Fresh air, exercise, extra cash in your pocket -- you know the benefits of swapping your car for a bike every once in a while. But as the country gets more cycle-friendly, your trusty two-wheeler could become your default mode of transportation. If you're looking to haul kids, groceries, or just yourself to the office, there's a bicycle built for you.
Manufacturers have introduced bikes with comfy seats and features such as built-in baskets, racks, and lights. "It wasn't long ago that a woman who showed up at work with a bicycle would be looked at as a total weirdo," says Leah Shahum, executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. "That's no longer the case."
In fact, bike wonks say the number of female riders indicates a city's cycle-friendliness. "Women are at the center of this movement," says Caroline Samponaro, director of bicycle advocacy for New York's Transportation Alternatives. And they're incorporating bikes into everyday life without suiting up for the Tour de France. "People think you need to wear special clothes and buy a bunch of gear," says L.A. bike commuter Molly Arevalo. "It just isn't true. You need a bike and a helmet. If you get more into it, you can buy the extra things."
Whether you want to run errands, ride to work, or tote the kids, we've got the tools and tips from real cycling converts to get you started.
(We know -- helmets are important! Our bikers took theirs off just for the cameras.)
The commuter: Molly Arevalo, 34, teacher
Why she rides: "My job is about 7 1/2 miles from home. Biking in the morning energizes me."
Best tip: "Sweat isn't as big a deal as people think. Bring an extra shirt and maybe deodorant. I wear my hair in a ponytail when riding and then take it down or put it in a bun."
World NX7 by Schwinn: This seven-speed glides over potholes and keeps you clean with fenders and a chain guard. $550; rideschwinn.com
Waxed Canvas Panniers by Laplander Bags: These roll-up saddle bags look as good over your shoulder as they do on the rear rack. $195; laplanderbags.etsy.com
Women's Daily Riding Pant by Outlier: The double-weave twill fabric is stretchy enough for riding and still work-appropriate. $180; shop.outlier.cc
Developed by mountain-bike pioneer Joe Breeze, who set out to create the ultimate safe commuter bike, the Villager has 27 speeds, fenders, a heavy-duty rear rack, and front and rear lights powered by a hub generator so they stay lit for several minutes after you stop.
Villager by Breezer, $1,019; breezerbikes.com for stores
The errand runners: McKenzie Hoffman, 23, media assistant (left), and Susan Jang, 28, media buyer
Why they ride: The friends ride together while shopping.
Best tips: "Equally distribute items in the front basket to keep from wobbling," suggests Jang. "It's easiest to store heavy things over your back wheels," Hoffman says.
Belleville WSD by Trek (at left): This three-speed holds a ton and is made of eco-friendly materials. $660; trekbikes.com
'Round Town Bike Pannier by Novara: Has handles and folds flat. $40; rei.com
A classic Dutch bike, its fancy features include a leather spring saddle, a chain guard, built-in fenders, a heavy-duty rear rack, a hub-generator light, and a spoke shield on the rear wheel to keep a dress from getting caught.
Toer Populair Lady by Gazelle, $1,349; dutchbikeco.com
The Mom: Jeania Schilling, 43
Why she rides: "I started using a bike with a trailer to avoid traffic when bringing my daughters [Ella, 6, and Cate, 3] to school, and now I'm so much happier, and so are they. The movement relaxes them, and I'm my best after a ride."
Best tip: "The safest route might not always be the shortest. I started going the same way a car would go. Cars were whizzing by, and I thought, 'Oh, my God!'"
Live 03 Bike by Globe: Has stop-on-a-dime disc brakes, a steering-assist device to help control large loads, and a wood-bottomed rack. $1,550; globebikes.com for stores
Adams Original Folder One by Trail-a-Bike: Best for kids ages 4 and up, the trailer hooks securely to an adult bike's seat post. $199; trail-a-bike.com for stores
Section Helmet by Giro: Lightweight, vented, skater-style protection. $45; amazon.com
Erstwhile Talking Head and conceptual artist David Byrne is also known as a die-hard cycling advocate who has used bikes as his primary transportation around New York City for nearly 30 years. Lately, the author of Bicycle Diaries" has been at the forefront of the bike-everywhere movement, speaking at advocacy meetings and even designing whimsical bike racks shaped like coffee cups or stilettos. Read on for some of his directives for a better life through biking.
(Cover image courtesy of Viking, copyright 2009)
Get online before you hit the road: These sites offer advice, gear, and the most up-to-date info.
The Alliance for Biking and Walking (peoplepoweredmovement.org) is a coalition of more than 160 nonprofit advocacy groups across North America.
To try cycling without buying wheels, check out the Bike-Sharing Blog (bike-sharing.blogspot.com).
Recently, Google Maps (maps.google.com) rolled out its "bike directions" feature, which specifies dedicated bike lanes, roads, and trails and gives turn-by-turn instructions.
The late Sheldon Brown's encyclopedia of biking knowledge (sheldonbrown.com) is perfect for beginners who don't know a chain from a crank arm.
For cycling fashion tips, head to Copenhagen Cycle Chic (copenhagencyclechic.com).
$5,713: The average amount of money you could save each year if you used a bike instead of a car, according to the American Automobile Association and Transportation Alternatives
2 percent: Percentage of people in the United States who commute daily by bicycle (though more than half of Americans live less than five miles from where they work), according to the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey and U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration
410: The average number of calories you can burn per hour while pedaling at a moderate pace, according to the National Institutes of Health