Bike to Work Month: Why May is the best time to ride

Bicyclists commute on Grove Street on Bike to Work Day, May 18, 2006 in San Francisco, Calif. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

(MoneyWatch) Even though I haven't ridden a bicycle since I was in college, I'm planning to gear up and commute by bike Friday, May 18 -- National Bike to Work Day.

If I was really intrepid, I might honor all of National Bike Month by going car free for 30 days. Or even make it five days in a row since this week is Bike to Work Week. But you've got to start somewhere, and Friday is Bike to Work Day.

Like many people, I can list lots of reasons why biking to work is impractical or hard or dangerous. But when I really thought about it, I had no valid excuse not to participate this year. So to get you out of the car and in the saddle, I'm setting out to shoot down your excuses as well. One by one:

Bicycling isn't fun. My bike doesn't necessarily need baseball cards slapping against its spokes for me to enjoy riding it. In a study published by the San Diego Association of Governments, one in five first-time Bike to Work Day riders became regular bike commuters. Andy D. Clarke, President of the League of American Bicyclists, told me that even "when gas prices have fallen from the $4 or higher levels that jolt people into trying riding, they stick with it; the numbers don't fall back. They discover riding works, it's actually fun."

I'd have to wake up too early. Estimate your one-way bike commute time in two easy steps: (1) Divide the distance in miles between your home and workplace by 10 (the average speed in miles per hour of a typical bike commuter). Then (2) multiply the product by 60. The result is the number of minutes your commute should take. According to the league of American Bicyclists, more than half of the U.S. population lives within 5 miles of the workplace. Your one-way commute time is likely less than 30 minutes.

I have to drive to ensure I show up on time. Consider the time you waste when you drive to work -- the low-fuel light surprises you, you hit a traffic jam, or you arrive to a jam-packed parking lot... Commute by bicycle, however, and you dodge those obstacles, get in better shape, save money, have fun, reduce your carbon footprint, and clock in on time -- every time.

I might break my elbow again. Maybe your last ride didn't work out. So what? Lance Armstrong fell off plenty different bicycles before he wore the yellow jersey. Besides, it's Bike to Work week, not a Pyrenean stage of the Tour de France. You should wear a properly fastened bike helmet, though, and not break any laws whenever you ride a cycle. According to Shimano, traffic-law-abiding cyclists have 80 percent fewer collisions than reckless riders, and only 15 percent of all serious bicycle crashes involve a moving car.

I don't want to be the only rider on Bike to Work Day. Participation and ridership in Bike to Work Day events has grown significantly in recent years. Clarke said the Washington, DC-area Bike to Work Day event this year expects more than 12,000 riders to register and participate. Last year, Clarke said, the Bike to Work Day event in the Denver region registered roughly 25,000 people.

I can't afford any gear. Though I don't pay a toll or parking fee on my commute, I'd still save money if I left my car at home and rode a bike to my office. And in some urban areas, according to the League of American Bicyclists, a bike commuter could save more than $200 per month. Check out Kiplinger's biking-to-work calculator, a free service that shows you how much money you could be saving if only you commuted to and from work by bike.

A bike ride would ruin my Windsor knot. No sweat, all I need is The Suit Commute -- a biker-friendly backpack that carries a laptop and suit, and keeps an outfit wrinkle-free.

Somebody swiped my Schwinn. Whether your bicycle needs a part, new tube or tune-up, or you want a new bike, visit your local bike shop, and talk to a mechanic. If you own a cycle that can't be saved, you should bring it in with you. Most bicycle technicians will trade clunkers for shop credit toward a new rig.

Why is Bike to Work Week important? "Bike to Work Week is important because it gives people a chance to try something that they've often been thinking about but haven't quite got around to doing yet," Clarke said. "Bike to Work events give people that final push."

Check this list of events in all 50 states to find out if your city has a plan for Bike to Work Day, May 18.

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