Welcome to Bicycle Commuting!

Fed up with paying outrageous prices for gas, only to support countries hostile to ours? Decided to lower your carbon footprint, and to add a little green to your life? Curious about all those lycra-clad bodies that zipped past you on Bike-to-Work Day in late June?

Your reasons for choosing to investigate bicycle commuting are less important than the fact that you HAVE chosen to look into it. If you're not quite sure HOW to ditch your four-wheeled prison for the freedom of two wheels ... luckily, it's not that hard. A few suggestions can speed you along:

Try your route on the weekend.

Yes, things can go wrong, no matter how well you plan them. Don't rely on a map only to figure out how to get from home to office - or assume you'll bike the same route you drive. The Denver metro area has an incredible network of linked bike trails that can deliver you close to many points without worrying over traffic. Many of those may add distance onto your ride, but you will enjoy it more than watching out for drivers who've yet to wake up with their morning coffee.

Yes, you will likely have to share part of your commute with autos. It's essential to try out those roads ahead of time, so you can get an idea of how much traffic you'll buck. Consider altering your route by a few blocks, going from a high-volume street like Colfax to a quiet neighborhood avenue a street or two north or south.

Take a change of clothes.

If you work in an office with others, chances are they don't want to see you all day in your lycra or spandex. Even less appealing is to have your suit-and-tie stained by sweat generated from that last hill before the office. Change clothes in the restroom, where you can freshen up with a spit bath. Even better, some companies offer a locker room with showers so you can look your absolute best. Take advantage of that benefit!

Don't forget safety.

Yes, you are more vulnerable once you leave your four-wheeled prison. You must be pro-active whlie you're riding. Wear a helmet. Take a light, if you'll bike after dark. Always signal your turns. Never assume that a driver sees you, even if you have the right-of-way. Stay to the far right (or in the bike land) as much as possible. Ride single-file, especially on busy streets.

Please - don't be a bicyclist that gives other cyclists a bad name. While the people engaging in Critical Mass rides have their hearts in the right place, it antagonizes drivers - and who wants to have a redneck with a 3/4-ton missile mad at you? Be courteous, and you'll likely get that courtesy back. Personally, I try to wave at any driver that slows down or flags me to cross in front of him, to let him/her know that the consideration is appreciated. They may then be more likely to give that consideration to others.

No matter how careful or polite you are, you may still run across a hothead that who thinks bicyclists are one rung below axe murderers on the ladder of society. How dare you cost them 10 or 15 seconds on their way to work! Thankfully, I have only experienced a couple of them in all my 500+ days of bike commuting. The worst case came when the gunzel in the pickup passed me on the dirt shoulder because there was a single car in the other lane he would have to wait for. Unfortunately for him, the road curved right after he passed me. He overcorrected getting back on the road, crossed both lanes, hit a berm, flipped (right in front of me!) and landed on his roof in a parking lot. Thankfully, he didn't injure anyone, except maybe his pride.

Combine cycling with riding.

I work with a friend who lives 30 miles south of our offices. To bike in would take her a good two-plus hours each way - not an attractive option. Far better would be to take the bus for a good portion of that distance, then hop off to get your exercise the last few miles. All RTD busses have space for two bicycles on the front, and they are easy to use. Ask for help the first time, if you're not sure about it - after that you'll be set to go! (and if you live in the foothills, or a place not served by busses, drive partway in and bike the remainder!)

More information available on the web.

Last year, Mayor Hickenlooper issued a challenge to Drive Less Denver. The web site, , is still active and has useful information on it. You can visit here to get a map of the bike trails and signed on-street routes in Denver proper, or the League of American Bicyclists for more extensive commuting tips.

Concerned with finding a good route? Wondering how high that hill is on your way? You can calculate your mileage and elevation profile at MapMyRide.com. This site overlays Google maps, letting you trace your route. Use the satellite view if you want to see the bike paths show up; you can also show elevation. (The mileages given look very accurate, but I question a some of the altitudes.)

Standard disclaimer.

No, it's not like the TV commercials. We won't intone a long, sorry list of potential side effects, like anxiety attacks, unexplained rashes, shortness of breath (only when climbing hills), birth defects, diarrhea, nauseau, sleeplessness, erections lasting more than six hours, modd swings, and outbreaks of excema or the heartbeak of psoriasis.

There is one thing I must warn you of, though, speaking from personal experience. When I first started cycling to work nine years ago, I did so because I realized it was the smart thing to do. Every morning, though, I staged an internal debate. "They're predicting rain this afternoon, so maybe I should drive in instead." or "I should really do those chores after work, so let's drive."

Within a few years, those internal debates changed form. "They're predicting rain this afternoon - but they do every afternoon. Go for the bike." or "I should really do those chores .. maybe they can wait until the weekend." Maybe my advancing years also numbed out my sensitivity to temperatures: 45 degrees used to mean, 'Better drive!'; now 25 means, 'Put on an extra layer of jackets and pants.'

In short, be very afraid - bicycle commuting becomes addictive!!