In honor of May being National Bike Month, we sat down with one of our Montana employees, Erin, who bikes or walks into work nearly every single day, to get some insider tips and tricks about how to have a successful ride into work.
- What got you into mountain biking? When I first started dating my now-husband, he was really into mountain biking. I had a mountain bike, but had never taken it on any of the 70+ miles of trails we have here in Helena. I loved bikes and wanted to ride with him, and I might have wanted to impress him a bit as a girl on a bike on the trails. I was instantly hooked.
- What is your favorite thing about commuting to work, or anywhere, on your bike? When I’m on my bike, I only think about how fun it is being on my bike. All the other stuff in life that weighs me down doesn’t exist. And I’m in a much better mood when I show up at work if I’ve walked or pedaled my way there. Today I heard woodpeckers, mourning doves, and watched a magpie and a squirrel battle for some food on my walk to work. I’d never see or hear these things in my car.
- What is the number one tip you’d give to first-time riders? Keep it fun by riding with others who love to ride.
- How do you get rid of helmet hair? I keep a brush in my cubicle if I need to de-helmet my hair. But usually, I don’t care about it. I kind of like how it gives my hair some texture.
- How do you stay warm during the Montana snowpocalypse, I mean winter? How long of an answer do you want? I could write about this for a while. My favorite of my six bikes is my fat bike. I ride year round and competitively race in the snow. There’s nothing like doing intervals at -15! My eyes were freezing during that one, so I switched to waterproof mascara. If you encounter ice on a regular basis, put on studded tires. If you ride in a lot of snow, buy a fat bike (they’re stupidly fun!). Layering is your friend: base layer, mid layer, breathable top layer. I have rechargeable heated insoles for my riding boots and pogies (giant gloves that protect your hands and arms from the elements that fit on to the bike handlebars) so the wind doesn’t freeze my hands. You really have to experiment, remembering that in the winter, water bottles freeze, so if you have to carry hydration, make sure you’re using insulated water bottles. I’ve been known to put boiling water in a double walled thermos.
- How do you stay cool during the summer? I worry less about the heat in the summer than I do the cold of the winter. I won’t lose a finger due to the heat. I like to do lunch rides when it’s warmer (ok, I do lunch rides when it’s cold too), but if I’m sweaty, I’ll use baby wipes to clean up. I try not to do those rides on days when I have meetings in the afternoon, but I’m not opposed to washing my face and reapplying makeup.
- What about the rainy days? How do you stay dry? I have rain gear including waterproof jacket and pants, but I don’t normally wear them. There’s a chance I might not ride in the rain. Yes, I’ll ride in the snow and at -15, but the rain kind of does me in. If I need to train, I’ll get out in it if I have to, but I’ll avoid dirt roads and take my road bike with wider tires. I once did an Enduro race in the pouring rain on my fat bike. There was no staying dry for that one, even with all my gear. Some folks use fenders, but I haven’t found much of a need for it here in dry Helena!
- What do you need to stay safe on the road? Awareness and common sense will keep you safe in many situations in life. I have to remember that in car vs. bike, the car always wins, so it doesn’t matter if I’m following the rules of the road and a car hits me, I’m the one who’s going to be hurting. Wearing bright colors and reflective gear helps. I do a fair amount of night riding during the winter, so I have obnoxiously bright lights and a flashing tail lamp that I use, even on the trails. Use your hand signals. And I truly think that most motorists don’t mean to create unsafe situations for cyclists. I think most of them just don’t know how to interact with us on the road. That helps me from getting bike road rage when I think someone hasn’t given me enough space while passing.
- What would you like drivers to know about sharing the road? Please give cyclists room on the road when you pass. A 15 mph cross wind can easily push me further into a lane and if a car doesn’t give enough room while passing, a poorly timed cross wind can be deadly. Cars should move into the other lane when passing, and if they don’t have enough room they shouldn’t be passing. And if you have to wait, don’t worry about the 30 seconds of time you lost. Someone didn’t lose their life.
- Are bike shorts a must when commuting to work? Not necessarily. Depends on how long the commute is and the kind of seat you have. I have a one-mile commute, so I never wear bike shorts. If I had to ride more than a few miles, I definitely would.
- What about a helmet? Always, always, always! Brains don’t grow back. And you don’t wear them for the things you expect.
- Why do you bike to work? I just feel better when I get to have those few minutes to enjoy the sunrise or watch critters duke it out over a morsel. I love looking at my bike in my cubicle too and getting to take it out on my lunches.
- How much money do you think you’ve saved by biking to work? Truthfully, none. But that’s because my commute is barely one mile. But if you put a price on feeling good doing something you love, I figured I’ve saved thousands in therapy.
- What health benefits have you seen from being an avid biker? I’m a happier person when I’m on my bike. I know myself better and like the challenge that training and racing provides. I’ve had some really low moments while riding, and pushing through them has been a good analogy for dealing with problems in life.
- Is there anything else you’d like to share with bicycle commuters or just in general? My relationships with my community have changed since I took up biking. But the same thing happens when you walk. You see more. You notice the world around you. We spend so much time looking at screens or distracted by life, walking and biking give me a chance to have my own time. I love the people I’ve met riding bikes. I have close relationships with folks I never would have met any other way. And I didn’t just start out riding year round. It took years to build up to that.
A big thanks to Erin for inspiring us and providing some valuable information on the best ways to commute to work while enjoying every minute of it!
Erin is a biking enthusiast whose awards include the following:
- Fat Bike National Championship: 2nd place Amateur Division age-group category
- Philipsburg 46: 1st place masters finisher
- Mystic 40: 2nd place masters
- Fat Bike National Championship: 2nd overall finisher Amateur Division