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Try bicycle commuting

In countries around the world, the bicycle is valued as a utilitarian vehicle and is used to accomplish many transportation needs. However, in the United States, most people view the bicycle only as a piece of recreational or exercise equipment.

In addition to using bicycles for recreation and exercise, I use them for transportation. Today I will focus on using the bicycle as an alternative to the automobile for everyday travel.

It isn't easy making the shift to bicycle commuting. The addiction to driving the automobile everywhere is strong, but it can be shed if you plan ahead, give yourself extra time and are well prepared for the two-wheeled ride.

It helps to think about the positive aspects of commuting on your bicycle: improved fitness, better health, less time stuck in traffic, fewer visits to gas pumps and parking close to your destination.

Just about any bicycle will work for commuting. I've used a mountain bike, a road bike and a hybrid. The most important factors are to feel comfortable on your bike and have it working well.

Like any commuter, you will need to carry things. There are three options to carrying a load: on your body, on the bike or towed behind the bike. Backpacks and messenger bags are commonly draped on the body, while a bike rack, panniers or bike trunk bag are secured on the bicycle. Trailers allow one to carry more and are easy to pull.

Crucial items to carry include a spare tube, a tire patch kit and a small pump. Baby wipes or a pair of disposable gloves to wear when making repairs on the road make cleanup a snap.

An essential piece of safety equipment for the regular commuter is effective lighting. The key word is effective.

I recommend investing in an inexpensive LED (light-emitting diode) flasher. They are efficient, lasting up to 300 hours on a pair of AA batteries. If you commute in dim light or at night, you should also use a headlight.

Carry a lock to secure your bike. Options to bike racks are solid objects, like a street sign or post, in a well-lighted area with lots of pedestrian traffic.

The reality is that no lock is 100 percent secure. However, a bike with a visible lock is a better deterrent than not having one.

I recommend equipping your bicycle with fenders for the wetter months to keep your clothes cleaner and drier. Modern plastic fenders can be easily attached and removed.

One deterrent to commuting by bicycle for many people is that they think like motorists when planning their route.

As drivers, they know the quickest way to get to their destination. Unfortunately, that route probably features heavy traffic traveling at high speeds, rough pavement, steep hills and dangerous intersections.

Instead, think like a cyclist: Try to use streets with bike lanes or a bike path and look for tree-shaded streets with light traffic, pleasant scenery and smooth pavement.

Review a map and you will be surprised how quickly your destination can be reached on the less-traveled streets that parallel those heavily used by automobiles. Once you find a pleasant route, practice riding it on the weekend or when traffic is minimal.

Riding a bike in traffic isn't as bad as it appears. My experience is that probably 98 percent of drivers are courteous and respect me as a cyclist. You can minimize risk by wearing highly visible clothing, riding out in the lane away from sight-blocking obstacles and using lights and reflectors.

Be predictable and maintain a steady course, so that overtaking and oncoming drivers can anticipate your route and pass safely. Communicate with motorists by making eye contact and using hand signals to indicate a turn, waving when a motorist yields to you and smiling to show how much fun it is to be commuting on your bike.

There's a lot more to learn to ensure a pleasant experience while commuting on your bicycle. A quick Web search will disclose lots of information about safety, clothing, equipment, selecting a route, etc.

With practice, I guarantee that if you substitute handlebars for a steering wheel, you will be smiling more at the end of your commute.

Bicycling enthusiast Bob Korfhage of Phoenix is a former president of Siskiyou Velo bicycle club.

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