Biking to work has huge benefits. It gets you out of your car and/or off public transit, out in fresh air, with a guaranteed workout built into your day so you don't have to take time to go to the gym. Right now is a great time to start planning to ride to work later this spring.
Best time to start is in April. Daylight Saving Time will have kicked in so the evenings are long enough you won't be riding home in the dark; the weather is warm enough to ride without a lot of special gear, yet cool enough to ride without needing to carry clothes to change into when you get to work.
Here's what you need to start preparing now:
Bike: If you haven't ridden it all winter, give it an overhaul (or take it down to the local bike shop now, before the wait times get long). Pump up the tires, make sure the brakes work, and check all the nuts and bolts and screws to make sure nothing has come loose.
Helmet: Ninety-seven percent of people who die in biking accidents weren't wearing helmets, according to the authors of The Urban Cyclist's Survival Guide. Get one. Make sure it fits snugly over the top of your head, front of the helmet just above the eyebrows (not at the hairline) and the strap is snug under your chin. Leave enough room to yawn or yell, but not much more.
Route: Scout it out by car and Google maps (click on the
little "bike" icon to see bike routes in your area, and if there aren't
any, call your local elected officials). Take a test ride early on a
Sunday morning, when there's hardly any traffic.
Riding Skills: Study this guide, and also this one to biking safely in traffic. Practice while you're out there on your Sunday morning ride.
Prepare for the inevitable: flat tires happen, as do other mechanical failures, sudden rain showers, and falls, most of which don't cause serious injury, but might leave you rattled. Have a back-up plan: a friend or a cab company you can call for a lift or a bus line you can catch. Just in case.
Plan your first ride! Pick a day when you don't have an important early-morning meeting, in case it takes a little longer to get to work than expected, and when you'll be able to ride home while it's still light out. If you normally work in pretty formal clothes, bring an extra outfit to work the day before, or pick a casual day. The day of your ride, pack deodorant and hair gel.
For starters, you might aim for one ride a week to work. Once that starts getting routine, you might aim for two days a week, or three. Eventually you might find a rhythm where you mix it up, driving some days, riding others. Or you might get so hooked you ditch your car.
If you're still riding in September, you'll need to invest in lights, reflective gear, waterproofs, warm gloves, and some other gear. But you don't have to worry about any of that now.
Oh, and if you've read this far, I have one copy of The Urban Cyclist's Survival Guide by James Rubin and Scott Rowan to give away to a random commenter. I bought the copy -- no sponsorship deals to reveal; I just want to give it a good home.