washington, D.C.

To learn the rules of the road, consider taking a safety course, and read the Ride Better section of the League of American Bicyclists’ Web site.

Once you get to work

Ask local parking garages and your employer if there’s a good storage spot for your bike. Parking your bike on the street? Don’t settle for a coil or chain lock, which a thief can split with a pair of bolt cutters. No lock can guarantee 100% theft prevention, but a steel U-lock ($15 to $30) should keep your ride safe. For added piece peace of mind, park your bike in a high-traffic area where a thief won’t go unspotted, and don’t leave it out overnight if you can help it.

The real trick for commuter cyclists is looking — and smelling — professional after a long ride. If your office building has a shower, consider yourself lucky. If not, check with gyms near work. Some might be willing to partner with your employer to offer reduced shower-only memberships.

If showering isn’t an option for you but you’re still determined to get to work on two wheels, fret not. First, pitch the sweat-retaining cotton garb and spring for a moisture-wicking cycling jersey ($20 to $60) and shorts ($30 to $60). On sweltering days, hit the road early enough to avoid the worst of the heat, and give yourself time to pedal slowly and cool off during the last portion of your ride.

Still feeling unkempt? Many cyclists keep a box of baby wipes handy so they can freshen up in the bathroom before changing into work attire. Wendell Mangibin, 38, uses unscented baby wipes to clean himself after chugging through eight miles each way to his job at a credit union in Westbury, N.Y. By biking, he’s able to take shortcuts and shave two miles off of what turns out to be a ten-mile trip in his Subaru Impreza. He makes the commute three days per week and, with gas prices at $2.70 per gallon, slashes fuel expenses by about $32 per month.

His main impetus for riding, though, is the exercise regimen that is otherwise tough to schedule between working and spending time with his two young children.

“When I used to go running, I’d get an adrenaline rush,” he says. “It’s the same way with cycling. I come into work and everyone’s bleary-eyed, but I’m full of energy and ready for the day to start.”

By Louis Jones and Candice Lee Jones

Great article found over at:

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]
One Comment leave one →
  1. June 6, 2010 7:12 am

    It’s stunning what matters Google can get us too..I would’ve never discovered your blog otherwise. 😛

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: