WASHINGTON - Every year, bicyle organizations around the country organize Bike to Work Day, hoping to lure workers out of their cars.
This year's designated day was a soggy one in the nation's capital, but thousands still pedaled to rallies all around the Washington area.
Your Wallet will Thank You
Why would so many otherwise sane workers choose to get drenched while perched over two skinny tires on slick city streets?
It's fun, it's healthy and, these days, it's making more and more sense for the old pocketbook.
You may have never considered bicycling to work before. But with gas in the neighborhood of $4 a gallon, to many people, it's seeming like a smarter idea all the time.
"Car ownership is about 17 to 20 percent of a family's income," Glen Harrison of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association explained.
Harrison is a full-time advocate for biking. He says when you add up gas, payments, upkeep, parking and pour them all into the cost per mile, bikes clearly win.
"(It costs) almost $2 per mile to drive a car," he said.
So if you can replace one car with bikes, that's a substantial savings, and growing all the time as the price of gas soars.
And with the price for the average new car in the neighborhood of $20,000, bikes look mighty cheap in comparison.
"You can get a real good quality bike for three or four hundred dollars," Harrison said.
Several things keep most people from even considering bike commuting.
They think it's too hard, too slow, too unsafe and too impractical.
But a city like Portland, Ore. can convince you otherwise.
Nationwide, about one out of every 200 people bike to work. In Portland, it's six out of 200.
Scott Bricker of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance is a full-time professional biking advocate so comfortable with two-wheeling, that he pedals around the town in his suit.
"A lot of young people have come to Portland specifically because they care about bicycling," he said. "They want that kind of lifestyle, and so, in the last decade bicycling has tripled in Portland."
As the city's bike coordinator, Roger Geller hopes to keep pushing that number higher.
He himself bikes three miles to work in downtown Portland, both because it's fun and for practical reasons.
"(It's) a desire to not be stuck in traffic," he said. "A desire to not spend money on gas."
It's Good for Your Health
Portland is laced with hundreds of miles of bike lanes and trails.
Dan Burton uses one of those trails to bike 20 miles roundtrip to his office everyday
"Getting out, getting your blood pumping...makes me feel great," he said. "And I have all kinds of energy when I get to work."
Biking 30 minutes a day meets the daily exercise requirements for healthy living and fights obesity.
Experts say the health benefits of biking out-weigh the risks 20-to-one. And what you'd profit from a daily bike ride is equal to what you'd lose smoking an entire pack of cigarettes
If you can turn your kids into lifelong bikers, studies show it'll improve their mental agility and they'll do better in school.
It'll also help them ward off heart disease, obesity and some forms of cancer, as well as improve their immune system.
Most families spend more than six weeks a year working to pay their car expenses. Just one day of work covers the costs for a year of biking.
You might be able to actually get to work faster pedaling.
The average speed for cars in an urban area is about 13 miles per hour.
Many cyclists go 12 to 15 miles per hour.
There's also the environmental benefit.
For every four miles a commuter bikes instead of drives, he's keeping 15 pounds of pollutants out of the atmosphere.
The average car burns more than 150 gallons of gas and pumps almost 4,000 pounds of CO-2 into the atmosphere. It pollutes its own weight in carbon in just one year.
Cars cause 81 percent of the carbon monoxide emissions, 49 percent of the nitrogen oxide emissions and 31 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions. The only pollution caused by biking is the carbon dioxide the biker breathes out.
Many people worry about sweat.
The bikers we interviewed all said they fight it by biking at a relaxed pace to work, they shower before their ride, they layer their clothing so they can strip off layers as they warm up, and they start out a little cold knowing they'll soon warm up.
Convinced? Here's What You'll Need
First, go to a good bike shop to get your bike. Those cheap ones at big department stores aren't safe or sturdy enough for daily commuting.
Then you have to decide whether you want a road bike with thin tires and a hard seat so you can go really fast or what's recommended for beginners by Portland Bike Galleries owner Jay Graves: a hybrid
"It's very comfortable and stable with a wider tire than your old-fashioned road bike," he said.
Graves also recommends a good solid helmet, lights for both the front and rear of your bike, fenders if you want to keep rain from going up your backside,and front or rear bike bags.
Seriously consider wearing those clingy bike shorts because the padding makes a huge difference on your backside.
You'll want bike shoes with a hard sole so your pedals don't dig into your feet, and booties if you're going to ride in the rain.
And if you wear long pants, purchace some inexpensive neon leg straps all bike stores carry to keep your pant leg from getting caught in the chain.
So why not hop on a bike, and save yourself some gas, some money, the environment and maybe even your own health.