Want to give bike commuting a try but not sure how to start? Veteran commuters offer these tips:
To find the best route, study the bicycle maps included in the Charlotte Cycling Guide from the Charlotte Department of Transportation (cdot.charmeck.org), or chart a course with Google Maps, suggests Jonathan Harding, 34, who commutes daily to his job at Bank of America uptown. You may be more comfortable if you avoid major arterial roads with high-speed, high-volume traffic. “I use all types of cut-throughs, including parking decks, alleys, and parking lots,” says Pamela Murray, 46, an avid Charlotte cyclist.
Try your commute on a weekend morning and identify a good place to park your bike at your destination. A good lock is essential.
If possible, avoid riding at the height of the morning or afternoon rush—7:30 to 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 to 5:30 p.m.
Gear up: You’ll need lights, a commuter bag, a rack that attaches to your rear wheel and can hold bags and briefcases, and fenders for riding on rainy days. Always—always—wear a helmet.
Find out if your employer has showers. One Bank of America Center, for example, offers bike racks, showers, and lockers. If your commute is fewer than five miles and you can spare the time to ride less than 12 mph, you can probably get away without showering except in the hottest of summer months. “Some people use baby wipes as a stopgap,” Harding says. Plan to keep extra clothes at the office.
If your commute is long or you must take challenging roads, put your bike on a bus part of the time. “Commuting doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing thing,” says John Cock, a planner for Alta Planning + Design, a Davidson-based consulting firm that focuses on bicycle, pedestrian, and trail-related projects. “You can take the bike some days and the bus or carpool on other days. Bike commuting is addictive, however, so beware!” —Beth Howard
If you’re new to city cycling, a used bike is a great way to get your feet wet. “Give yourself a year on a used bike to figure out what you really want and need, especially if you’re getting used to commuting,” says Kevin Kennedy, co-owner of The Spoke Easy, a maker of custom bikes in South End.
To find a bike and support a good cause, try the Trips for Kids Re-Cyclery off North Davidson Street just north of uptown, which turns donated wheels into reasonably priced bikes and sells them to raise money for cycling programs for kids.
If you find something you like, spin the wheels to make sure they are “true,” suggests Mark Ortiz, 63, who commutes from Kannapolis to his job as a teaching assistant at UNCC and has logged some 150,000 bicycle miles over his lifetime. Basically, there should be no signs of wobbling. Make sure the brakes are functional, and examine the tubes (the main pieces of the frame) for kinks or other signs that the bike may have been in a crash.
To ensure a good fit, straddle the top tube with both feet flat on the ground. You should be able to raise the seat high enough so your leg is straight at the bottom of the pedal stroke. Once your seat is where you need it, you can adjust the handlebars to a comfortable height. To ensure a good riding experience, consider taking your new ride to a local bike shop for a general tune-up. —B. H.
Most traffic laws that apply to drivers also apply to cyclists (that means yes, you must stop at red lights and stop signs.) Here are a few precautions you can take to make sure your ride is as safe as possible:
Wear bright, reflective clothes.
Make eye contact with drivers in cars. Don’t assume they see you.
Even if you feel like a 12-year-old, use hand signals. It’s a lot more embarrassing to get hit.
Ride with traffic, not against it.
Put lights and flashers on your bike. Most accidents happen when it’s dark—early in the morning or late at night, says Joseph Scalise, who trains CMPD officers to be bike cops. State law requires a front lamp that’s visible from 300 feet and a rear reflector that’s visible from 200 feet when you’re riding at night.
Anyone under 16 is required to wear a helmet. You should do it anyway.
HIT THE TRAILS
When you’re not commuting, check out these close-to-home mountain-biking trails. The Tarheel TrailBlazers club maintains most of the trails in metro Charlotte and provides detailed directions and updates on trail conditions on its website. If you decide to venture farther from home, find the best biking trails in Pisgah National Forest. —B.H.
Lake Norman State Park
Great for mountain-biking novices, the trail has a nice flow, is fairly predictable, has a roller-coaster feel to it—and it’s hard to get in over your head.
U.S. National Whitewater Center
Probably the most technical trails around, there are lots of gut-busting climbs, fast descents, and crazy physics problems
to work through—and nice scenery to boot.
Colonel Francis Beatty Park
While the sections for beginners are easy, the black diamond trails are interesting enough to hold the attention of experienced bikers. They’re well-maintained and well-marked, and they dry out quickly after rain, which is a plus for those eager to get back out there after weather. But be warned: the landscape is fairly flat.
Sherman Branch Mountain Bike Park
The trails are well-maintained, and there are a lot of banked turns and “rock gardens”—rocky areas that are difficult to traverse. Insider tip: the park is often busy, so early mornings and weekdays are best.
Pisgah National Forest
This is a nationally renowned system of mountain-biking trails roughly 130 miles from uptown (pictured). What are you waiting for?