By Cassie Bogdan-Slemmer, board member
With transportation accounting for nearly a third of CO2 emissions in the US, and more than half of that attributed to passenger vehicles, the demand for more sustainable methods to get around in our day to day lives has increased. Hybrid and all-electric cars are on a meteoric rise and public transit is getting a second look from city planners around the country.
However, whether your car is still fossil-fueled, you want to reduce your impact more completely, or you are just trying to save on vehicle upkeep and fuel costs, bike commuting can help you fulfill those goals. Not only does biking decrease your energy use, but it can also help reduce traffic and alleviate parking congestion while keeping our air quality in tact. In addition, as a bonus, bike commuting gives us a chance to move in the midst of our increasingly stationary lives, with demonstrable health benefits, including research showing it can lower stress levels and improve mental health.
Maybe you’ve considered bike commuting before, but aren’t sure where to start. This is an attempt to de-mystify the ins and outs of bike commuting here in Wenatchee, based on some of the most common reasons we may be hesitant to give it a try.
“I don’t have a good bike”
The great thing about bike commuting is that, really, any ol’ bike will do. You don’t need the newest, lightest, fanciest set-up to get around town; you just need something that you can pedal. This is especially good news, as a jump in the demand for bikes over the last year has made obtaining a bike (either new or used) more difficult than usual.
If you have an old bike that just needs some TLC to get it running smoothly again, you can take it to one of the local shops in town (see the list here); odds are, you’ll save more money fixing up something you already have vs buying a new bike, and, of course, it is most sustainable to use what we already own.
If you don’t have a bike:
check around for used bikes at local thrift stores or online marketplaces
pinkbike.com can allow you to search regionally for a bike in your size and price range
talk to folks at your local bike shop to see what they have in stock or can get in stock
Once you have a bike, doing some simple upkeep at home will help extend the life of your bike and it’s components. For instance, getting chain lube and applying it every 100 miles or so will do wonders to make your ride more pleasant and keep your bike components happy. There are many helpful resources to help you learn about bike upkeep and maintenance, such as on REI’s YouTube Channel, found here.
“It makes me nervous to be on the road with cars”
This is absolutely understandable; cars dramatically outweigh and out-power bikes, and there have been tragic cases of distracted or impaired drivers getting into accidents with cyclists. However, there are several tools you can use to keep yourself as safe as possible.
The Right Supplies:
First and foremost, make sure you have a helmet.
A pair of bike lights (red in back, white in front) is important in order to help cars see you, especially if you may need to be on the roads when light is dim.
Wearing brighter colors is safer than dark colors. A bright neon parking attendant vest is easy way to make yourself more visible.
The Right Route:
Wenatchee has been working on a number of projects to make our streets more friendly to cyclists; perhaps you’ve noticed new bike lanes or green signs indicating that a street is part of a bike route. On First St, between Chelan and Wenatchee, there are even some new physical barriers between the bike lane and the car lane to add a layer of safety. A lot of these changes are coming out of partnerships between the city, and bike advocacy organizations like the Regional Bike Advisory Council, groups like Our Valley Our Future and Chelan-Douglas Transportation Council, along with various other local agencies.
These groups have also collaborated to create a helpful biking map, with both pdf and interactive versions for the Wenatchee area. Paper maps are available at several local businesses. Check out bikewenatcheevalley.org for more resources, including maps for Lake Chelan, Cashmere/Leavenworth etc.
“I don’t know where to put my bike”
Once you have your route in mind, finding a place to park your bike is the last step.
If you are commuting to work, or running errands, a great perk of riding your bike is that you may end up with the best “parking” spot. Many businesses, hospitals, parks and schools have options just outside the front door.
However, it can be difficult to identify where to hitch your bike, and this is one of the areas Wenatchee is still working on to become a better cycling-friendly city. An interactive map of known bike parking options in Wenatchee can be found here.
Once you have a place to put it, using a bike lock will help give you peace of mind when storing your bike at work or around town. Keep in mind that not all bike locks are of the same quality, and some are more easily cut or picked than others. A helpful guide can be found here or here.
“I don’t have time”
Certainly, there are some trips that aren’t as easily replicated by bike, and other trips where it won’t be practical to do so (this is why moving to hybrid or electric cars are so important for our overall progress towards a sustainable life). However, especially for those who live closer to the center of town, it may only add a few minutes to grab groceries or head to happy hour by bike instead of by car. Especially for destinations or events that include large crowds, finding parking for a car can be a greater delay than taking the time to arrive by bike.
For example, I find that my commute to work, which is just under 1.5 miles, takes just about as long by car (due to traffic and parking) as it does by bike. That’s not always the norm, I know, but many of us have at least one or two regular destinations that offer a reasonable chance to switch a steering wheel for handlebars.
On the other hand, I have bike-commuting coworkers, coming from farther away, who plan in the extra time each day in order to allow them to cycle instead of drive. They tell me how much they appreciate the space to center themselves before starting a workday, or to decompress after a long week.
Photos by Marilyn Hedges
Hopefully, this helps equip you to start bike commuting yourself, even if just for a few trips per week. Start with what you can: choosing a bike over a car once a day reduces an average person’s carbon emissions by 67%, according to research out of the University of Oxford. That same research found that if even just 10% of us biked instead of drove for one trip each day, we could see a 10% decrease in transport emissions. That’s a pretty impressive impact we have a chance to make, in a time where every bit of progress helps.