Come along for the ride

Come along for the ride

Lorrie Pearson started bike commuting 10 years ago, on Bike to Work Day. She was living in the Washington, D.C., area at the time, and she worked for an organization that was helping plan Bike to Work activities.

"We were encouraged to participate. I thought, if I can do this one day, I can do it again," Pearson said.

Today is Bike to Work Day in Champaign-Urbana. If you are biking to work today and, like Pearson, would like to become a regular bike commuter — or if you've never biked to work and are curious about how to manage a commute by bicycle — take some tips from these cyclists.

Inspiration

Jill Gengler began bike commuting when the youngest of her three children started school, about three years ago.

Blog PhotoShe takes her kids to school and rides about 1 1/2 miles from their Champaign school to her campus job. Her husband also bikes to work, and his job is flexible enough for him to start his work day early, then leave early to pick up the kids after school.

The couple kept their parking spot, though, in the lot directly across from the building where they both work. It had taken them years to get a spot there. Eventually, after they had both been biking to campus for some time, they made the decision to give it up.

"We talked about that more than we talked about having any of our three kids," Gengler said.

It takes her about 12 minutes to bike to work, and she loves that she is no longer spending money for a parking spot or on gas to drive to campus and that she is doing something good for herself and the environment.

Her favorite part of bike commuting is heading home on a Friday and reaching a small hill just before she gets to her house.

"Coasting down that hill on a sunny Friday afternoon, knowing I've got the whole weekend ahead of me — that makes me happy," she said.

Kim Nystrom of Champaign began bike commuting when she changed jobs on campus and no longer had door-to-door bus service.

"I had to walk 15 minutes on either end (to catch a bus)," Nystrom said. "My chances of missing the bus increased. My commute (time) tripled. I got impatient and started biking."

She bikes 2 to 3 miles to get to work, and she can get there in 12 to 15 minutes — faster than if she drove. It gives her time to have another cup of coffee in the morning before she leaves home.

Pearson rides about 3 miles from her Champaign home to her job as planning manager for the city of Urbana.

"I like the fact that I get a little dose of nature every morning on the way in. On the way home, it's a way to de-stress and leave the office at the office," she said.

Logistics

All three women cycle year-round, although there are certain conditions they won't bike in. Gengler and Pearson don't bike when there is ice or snow on the streets. Nystrom only takes the bus if it's raining. She doesn't have fenders on her bike and she doesn't want it to get wet and grimy and start rusting.

They all have reflective gear and lights to make them visible to cars, especially when it's dark early in the evening in the winter. Gengler said her husband's goal "is always for me to be lit up like a used car lot."

One of the most important pieces of gear, they say, is a warm pair of gloves that blocks the wind for winter riding. Nystrom and Gengler wear stockings or tights under pants in very cold weather.

Nystrom and Gengler bike in their work clothes, while Pearson changes into work clothes at her office. Nystrom uses a backpack to carry what she needs — a computer, a yoga mat, even flowers — and she hangs her lunch pail on her handlebars. Gengler and Pearson have panniers to carry items to the office.

One of the most important things Pearson has learned about bike commuting is "taking the lane."

"If the lane is not physically wide enough for me and a car to be in safely, I take the lane so the car uses the other lane to pass me and can pass me safely. Otherwise they try to squeeze in," she said. "I really feel a lot more comfortable on busier streets. It gets the driver to go around in a safer fashion rather than trying to squeeze by."

Nystrom agreed: "I prefer to treat myself like a car. I'm more aggressive as a biker in claiming my territory and making sure I see (cars) and they see me. You're trying to read everybody else's behavior and play your cards right. So far I'm winning."

Nystrom said she's learned a lot about how drivers see cyclists from driving through campus.

"It's very important to drive and bike the route you go. When you drive it, you interact with other bikers and you see how drivers see you," Nystrom said.

Pearson suggested new bike commuters ask more experienced cyclists what routes are the best to take around town. For example, Gengler takes a different route going home than she does in the morning, to avoid having to make a left turn off Green Street when there is more traffic.

Pearson and Nystrom said new cyclists can feel more confident by finding a friend or co-worker to ride with to and from work.

Jodi Heckel, a writer for the University of Illinois News Bureau, is a runner, swimmer and triathlete. You can email her at jheckel@news-gazette.com, or follow her at twitter.com/jodiheckel. Her blog is at news-gazette.com/blogs/starting-line/.

C-U Bike Month

May is National Bike Month, and locally there are several events to mark C-U Bike Month. They include Bike to School Day on May 4, Bike to Market on each Saturday in May, and a bike rodeo at Douglass Park on May 16.

For more information, go to CUbike.org.

Photo: Jill Gengler of Champaign, who's been biking to work for about three years, signals before turning onto John Street on Friday. Photo by John Dixon/The News-Gazette

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grounded wrote on May 05, 2016 at 9:05 am

Love biking, but obviously not everyone can bike to work - we have 180 mile and 30 mile commutes at our house. Biking is saved for weekend recreation. :)

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