Bike to Work and Save, Get Fit

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By Candice Choi -- AP Personal Finance Writer

NEW YORK (AP) — Bike to work, save money, get fit, help the environment. It seems like a no-brainer, yet you still drive to the office every day.

One reason for putting off your bike-to-work resolution might be all the logistics involved, such as where to store your bike and how to get your belongings to and from the office.

If the goal is to save money, you might be reluctant to spend hundreds of dollars on a bike and equipment before knowing you can stick with the habit.

All are valid reservations, but none are necessarily deal breakers. Besides the obvious benefits, biking to work could even boost your job performance.

"On the days that I ride in, I sit down and have the energy to start. I don't need to go get a Coke or anything — I'm already in that mode," said Jason Kiker, a 38-year-old research analyst who started biking to work last year.

The 7 mile-trip from his home in Arlington, Va. to the education nonprofit where he works takes about 35 minutes. That's about 10 minutes faster than taking public transit.

As the weather warms up, the reasons for procrastinating are dwindling. Here's a rundown of some common excuses and why they shouldn't stop you.

EXCUSE #1: I'M NOT SURE IT'S RIGHT FOR ME

It's natural to think twice about any major purchase. After all, you don't want a shiny new bike sitting around in a dusty corner of your home.

One way to prevent such a fate is to rent or borrow. The try-before-you-buy strategy also lets you test different models before making a commitment.

"It lets you put your toe in the water and see if you really like it," said George Gill, president of RentABikeNow.com, a Chicago-based company that lists rental shops nationwide.

If you can't find a friend or co-worker to lend you a bike, check if there's a rental shop nearby. A one-week rental might run you about $150, Gill said. Ask about daily rates if the price you're quoted is too high.

Do a weekend test ride to get an idea of how long and physically taxing the trip will be. Beginners probably don't want to go too far beyond a 10-mile, one-way ride, which might take about 45 minutes, Gill said.

If your office is far, consider a hybrid commute. It might sound complicated, but plenty of people bike part of a commute and take public transit for the remainder.


EXCUSE #2: I'M WORRIED THE COSTS WILL OUTWEIGH SAVINGS

Even though biking can save money in the long run, there are still significant upfront costs.

Prices vary widely, but a basic bike could cost as much as $500, Gill said. Equipment and add-ons could tack on another $200 or $300.

If the bike's main purpose is for commuting, you can probably stick with a traditional bike. Beginners might want to pick a model that lets you sit comfortably in an upright position.

The smaller costs to consider include a helmet (about $50), bike lock (about $40) and air pump (around $25).

Battery operated flashers, which you probably want for the front and back of your bike, might cost another $20 a piece.

Other add-ons, such as fenders and a new messenger bag, will depend on your preferences. Maintenance costs will of course depend on how much you use your bike.

EXCUSE #3: I DON'T WANT TO GET SWEATY BEFORE WORK

A common concern is the need to change in and out of work clothes. But you don't necessarily need to pull a Clark Kent-like outfit change.

"Unless you're riding for endurance, you can wear your everyday street clothes for normal commuting," said Meghan Cahill, a spokeswoman for the League of American Bicyclists, an advocacy group in Washington, D.C.

The sight might jar Americans, but Cahill noted that it's common to see people riding to work in suits in countries where bicycling is more common.

If you're not comfortable with that idea, you could always bring a change of clothes or leave a pair of dress shoes at the office. Many offices these days also have gyms where you can shower.

EXCUSE #4: I'M WORRIED MY BIKE WILL GET STOLEN

The fear of bike theft is valid.

Local police departments filed about 224,000 reports of stolen bikes with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2007. And that's probably just a fraction of the bigger picture. According to the National Bike Registry, only about one out of every five stolen bikes is reported.

Still, a good lock isn't your only defense.

Depending on the policy, your homeowner's, renter's or auto insurance might cover stolen or damaged bicycles. Call your insurer to find out specifics, such as how deductibles would work.

Many local police departments also offer bike registries. To enter it into a broader database, registering a bike with the National Bike Registry costs $10 for 10 years. Even if it doesn't greatly boost your chances of recovering a stolen bike, you might deem it a small price to pay for some peace of mind.

Awareness about your surroundings goes a long way, too. When parking your bike, opt for open places with lots of foot traffic. Look for racks where other bikes are parked.

Another deterrent is taking detachable parts of the bike — such as the front wheel or seat — inside with you.


EXCUSE #5: I NEED A BIGGER CASH INCENTIVE

Besides the significant savings on gas and parking, you could also get a $20 monthly stipend from your employer for biking to work.

Workers can use the money toward any related costs, whether it's for maintenance or equipment.

The stipend was made available under legislation passed last year, which gives companies tax credits if they decide to offer the allowance. It's worth asking about; your employer simply might not know about it.

There could be more significant savings at stake too. If you have a household with multiple cars, for instance, your family might be able to eventually manage with one less car.

The regular exercise could also let you cut a pricey gym membership.

Of course, there will be days when you still need to drive in or take public transit because of bad weather or because you're simply not up for a bike ride. But the long-term benefits can make any inconveniences seem minor.

If you're thinking of biking to work, co-workers and the local bike shop can be great resources for finding the best routes. Another option is at your fingertips; there are many user-generated Web sites that offer bike routes and other suggestions.

Here are a few worth considering.

  • LOCAL SITES — Most major cities have one or more Web sites dedicated to mapping bike routes or biking topics in the area. In New York City, for instance, RideTheCity.com helps people find the shortest, biker-friendly routes between any two points. Even if you can't find a site that gives you a route for your particular commute, you're likely to uncover good insider biking tips for the region.
  • MAPMYRIDE.COM — You can search for routes by zip code and distance and get details about the path's terrain. The site is free, but you need to register for an account to access your saved routes. As with most biking sites, it's largely user generated, meaning all routes are posted by fellow bikers. The site also lets you plot out routes (via Google Maps) between any two addresses.
  • MOTIONBASED.COM — The site lists routes for cycling, hiking and running. It's intended to work with Garmin International's athletic GPS devices, which range from $150 to $650. You need a Garmin device to upload routes, but anyone can log on to peruse publicly posted routes. The site is free, but you need to register.
  • PEDALING.COM — Focused on recreational bike routes, this site could be a good resource if you're looking for options other than your workday routine. You can search for local routes by distance, difficulty and terrain. The site also gives photos of the trails in some instances.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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