Saturday, April 24, 2010

Getting ready for Bike to Work Week? Picking a route & other tips

One of the most common questions we hear from potential bike commuters as we gear up for Bike to Work Week reflects nervousness over picking a safe route. A few suggestions and tools for you to go with the starter info on the Bike to Work Spokane site:

Warm up. Don't make your Bike to Work Week commute your very first ride of the year. The mild weather this year makes that unlikely for experienced commuters but if you’re a first-timer inspired by the event we want you to be ready for it.

Prep your equipment. Make sure your bike is in good working order: tires pumped, brakes working, reflector/lights if you’ll be riding after dark, helmet straps adjusted, and all the rest. Stop by one of our great local bike shops for a once-over. And now, on to the route:

Scout the route. Consider a practice ride on the weekend so you can work out the kinks or alter your route if need be. This will also help you determine how much time you need.

Scout on your bike, not in your car—perceptions are very different! Recognize that side streets are quieter but those uncontrolled intersections present their own risks. If you usually drive on major arterials that feel too busy on your bike, try shifting just a block or two.

Leave a little early on your first day. Of course, if you’re riding anywhere near downtown Spokane on Monday, May 17, you want to leave early anyway so you can come to the Kickoff Breakfast for some pancakes courtesy of Silver Spoke sponsor Mountain Gear and the chance to “Ride the Edge” with a new custom coffee blend from Pedal Partner Roasthouse Coffee.

Try these tools for route selection.

Just ask Google: Google Maps
  • Type in an address.
  • Zoom in on the maps and select the "More" tab.
  • Check the Bicycling box to see the safest bike routes marked in green on the map. These appear to be bike lanes or signed shared lanes.
  • Try “Streets View” to see actual conditions.
  • Click “Directions” and add your destination. (You’ll need to choose Bicycling again—default is set to By Car).

This isn’t a perfect tool by any means. The best route from my house to the Riverpoint Campus—“best” meaning better street design and lower traffic count—uses the bike lane on Southeast Boulevard but Google Maps routed me differently. That’s why you still need to scout.

Localized info online: John Speare collected real bike commuter routes via GPS by riding with people who volunteered and mapped them. This shows you routes already in use by area bike commuters.

Localized info online II: lets you create a user profile and map routes. Once you’re a member you can search for routes in Spokane. These often include notes about the route that can be very useful (traffic volume, what the street or road is like, resources along the way) and tags indicating type of road and surface. Some are recreational rides or race routes, others are commuter routes. Some even have video! (Security note: You may not want to label a route with “home” in the name—you’re telling people where you live and marking it on a map. Start from a nearby intersection.)

Not-sure-it’s-working localized info online III: is similar to MapMyRide. I couldn’t get the page to load successfully in either Chrome or IE7 but could see a recent cached version in Google. It may work for you.

Localized info online IV: Spokane’s master bike plan shows current and future designated routes. The Maps & Trails page on the Bike to Work site links to various area maps.

Expert people: Get in touch with Eileen Hyatt, She provides personalized suggestions for the best route based on years of experience riding Spokane’s streets. She’ll even meet up with you to check out possible alternatives.

Events with people: Come down (ride down!) to the Education Fair Sunday, May 16, at River Park Square, 10am-4pm. We’ll have information tables and experienced commuters who can talk routes and technique with you.

People you work with: See if there’s a Commute Challenge team forming in your workplace or school (r start one yourself!). Odds are there’s someone whose route matches yours (at least for the last few hundred yards) and you’ll learn where they park their bikes, whether there are showers in your building if that’s important for you, and other insider tips.

After all your prep: Don’t forget to register for Bike to Work Week! When you stand up to be counted it helps us make the case for more of the 5 E’s for bikes: Engineering, Education, Encouragement, Enforcement, and Evaluation.

And above all, have fun.

P.S.: Perhaps the single most common error seen on new bike commuters? Wearing your helmet tipped too far back on your head. Check out brain anatomy, folks—the frontal lobe is a really important part and it’s right in front. Seat the helmet low on your forehead!

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