Seven tips for cycling to work

A few years ago, Matt Hygema and one of his co-workers started riding bikes to Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital, where they both work as physical therapists. People ride for different reasons; theirs was fitness. “My ride is about five miles away from the hospital,” says Hygema. “It takes me 25 minutes to drive and 35 minutes to bike it. That’s too easy. For a net cost of 20 minutes out of my day, I get at least an hour of exercise.”

Hygema and his colleague like cycling so much that they wanted to make it easier for other employees to follow suit. Their enthusiasm was one of the catalysts for IU Health’s cycling culture—a growing number of employees who ride to work and participate in cycling events like the National Bike Challenge, held this year May 1 through September 30. IU Health is supporting its cycling employees with a new biking infrastructure, including racks, air pumps and showers, scattered across various locations.

For anyone considering cycling to work, here are quick tips for getting started.

Don’t make it complicated. On a visit to Denmark, Hygema was impressed by the number of people who bike for transportation—35 to 40 percent of the population. Part of the reason, he says, is that they keep things simple, and they’ve built cities with biking in mind. They don’t have a lot of fancy gear, and wear whatever they want. A no-fuss approach makes biking more plausible. “I put on my scrubs, throw a helmet on and go,” says Hygema.

Get yourself a decent city bike. “Starting out, just ride whatever bike you have,” Hygema says. “After a few weeks, that bike will teach you what features you want in your next bike.” Consider a city bike, which is more upright, comfortable to ride and makes it easier to see. They also have features like chain guards to keep your pant legs from getting smudged with grease. “You’ll get lights and fenders built in, so if the pavement is wet, you don’t get splattered,” he says. “Many have racks or baskets to carry your stuff.”

Wear a helmet. Interestingly, the more people ride, the safer it gets. “As ridership goes up in cities, the number of accidents goes down,” Hygema says. “That’s because cyclists and drivers get use to seeing each other.” Nevertheless, if you’re going to ride near traffic, you should wear a helmet.

Lock your bike, and record the serial number. If you’re in an area where security is a problem, invest in a good lock. U-locks are the best, but a simple cable lock will do the trick in low risk areas. Record your bike’s serial number, and take a picture of yourself with the bike to prove ownership. If your bike is ever stolen, you will need both to file a police report, which is necessary for recovering your bike if it’s found.

Observe the weather. You can wear a rain suit or waterproof helmet cover, but if it’s really pouring, don’t ride. “If it’s lightly raining and you have fenders on your bike, you’re usually fine without rain gear,” Hygema says. Most rain suits tend to make you sweat and could cause you to be more drenched than if you had gone without one.

Pedal gently. If you’re worried about being sweaty when you get to work, slow down and enjoy your ride. “You’ll get there a few minutes later, but you won’t be sweaty,” he says. Check to see if your workplace has any shower facilities.

Obey traffic rules. The most surprising thing Hygema learned about cycling to work is how courteous drivers are. “Some riders don’t realize that legally, a bike is considered a vehicle in the same sense that a car is,” he says. “When you’re on your bike, you obey the same rules as when you’re driving a car. Follow the rules, stay predictable and drivers give you all the respect in the world.”

Hygema says the best part of cycling to work is that he doesn’t have to make time for exercise. It’s already part of his day. “Besides that, it’s just fun,” he says. “It’s like being a kid again.”

If you have an injury that needs to be evaluated, contact Indiana University Health Orthopedics & Sports Medicine for an appointment with one of our orthopedic or sports medicine specialists at 317-944-9400. For more information about physical therapy and rehabilitation, visit our site.