Bicycling, instead of driving a car, has many benefits for your health and for the environment. Beyond the environmental impact, bicycling also offers health benefits. However, for people just starting out, there are things they should know to ride safely and smart.

Effects of driving

“Vehicles are considered mobile sources of air pollution because they emit ozone, particle pollution, and air toxics into the environment which can lead to acute health conditions in humans or exacerbate existing chronic health conditions,” said Chris Yesmant, environmental specialist, Directorate of Public Works’ Environmental Division. “These direct effects have been shown to be magnified in people that live near major roadways.”

The heating effect of greenhouse gases, such as those emitted from vehicles, is considered to be a main cause of climate change, he said.

“At 27 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, transportation is the second leading source of GHGs in the U.S.,” Yesmant said.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, driving less helps reduce air pollution from vehicles and engines. And while it may not be feasible to ride a bike to work every day, reducing car usage to decrease carbon pollution is always a win. 

It’s cheaper and healthier

According to the Bike to Work Metro D.C. website, maintaining a bicycle is much cheaper than maintaining a car. Bicycling can also save you money by reducing the wear and tear on your car and reducing how often you need to fill up your gas tank.

Riding a bicycle is also healthy, although new riders need to acclimate to riding if they don’t live close to their job or if they aren’t in the best of shape.

Bicycling is a low-impact exercise beneficial for even those with knee problems, said Matthew Rupert, founder and owner of Rats Cycles on Fort Belvoir. Riding can also improve your mental health, he said.

“Some people do yoga or cross-training. For me, bicycling clears my mind,” he said.

Nick Wood, a Department of the Army civilian, commutes by bike one to three times each week from Arlington to Fort Belvoir. The commute is 18 miles each way, and he’s been commuting this way for at least seven years.

“With being able to commute and exercise at the same time, it’s less time spent than if I’m trying to drive in a car and then exercise. I’m multitasking,” Wood said, adding that bicycling only makes his commute an extra half hour. However, it’s also a “solid hour and a half of exercise.” 

Bicycling 101

If you aren’t a seasoned bicyclist, Rupert suggests slowly increasing your miles each week to get accustomed to the commute. Get in lots of cycling when you can and, participate in group rides if you feel more comfortable riding with others.

“No matter what you do, always have plenty of water,” he said, adding that having gel shots with caffeine can help if your blood sugar drops. Rupert also suggests keeping a tool kit in case of a flat tire.

Wood suggests planning ahead, if you are commuting to work. If you drive into work one day, take extra clothes and shoes and leave them at work, so you don’t have to bring extra items when you do bike to work. Always wear a helmet and use lights, Rupert said.

There are two kinds: lights that help the bicyclist see and lights to help drivers see the bicyclist. The blinking lights also capture the attention of drivers better than reflectors can, he said.

While some places have bike lanes, such as parts of Route 1, not all do. In that case, Rupert said to remember that bicyclists have the same responsibilities as drivers.

“If you run a red light, the police can pull you over. If you run a stop sign, they can pull you over, too” he said.

Wood describes his commute as part trail, part neighborhood roads and part sharing the lanes with cars until he gets to the bike lane on Beulah Road. He prefers to ride his bike to work during times when there is less traffic because it’s less stressful.

When on a road with multiple lanes and no bike lane, Wood said he prefers to ride in a car lane versus on the shoulder because he’s more visible. Also, because a bicycle is slower than a car, cars wanting to pass him can do so. 

Riding on Belvoir

Although recent speed limit increases on Gunston Road has made Wood more concerned about safety while bicycling with speeding cars, he enjoys riding on the installation. Riding your bicycle on Belvoir is also a great opportunity to get outdoors on your lunch break.

Wood said he’s a 15-minute bike ride away from the food court on post. And bicycling on Belvoir is great for beginning riders.

“It’s not too stressful,” he said. “There are plenty of roads that don’t see much traffic. It’s flat, so if you aren’t that experienced, you can get a ride in while at work.”

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