As the public information officer for the Scottsdale Transportation Department, I’m about to encourage you to participate in Scottsdale’s Bike to Work Day next Wednesday, April 19. It feels a little insincere, however, trying to get you to do something I’ve never done. So, to keep my conscience on track, here goes. I will bike to work next Wednesday.
Yes, that is trepidation you sense. If like me you don’t bike regularly, maybe you understand it. I live over 12 miles from work, my schedule is crazy on Wednesdays, I haven’t done anything resembling cardio in over a month, and I have no idea how to change a bike tire.
Before talking myself out of it, I decided to chat with Susan Conklu, the Scottsdale Senior Transportation Planner in charge of making Scottsdale as bike friendly as possible.
It turns out she, the woman with bike earrings dangling from her ears, was just as nervous as I am the first time she tried Bike to Work Day about 15 years ago.
“I was biking from Tempe to 27th Avenue and Buckeye, about 14 miles,” said Conklu. “Even though I was meeting up with people from work, I was worried I’d go too slow, get left behind and get lost. This was pre-cell phone days.”
She was also nervous about biking near traffic — definitely another fear I can relate to.
“I was a total sidewalk rider back in those days,” said Conklu. “I had no idea it was much less safe than biking in the street.”
She was also nervous about having to bike another 14 miles to get home, a little more than my own upcoming commute. I guess maybe my anxiety is normal for a newbie.
“Just pace yourself,” said Conklu. “That’s one of the things about being on a bike. It feels a lot less like exercising.”
Given the stress that seems to come with trying out bike commuting, perhaps like me you’re wondering, "Why, again, am I doing this?"
“First, because it’s fun,” said Conklu. “Second, it’s a low-pressure way to learn about bike commuting and to understand the mindset.”
Bike to Work Day is also a good way to get exercise and to help reduce air pollution, if only for one day.
And you never know where it might lead. For Conklu, it eventually led to a new career direction.
Bike to Work Day can also be a good way to get to know more of your coworkers, which was the case for Kim Gresham, professional services manager at Workiva, Inc. She organized a Bike to Work Day for her office last year and is doing so again this year.
“It’s one of the most beautiful times of the year around here with flower blossoms and nice weather,” said Gresham. “I thought it would be nice to get people to ride in, especially since our office moved to SkySong 3 where there are bike lockers and showers.”
(Photo: Workiva, Inc. Bike to Work Day riders 2016)
Gresham, along with her co-worker Chris Murphy who is also a professional services manager, helped participants plan their routes.
“Understanding where everyone is coming from and trying to make it as easy as possible is probably the best way to increase participation,” said Murphy.
Gresham and Murphy also participated in a Valley Metro Commuter Challenge. Participants track their bike trips during Valley Bike Month and compete against other teams.
This ultimately led to Murphy giving up his car.
“Riding so much during the commuter challenge highlighted for me the ease of it,” said Murphy. “April is almost summertime here. I realized if I could do it then, I could do it year-round.”
Giving up the cost of car payments, gas, maintenance and insurance enabled Murphy and his wife to pay off their student loans faster.
Okay, whoa. Let’s rein this in a bit. I was just talking about trying bike commuting for one day, and a few paragraphs later those enthusiastic bike folks are talking about changing careers and giving up cars. I promise I’m not trying to get you (or me) to do either of those. Then again, you never know the difference Bike to Work Day might make. Two bike paths diverged under the Valley sun, and I--…I digress.
Whatever path you choose, if you’re a Bike to Work newbie (or you were last year), I’d love to hear about your experience. Email me at JBanks@scottsdaleaz.gov or call me at 480-312-7517.
Tips for Bike Commuter Newbies
Use bike maps to plan your route ahead of time. You rarely take the same route you would in a car, and there’s often a quieter or more scenic option on paths or through neighborhoods. Scottsdale’s online interactive map of public amenities includes citywide bikeways, unpaved trails and path crossings like tunnels and bridges. To view these features, zoom into an area, and select the legend symbol at the left. Another good resource is the Maricopa Association of Government’s online MAG Bikeways Map. Along with types of lanes, paths and crossings, it also shows bike shops and intersections with public transportation across the Valley. Another tool is the bike icon in Google Maps, which allows you to view lane and path options.
Try a practice run. Before you have to bike on a schedule, try out your planned route. You’ll have a chance to fine tune any tricky parts without the pressure of having to get to work on time. It will also give you a better idea of how long the ride will take.
Check out your bike a few days before you try the full commute. Make sure your tires aren’t losing air, your chain is moving and shifting smoothly and your brakes are working properly.
Find out what, if any, support your office provides for bike commuters. Many offices have showers, for example. Some also have bike storage.
Put together a biking essentials kit. At a minimum you should bring the following items: water, helmet, sunscreen, and a bike lock. And, if there’s any chance you will be biking in the dark, you will also need a front light and a red rear reflector or light, which are required by law. Bike shops will have the most selection, but you can also pick up the minimum lights you need for less than $10 at hardware stores, discount department stores like Target or Walmart, and sporting goods stores.
You will probably also want to bring a toiletries kit to freshen up when you get to work, and if you can’t bike in your work clothes, you’ll also need to bring those. Consider bringing these items in earlier in the week so you have less to carry.
If, unlike me, you do know how to change a bike tire, bring an extra tube.
Consider finding a bike buddy. Depending on the size of your office, you might be able to find a co-worker who bikes from the same part of town you’ll be coming from. I’ve met few people as willing to share their knowledge and completely rearrange their schedule to promote their cause as bike commuters. If you can’t find anyone at your office, you may be able to find a biking partner through Valley Metro’s Share the Ride Program.
If you don’t ride with a buddy, let someone else know you’re biking. Make sure a friend or co-worker knows you’re commuting by bike and when they should expect to either see you or hear from you.
Make sure your cell phone is charged and you have a backup plan. Just as you would with a car, make sure you have a backup plan in case of bike problems or an emergency. It’s a good idea to bring a bus card or money for a cab or have a ride service you can contact. Some companies also provide cab reimbursement for emergencies as part of a trip reduction program (required of Maricopa County employers with 50 or more employees at a site). Check with your employer to find out if they participate in the program and what they offer.
Get out of the all-or-nothing mentality. If you don’t want to bike 20 miles or 15 miles or even 5 miles, you don’t have to. You can participate in Bike to Work Day anyway you want. Maybe that means driving to a Park and Ride and then biking to work from there. Combining your bike ride with public transportation is another option.
More Helpful Links:
Scottsdale Paths & Trails: Learn more about Bike to Work Day in Scottsdale, including where to get 20% off at Starbucks and how to get a free t-shirt.
MAG Bikeways map: As mentioned above, this is an online, detailed biking map for Maricopa County.
Valley Metro Bike Brochure: This is another good resource for beginning bike commuters.
Valley Metro Valley Bike Month: See all events happening around the Valley this month.
Valley Metro’s Getting On Board: Learn how to put your bike on the bus or light rail.
Arizona Department of Transportation Bicycle and Pedestrian Program:This page includes good information about biking etiquette and safety.