Hitting the road

When Rebecca Bird leaves for work today, she’ll put on her bike helmet and head out of the driveway on two wheels.

 While Bird -- a planner for the city of Urbana -- helped coordinate today’s C-U Bike to Work Day, she isn’t just riding today. She commutes by bike almost every day from her home in Champaign to her job in Urbana -- about 4 1/2 miles each way in sun, rain, even 20 degrees and snow.

Bird biked regularly while in college in British Columbia, both for transportation and mountain biking for fun. She gave it up for several years, but decided to start bike commuting again when she moved to Champaign-Urbana, “because it’s nice and flat.”

“At first, I only did it in the late spring, summer, and early fall,” Bird said. “Slowly, over two or three years, I started extending the season with more cold weather clothing and rain clothing. This year and last year, I tried to ride the whole year.”

She bought snow tires for her bike this year, and there were only one or two weeks this winter when she was not able to bike to work at least part of the week.

“They are actually more like ice tires than snow tires,” she said. “When the snow is packed very hard and icy, they’re perfect. You’re totally stable. But when it’s the shifty kind of granular snow, they don’t work so well.”

Bird said it takes a while to figure out what type of bicycle is best for a person and what gear you need. She brings her work clothes with her in waterproof bags. She learned to protect them after her lunch occasionally spilled on them.

She doesn’t ride on major streets such as Prospect, Mattis or University avenues. She usually uses streets that have fairly light traffic, and she is careful at intersections to wait until she catches a driver’s eye before crossing, even if she has the right-of-way.

Bird likes that her bike commute helps keep her fit.

“Otherwise I would have to have enough time to go into the gym several times a week or do some other physical activity, but this is just built into my schedule,” she said. “It’s just a little bit of extra time tacked onto the beginning and end of my work day.”

She also wants to minimize her driving for environmental reasons, and she enjoys the connection with nature.

“When you’re walking or biking through nature, you’re really in contact with it in a more intimate way. You really pay attention to seasons, and even what’s going on in an individual day,” Bird said.

It’s also a nice transition between home and work.

“On the way there, I’m preparing for work and thinking about how the day will go,” she said. “When I’m on my way home, I’m letting all of that go so when I get home, my attention is fully at home.”

Bird is hoping people who participate in C-U Bike to Work Day today will realize they can commute by bike once or twice a week.

“I miss it on the days when I can’t bike,” she said. “I’m sitting at a traffic light and I think, ‘I could be exercising out there.’”

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