Consider the lowly bicycle commuter.
Some motorists picture a power-suited executive with chain marks branded across her calves. Her perfume, they surmise, could be called "Eau de Oc tane." "Poor thing," they sniff. "Must have had her car repossessed."
Loan processor Penny Harms would like to dispel that myth. "Commuting by bicycle is a great start to my day," says Harms, who commutes two miles from her West Hills home to Weyerhauser Mortgage Co. at Warner Center in Woodland Hills. Her 10-minute ride is "a way to relieve stress, especially in a job with constant deadlines," she says.
Harms commutes four days a week during the summer and three days a week in winter. She drives her car to work the other days or when it rains. "I also do quick errands on my bike during my lunch hour," says Harms, who rides a Centurian Road Bike. "It's better than a cup of coffee to get me going in the morning."
Commuting by bicycle to work reduces traffic and air pollution. To help plan your commute, consider the following tips from Harms and the Human Powered Transit Assn., a Van Nuys-based organization that promotes bicycle use.
* Check if your employer has a ride-sharing program. Companies with more than 100 employees must have 1.5 commuters per car to meet air quality management district requirements. To meet this goal, some companies provide bicyclists with showers, lockers and bicycle racks.
* Wear brightly colored bicycle clothing for safety and comfort. Harms drops off a week's worth of business suits at the office during the weekend or on Monday, when she drives. "Anything I need to carry to and from work on my bicycle goes into a backpack," she says.
* Scope out potential routes on a weekend. Wide boulevards with bike lanes are best.
* Take a test ride. Check the time it takes to cycle the distance to your workplace and observe the road surface for potential hazards.
* Bicyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as motorists. Signal when turning, stop for signs and ride predictably.
* Ride in a straight line about two feet from the curb. This increases your visibility, allowing traffic to give you a wide berth. "The law says you must ride as far to the right as safely possible, but cars tend to pass too close if you ride near the gutter--and that's also littered with hazards," says Ron Skarin, president of Human Powered Transit Assn. "And don't weave in and out of cars parked along a street. Ride in a straight line far enough to the left to avoid door openings."
* Wear a helmet. About 75% of serious bicycle injuries are to the head, according to hospital emergency room statistics.
* Equip your bike with a portable air pump, tools and a tire patch kit. Consider a rearview mirror that attaches to your bike, glasses or helmet. For night riding, buy a strong front white light (visible for 300 feet) and a rear red reflector or light. (500 feet). Bike stores also carry flashing leg and arm lights.
* Practice changing a flat tire before the need arises.
* Carry personal identification and important medical information.
* Dogs are a man's best friend and a cyclist's worst enemy. One good swat with a portable air pump usually sends canine running.
* Secure your bicycle at your workplace. A quality chain or U-shaped lock should be used. to secure both tires to a bike rack. Or, ask your employer if your bike can be stored in an empty office or warehouse space.
* If you live far from work, consider cycling to a park and ride lot where you can hop a bus to work. Some lots have secured bicycle lockers, available by sending a $10 key deposit to the California Department of Transportation. For locations of lots with lockers, phone Caltrans at (213) 897-0235.
* Ride defensively. Make eye contact and use hand signals when encountering a car at an intersection or when turning.
For more information on Human Powered Transit Assn., which holds bicycle commuting seminars for businesses, write: PO Box 7267, Van Nuys, CA 91409. (818) 781-2453.