It's Bike to Work Week, so commuters are encouraged to leave their cars in the driveway. And the push is on for more bicycle-friendly routes and workplaces.
Bike commuter breakfasts, rallies and rides are scheduled all week in the Boston area, where urban congestion drives the need for cyclists to band together. Here in Central Massachusetts, bike commuting is a more individualistic pursuit.
According to the 1990 U.S. Census, 11,300 people in Massachusetts bike to work. That's 0.4 percent of workers, compared to 2,150,200, or 72.2 percent, who drive to work alone.
Bike commuting can be a fair-weather alternative to driving or an everyday routine, even in winter. Here's how three Worcester-area riders do it.
Dr. Thomas X. Bienz, 27, bikes rain or shine from the Jefferson section of Holden to Worcester. As a resident orthopedic surgeon at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, his current rotation is at St. Vincent Hospital, and the commute is 11 miles each way.
It takes him about 40 minutes on the 8-year-old Diamondback Ascent EX mountain bike he bought in college. He can shower at the hospital and change into clean scrubs.
He started bike commuting year-round when he was in medical school in Boston. He would sometimes finish the four-mile ride "caked with ice and snow, but always exhilarated," he said.
Equipped with saddlebags, fenders, a battery-operated red strobe taillight and a dual-beam headlight run off a rechargeable battery hanging from the top tube, the bike tips the scales at 35 pounds. Bienz switches on the 15-watt high beam when approaching a dangerous intersection. Adding to his visibility are a white helmet and fluorescent orange vest.
He rides because "it's fun, good exercise and really wakes me up in the morning." Moreover, he said, it's "the only way I can make time for exercise."
On weekend training rides with the UMassters cycling club, Bienz switches to a Bianchi racing bike. At 21 pounds, "it feels like it's got a motor," he said.
Brenda Germain, 30, teaches aerobics at the YWCA in Worcester, so it's not as if she needs more exercise. But if the weather's good and she doesn't have a lot to carry, she bikes the four miles from Leicester to the Y on her Trek 720 hybrid.
It's all downhill, and if she hits all the lights, the ride takes 13 minutes. Driving usually takes her about 20 minutes.
Thomas Swenson of Boylston, a customer service representative at Optical Corp. of America in Marlboro, rides 12.5 miles to work in good weather on a Cannondale R-500 road bike. Sometimes he takes a scenic detour through Berlin and Bolton on the way home, adding 12 more miles.
He rode to work 64 days last year, and he lost 50 pounds in his first year of biking after a 14-year hiatus.
His bike commute takes 45-50 minutes, compared to 25 minutes by car, but Swenson figures biking actually saves him time. "I can get in 25 miles on a weekday and still arrive home by 6 p.m. If I waited until I got home to ride, I'd be leaving the house at that time," he said.
He keeps a jacket, shoes, belt, deodorant and hair brush at the office. Shirt and pants go in a single pannier. There are no showers at work, but "even in midsummer, it's cool outside early in the morning," Swenson said. "As long as I don't overdress, I can get by with a quick sponge bath."
Among his tips for bike commuting:
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