Lydia Barter of North Brookfield likes to double her commuting time in nice weather. That's because the time it takes to get to work on a bicycle is not time she wishes she could have for something else.
Barter, admissions assistant at the Bancroft School in Worcester, says it takes her 35 to 40 minutes to drive to work, vs. 1 hour, 10 to 20 minutes, to bike.
"I ride the same routes that I drive," Barter said. "I have either the short, hilly route (18 miles, which I never return home on at the end of the day because I feel too tired), or two longer, flatter routes: One is 19.8 miles, the other is 21 miles. The longest route is, of course, the most enjoyable because of less traffic."
She'll bike to work two or three days a week, once school is out for the summer and school buses are off the road.
Weather is a deciding factor in the morning. If she has biked to work and it turns rainy by afternoon, she'll still bike home -- unless there's lightning.
Some planning is required. At the beginning of the week, Barter stores three sets of dress clothes at the office. "I keep some fresh smelling soap in the bathroom (at work), and just sponge off face, arms, and legs if necessary. I don't shower (at work), although I could," she said. "No one has ever complained that I smell ...
"I am 48 years old and my coworkers are in awe of the distance that I travel," she added.
Most bike commuters don't have as far to go. The average distance traveled by Americans who bike to work is 12 miles, according to the Federal Highway Administration.
An estimated 200,000 new people a year will give bike commuting a try, and altogether there are millions of Americans who bike to work, occasionally or regularly, according to Dave Glowacz of Chicago, author of the new book "Urban Bikers' Tricks and Tips" (Wordspace Press, $14.95, 800 888-4741). Tuesday is National Bike to Work Day.
Glowacz' book is written in comic-book style, with only short blocks of text and lots of diagrams, pictures, lists and charts. Bike-to-work tips cover how to clean up without a shower (most bike commuters don't have the luxury), how to carry clothes wrinkle-free, what to do about "helmet hair," and even how to bike in a skirt or dress.
The longest chapter is on getting through traffic, and is summed up by "Komanoff's Rule," which says that the more assertively you ride, the safer you become. "In other words, when you act like the vehicles around you, motorists see you as one of them _ so neither of you will surprise the other," Glowacz writes. "But if you get too assertive, you become reckless. Then nobody can predict what you'll do next _ meaning there's a better chance you'll get clobbered."
Traffic is indeed the biggest concern, said Barter, who advises riding defensively. "Never assume that a car or truck sees you. Assume they don't see you," she said. "Look 360 degrees before pulling through an intersection. Most cyclists that I know who have been hit by a car are swiped by a car turning in front of them.
"Once last year, I had a very close call with a utility truck, and I saw my life flash before my eyes," she continued. "I think car and truck drivers don't realize how fast a bike can travel, and on a downhill out of Rutland, heading toward Worcester, a bicyclist can travel at 25 to 30 miles per hour without even pedaling!"
Environmental analyst Greg Root of Worcester has an easy two-mile bike commute from his home in the neighborhood of Chandler and June streets to the state Department of Environmental Protection office at 627 Main St., Worcester. Traffic varies at different hours, but if he's on his bike, heavy traffic somehow loses its power to aggravate him.
"There is no rush hour on a bike," said Root, 34, who is head of the Worcester chapter of MassBike. "If I have some luck with the lights, I can get (to work) in seven minutes." Driving usually takes him eight minutes.
As many as three days a week, Root will attach a trailer to his bike and ferry his son to day care. But he acknowledges that work and school trips, fraught with deadlines and other complications, are not the easiest to separate from our car culture.
"As far as using the bike for transportation, as opposed to just recreation, I try to sell people on riding on other trips, like going to the video store," Root said. "Why get in your car for that?"
The "down" road from the summit of Mount Wachusett to the visitors center on Mountain Road, Princeton, is going to be closed for repairs this season. Both the "up" road and the "down" road will be closed to cars. However, bicyclists will be allowed to go up the "up" road and then down the "up" road, according to assistant park supervisor Mike Dembek.
Lynne Tolman's bicycling column archives
Lynne Tolman's home page