Bring a coworker on your bicycle commute. It’ll all be downhill from there.

For National Bike month, Alex Fleig recalls his first ride to work. In spite of a hill and an emergency repair along the way, a bicycle commuter was born.

Alex Fleig and David Arterburn, KPWHRI bicycle commuters

by Alex Fleig, senior grants and contracts process analyst, Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute (KPWHRI)

Like a lot of people, I rode bikes when I was a kid. Ten years ago, though, I didn’t even own a bicycle. Then a coworker coached me into getting back in the saddle. It’s become a fantastic way for me to commute because it adds more physical activity into my life.

My bicycle commuting guru was Dr. David Arterburn. In 2006, he was a new researcher at KPWHRI. He’s now a senior investigator, but at the time he was still getting to know people, so we went out for coffee to talk about Seattle. We found out that we lived near each other, south of the Institute.

David studies ways to reduce obesity, so he encourages everybody to include activity in our daily routines. I get some walking in when I take the train to work, but David convinced me that I should trying commuting by bicycle during National Bike month.

First, I got an inexpensive but serviceable bike. Then, I had to figure out the best route from my home to my office.

It’s about 10 miles and I wasn’t sure if I should take the route I’d use if I was driving or go a different way. David was so committed to getting me to try cycling again, that he said he would ride over to my house and show me, even though it’s several miles out of his way. One morning, he came over and we set off for my first ride to work.

Getting the challenges out of the way

One section of our ride was straight up a really steep hill. My chain derailed just as we were getting to the top so we had to stop on the slope and fix it in front of an audience of school kids waiting for a bus. It was an adventure, but at least I got the challenges over with on the first ride. Having a companion made the whole thing more fun. Riding with someone with experience made me feel more comfortable being on the road with cars. I was exhausted but energized when I got to work and ready to try again. Now, I commute by bicycle when I can. For me, it’s the perfect way to get some exercise. And I’ve since found an easier, flatter path.

Trying it out on May 19

If you want to start bicycling again, here are some ideas. If you’re an experienced cyclist, pass these or other tips along to your friends and coworkers. If they live nearby, think about inviting them along on your next ride.

  • If you need to buy a bike or tune up an old one, find a local shop with options in your price range. I went to Recycled Cycles in Seattle, which has used and new bicycles, and is known for working within their customers’ budgets.
  • You don’t need fancy clothes or equipment. For my first commute, I just wore a t-shirt and shorts and put my stuff in a backpack, not a special bike bag.
  • Think about joining a Bike Month challenge, like this one for Washington State. You can use the challenge website to keep track of trips and miles, for friendly competition or to set personal goals. You can do this on your own or with a team of friends, coworkers, or anyone in your community.
  • Take a ride on the morning of May 19, national Bike to Work Day, when a lot of cyclists will be on the road. When you’re part of a group of riders, you’re more visible and you might feel more comfortable in traffic. Check for sponsored stops along your route and get free coffee, bananas, and cycling advice.

I’ll be out that day and I hope to see you along the way.