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Gear Prudence: This spring, when the weather gets warmer, I’m going to start commuting by bike. But I also said that last year and the year before that, and then I didn’t. My intentions are good—I ride on Bike to Work Day!—but I just can’t get myself to become a regular, consistent bike commuter. Do you have any suggestions? —Has Aspirations, But Irregularly Tries
Dear HABIT: I suspect you have the basics of bike commuting covered: You have a bike and a job. And it also sounds like you have relatively positive feelings about your ability to get to work on a bike and some, albeit intermittent, experience doing so. But what you lack, and what it seems you seek, is the wherewithal to turn a one-day lark into an everyday occurrence.
There’s a simple answer and more complicated answer. The simple answer goes like this: Freeze your SmarTrip card in a block of ice, throw your car keys into an aquarium tank full of piranhas, and delete the Uber app from your phone—then smash your phone Gallagher-style with an oversized mallet. Then ride your bike to work one day and then the next day and then the day after that and all other days following. By eliminating the choice of ever diverging from your bike commuting ways, you’ll have established a pattern of action and be quite committed to it, as you will have no alternatives. But this sounds more like a prison sentence than an avocation, and while Stockholm Syndrome may eventually lead to your loving to ride your bike to work, holding yourself hostage sounds far from healthy.
But there’s a simpler way: Commute by bike when you feel like it. If you can make it work for you sometimes with positive results, you’ll find yourself making it work for you more often. And that’s where the riding habit comes from.
In the beginning, prospective bike commuters tend to overthink things. What specialized bike commuting gear do I need? What’s the best route? Do I need a new bike? While there are certainly things you can do (and buy) that can make commuting by bicycle easier and more convenient, having more things isn’t the pathway to forming a habit. If you bike out of buyer’s remorse, or treat bike commuting as an exotic foray rather than just a way you get to work, it’s never going to become a regular thing.
In short, ride when you feel good about riding and feel good about riding when you ride. If bike commuting can be integrated into your everyday life, even better. But don’t feel bad if you don’t turn your life upside-down just to ride a bike to work everyday. That would be silly. —GP
Gear Prudence is Brian McEntee, who blogs at talesfromthesharrows.blogspot.com and tweets at @sharrowsdc. Got a question about bicycling? Email email@example.com.