August 24, 2008
By Hannah Van Susteren - Correspondent
You can spend 20 minutes driving from the center of Montpelier to Barre and at least 15 minutes from Chittenden to Rutland. So why not bypass traffic, get some exercise and even save a few bucks? With gas prices going up, many commuters are downsizing from four wheels to two.
Kelly Odorisio, a physical therapist at Rutland Hospital, bikes 10 miles from her home in Chittenden to the hospital two to three times a week. She has been making the ride for about 10 years.
“People are afraid it’s going to take a lot of time but if you think about the time it takes to drive, biking really adds only a few extra minutes,” explains Odorisio.
Nancy Schultz, of the Vermont Bicycle and Pedestrian Coalition, used to bike the nine miles from her home in Montpelier to her office in Barre. “It felt so good starting my mornings with exercise,” says Schultz who still bikes to work although her commute is now under one mile. “Then I used my commute home as time to decompress.”
Selecting a decent commuting bike
If you're buying a bike from a store, tell the seller what kind of riding you're planning to do. Depending on your needs, a bike shop might suggest a hybrid (half mountain bike and half road bike). According to Bruce Faulkner of the Great Outdoors shop in Rutland, you should expect to spend between $350 and $600 on a decent bike. Keep in mind that you're buying a vehicle: a more economic bike might require some tinkering in the garage. If you don't want to be your own mechanic, splurge and purchase a higher quality bike.
If you are dusting off an old bike or haggling for one at a yard sale, keep in mind that while the price is right you are probably going to have to purchase new parts. Check with a local bike mechanic to discuss what needs to be replaced on your bike. Tires cost about $15 to $40 a piece, depending on the make and model of the bike. A rusted chain and cassette can be replaced starting at $75. Even if your commute is on flat terrain, you'll want a set of brakes that open and close well (replacement starts at about $40). A worn or uncomfortable seat can be swapped for a new one starting at $20.
Most shops offer tune-ups starting at around $35. A mechanic will turn your wheels, lubricate the chain and cassette, test the brakes, make sure the cables are intact and check every moving nut and bolt. If you are not familiar with proper bike care, you should get a tuneup once every year.
Tip: Shops get very busy when the weather is nice. Bring your bike in around February when mechanics aren't as busy.
It's necessary to have a bike helmet (starting around $30) that fits snugly. According to Schultz, the front of the helmet should almost cover your eyebrows. Worn properly, you should only be able to fit two fingers between the strap and your chin. “It should be uncomfortable to eat an apple,” explains Schultz.
Under Vermont law, nighttime bikers must have a front white light that is visible from 500 feet away. A rear red reflector must be visible from 300 feet away. Schultz suggests that bikers also buy a red blinking light for the rear of their bike because it is more visible to drivers. Expect to spend around $15 for reflectors and up to $30 to outfit your bike with lights.
When sharing the road with cars and trucks, it is important to ride in a consistent manner. Stay on either the sidewalk or road and don't weave through traffic. If the road doesn't have a wide shoulder, ride 18 to 24 inches to the right of the white line. Shultz says it is illegal for bikers to ride two-by-two if it impedes the flow of traffic. Bikes are considered vehicles and bicyclists are required to follow driving laws: Stop for pedestrians at crosswalks and obey road signs and traffic lights.
Bicycles are easy to steal, especially in towns without many bike racks. If you can't bring your bike into the office and there are no racks nearby, secure it to a lamp post. Combination locks (around $8) are sturdier than a lock and key. Secure the tires to the frame with a U-lock (starting at $30) or remove both wheels using an Allen wrench. If there's a quick-release mechanism that makes it easy to remove the seat, consider taking it with you into the store or office. Thieves have been known to take those, too.
At the office
No one wants to start the work day looking like they've just biked 10 miles. Even if your office doesn't have showering facilities, it's still possible to look fresh.
“I wash my face, use some deodorant and throw on a little mascara,” says Odorisio, adding “and that's on a heavy duty day.”
Odorisio is lucky: Her 10-mile commute to the Rutland Hospital is mostly downhill, so she doesn't have to worry too much about perspiration.
Even so, she often leaves a set of clothing at the office for a quick change before her work day begins.
Mary Hooper, mayor of Montpelier, jokes about being “properly modest.”
On her 1½ mile ride from her house to the center of Montpelier, she is often spotted wearing a pair of bike shorts under a skirt. In bad weather, she pulls wind pants and a rain jacket over her work clothes.
“You have to get (to work) early and bring a towel” she says.
Since the majority of sweating occurs on the upper body, use a messenger bag instead of a backpack to avoid a sweaty back, or secure your briefcase to the back of your bike.
Hannah Van Susteren is a freelance writer. She lives in Calais.