Health: A Commute on Two Wheels

Posted: Friday, June 13, 2003

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) As a college student nearly 25 years ago, Steve Richardson began commuting by bike to Sacramento State University as a concession to his limited budget.

Now, because of the benefits cycling provides, he can't afford not to bicycle to work.

Richardson cites improved health and fitness, increased family time, better work focus and less commuting stress as reason for his more than 20-year commuting preference.

''It's very annoying now when I do drive,'' said Richardson, whose 18-mile, round-trip journey takes about 50 minutes. ''Every time I do drive to work, I wonder, 'Why am I doing this to myself? Get back on the bike is what I say.' ''

Richardson, 42, who commutes from his home in Fair Oaks, Calif., to his job at the Western Area Power Administration in nearby Folsom, is one of the fortunate cycling commuters. Most of his daily mileage is accumulated along the Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail, a 31-mile asphalt recreation trail closed to vehicular traffic.

But in many major cities around the country San Francisco to New York commuter cycling paths are rare. Pedaling commuters like Richardson are often required to integrate into a varied mix of vehicular traffic. And it's often a recipe for disaster.

''There's no reason why we just can't all get along,'' said Josh Hart, program director at the San Francisco Bike Coalition, a non-profit, membership-based advocacy organization working to promote the bicycle for everyday transportation.''There's plenty of opportunity for everyone to co-exist.''

As part of his organization's expanding advocacy, Hart was responsible for a recently debuting video, ''Riding Predictably.'' The instructional video is available for viewing on the organization's Web site:

''It's proven very popular,'' said Hart of his company's site that receives more than 2,000 hits a week. ''We keep trying to add more because in a city like San Francisco, where there aren't a lot of cycling paths, there's a lot more accidents.

One of the most widely discussed issues is the ''battle'' between vehicles and bicycles is the dilemma known as being ''doored.'' It occurs when a cyclist, riding close a parked car, is hit when a passenger suddenly opens a door.

It's these preventable occurrences that prompted the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition Web site to offer its ''Tips For Coexisting.''

Along with other such subheadings, including ''Urban Cycling'' and ''Bikes on Bridges,'' the ''Coexisting'' section has four tips for assertive cycling and four tips for respectful driving.

For cyclists, consider:

- When merging, be consistent and confident and don't swerve. Predictability is key. If a driver lets you in, acknowledge him.

- Always take a lane if you're moving at the speed of traffic, even if the lane is wide enough to be shared. If the lane is too narrow to share, hold your ground in the middle of the lane and ride predictably, regardless of your speed.

- If there's a line of vehicles turning right and you need to go straight, pass them on the left if possible.

- Use all clues available to determine what a driver plans to do. Listen to engine noises, look at tires to see which way they're turning. Most of all, make eye contact with drivers.

Tips for respectful driving, according to the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, include:

- Don't be a bully and insist on passing a cyclist just so you can get to the red light first. Take a deep breath and ease up on the accelerator.

- Step on the brake. If in doubt whether you can squeeze by a cyclist, slow down and wait.

- On a narrow, two-lane road with a double yellow line and approaching a cyclist, either cross the double yellow line if you see that there's no traffic approaching in the opposite direction, or wait until it's safe to pass legally.

Many states around the country have similar guidelines and are particularly aggressive promoting commuter cycling during National Bike Month each May.

The League of American Bicyclists in Washington, D.C., offers a 10-hour classroom and video instruction class, ''Effective Cycling.'' Its goal is to teach cyclists how to get around safely, quickly and comfortably.

The class, for cyclists ages 13 and older, provides cyclists with diverse skills from riding confidently in traffic to fixing a flat tire and making emergency maneuvers to understanding cyclists' rights and responsibilities.

In some instances, employers even encourage cyclists to commute. In Richardson's case, his employer provides an employee shower, small locker room and a secure bike storage area.

Inclement weather can pose problems. It's wise to carry a tire-fixing kit and a cellular phone for emergencies. The extra precautionary measures not only help provide increased comfort, efficiency and contentment for commuting cyclists, it helps in other ways, too.

''With a wife and two children at home, I have to be efficient,'' said Richardson, summarizing his enjoyment of commuting-exercising incorporated into a busy lifestyle.

''By cycling to work, I've done my daily workout by the time I'm home. And then I've got extra time to spend with my family.''

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