I used to grumble about Bike to Work Day. “People don’t need a special day to ride their bikes. Every day you work could be bike to work day,” I would self-righteously think. “Bike to Work Day? You mean, Friday?”
My feelings about bike commuting were somewhat in the realm of “Back in my day, I walked to school in five-feet high snow drifts wearing sandals, and I liked it!” Silliness.
I’ve always been a recreational rider, but I didn’t get there on my own. My parents believed it important for us to learn to ride and to always have functional bicycles. They encouraged us to ride or walk when possible, and instilled the value of active transportation in us from an early age.
When I moved to the city, I brought that mentality with me. I committed to living close to work so that an active commute – either walking or riding – would be the easiest way for me to travel to work.
But this is not the case for many residents. Not everyone lives close to their work, and not everyone rides regularly, recreationally or otherwise.
Bike to Work Day – this past Friday in Washington, D.C. – is an opportune time to experiment with a different kind of commute. The support is there for riders via the pit stops offered throughout the city and beyond.
Cyclists, new and experienced, fill the roads and multi-use paths even more than they would on a regular workday and veteran riders and drivers have a heightened sense of the riders in their orbit – I think, anyway.
Many daily bike commuters see Bike to Work Day as a day that celebrates what we do every day. That’s what it’s become for me. This year I teleworked on Bike to Work Day, but still went out in the morning to soak in the day’s energy. I know BikeDC commuters who ride to multiple pit stops, eat treats, pick up swag, and chat with other riders they know. A commuter buddy called it Bike Thanksgiving.
But for others, Bike to Work Day is an invitation to try a different path. For the first time since I moved here, two friends tried bike commuting to work for the first time on Bike to Work Day. One of them is an experienced cyclist who rode 40 miles one-way. The other is a beginning rider who lives about 7 miles from the office.
The experience each had was distinct, but both used Bike to Work Day as a springboard to a new way of commuting. They pumped up their tires, mapped their ride, and tested themselves to see if they could do it, knowing that community support was in place for them.
One of my friends commented on all the cars double parking, something you might not think about as a pedestrian or while in a car. He also said he was initially intimidated, and uncertain whether he could actually do the ride to and from work.
My friend with more cycling experience expressed satisfaction that he executed a 40-mile route from his suburban home into the heart of the city.
Bike advocates would add that Bike to Work Day matters in other ways, too. Organizations track the number of people who sign up for Bike to Work Day, and advocacy and urban planning groups use it as an indicator of the number of cyclists riding to work in our area.
That is important, but this year, I focused on the small-scale change that results from an individual using Bike to Work Day to experiment with active transportation by bike.
Bike commuting can change your life, all for the better. It’s healthy and immersive, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. It’s exciting to see how opportunities like Bike to Work Day help unveil the benefits of bike commuting, one person at a time.