Right up front, I am going to say that Bike To Work Weeks and Bike To Work Day on Friday are probably a terrible idea. Imagine if we had a special Drive To Work Day and everybody did it and the roads were jammed and the pollution was terrible and everybody just parked everywhere and.. oh, never mind, every day is Drive to Work Day.
But the problem with a Bike To Work Day or Week (and all of these posts about how to bike to work) is that to enable people to bike to work you need infrastructure that works all year. Just like the car gets a lane and supposedly some storage at the office, there has to be support. Yet almost every Bike Commuting 101 and How to Bike To Work guide treats the person on a bike as if they are Amundsen on the way to the South Pole- carry everything you need from baby wipes to tire repair kits.
I don't believe it has to be so complicated, and it is certainly easier now than it was even five years ago. Many office buildings now have indoor bike storage (it is in most zoning bylaws and in the LEED rules now) and many companies, wanting to attract millennial workers, are insisting on it. Many even now have showers. Many cities are improving bike lanes. Some cities have added municipal protected bike storage. So check out what your employer or landlord provides, and get noisy if they don't provide anything.
Figure out the best route to work. There are websites like RideTheCity.com and many cities have bike route maps. I figured out how to get to Ryerson Unversity where I teach using bike lanes for about 95 percent of the route and have found that even in a city as badly served by bike lanes as Toronto (and where the bike lanes are Fedex and police car lanes), I can get around much of the city. And instead of carrying tools to fix a tire, learn where the bike shops are.
Dress appropriately-for living, not cycling. If you walked to work you would allow enough time and put on weather appropriate clothing, comfortable shoes and carry some money to buy a coffee along the way. When you got to the office, you would likely have a place to hang your coat and perhaps a better pair of shoes in your desk drawer.
I tend to think of biking to work as if I am walking, only I am on a bike; I wear pretty much the same clothes and go at a comfortable pace that doesn't make me sweat so much. Since comfort is a function of humidity, temperature and air movement, I find that the speed of the bike actually cools me off. In winter, I dress a little lighter than I would for walking to compensate for the fact that I am working a bit harder.
Go with the flow. Ride at a comfortable pace; it's not a road race. If I am in a crowded bike lane at rush hour, I just relax and bike with everyone else; besides, there is safety in numbers in cycling. I get passed by young people in a hurry all the time, but who cares.
Get a simple bike, not too fancy. A lot of people recommend the Dutch style bikes where you sit totally upright; I prefer something a bit lighter and am riding a sort of urban hybrid right now. However my daughter rides this a long way to work and she is perfectly happy. I have a pannier so that I don't have to wear a backpack (and keep a rain suit in it) and a rearview mirror on the end of my handlebar, and don't know how I ever lived without it.
Consider an e-bike. They are getting better and more affordable, and in really hot or hilly cities they can make all the difference. Just don't get one so big and fancy and fast that you are scaring all the people on bikes. I am thinking of getting one of these from Maxwell that you can barely tell is an e-bike.
Consider a folding bike. Many people who do not have a safe place to park their bike get folders. I love the Strida, but there are all kinds of them now. Not all landlords are folder-friendly; when TreeHugger was owned by Discovery and I took my Strida to New York, they would not let me carry it up in the elevator. Perhaps this is changing.
Join a bike-share. Then you don't have to worry about parking and locking; most plans have annual memberships.
If you wear a helmet, get one that really ventilates well. In Vancouver recently I used their bike share which comes with helmets; it was a closed-in skater style helmet that I found very hot and uncomfortable.
Get a really good lock. Remember the 50 pound rule: "All bicycles weigh fifty pounds. A thirty-pound bicycle needs a twenty-pound lock. A forty-pound bicycle needs a ten-pound lock. A fifty-pound bicycle doesn't need a lock at all."
Check your tire pressure all the time. I find that this is the single biggest factor affecting the comfort of my ride; the rolling resistance increases so much if the tires are not really hard.
Get good lights. The one time I was ever hit in an intersection, it was by another bike; neither of us had lights. I do now.
Remember where the danger is. A lot of people who bike rolled their eyes when the FHWA put this tweet out the other day. As one wag noted, "Woo-hoo! Gonna race at twice the speed limit or more on residential streets, treat stop signs as yields, fly through amber and red lights, block lanes, never signal or pay for parking, hell, I'll just park where ever I want all while using my phone the whole time. Thanks FHA!"
Drivers of cars are totally unpredictable; even if you have a green light, check that all the cars have stopped. If you are riding close to parked cars, try and keep 3 feet way and slow down a bit. Always assume that drivers are out to get you; it will often be the case.
Pedestrians are often unpredictable too, and step into the bike lanes without looking. Again, if you are not going too fast and have good brakes, crashes are avoided. This is about a commute, not a race. And just because they walk in the bike lane, that doesn't mean you can ride on the sidewalks.
Nonetheless, the FHWA does have a point; drivers and pedestrians should have a good idea of what the person on a bike is going to do. The feds may say "act like the driver of a vehicle"; I would say "act like a human being" and show respect. That means not going too fast in a tight bike lane, stopping at red lights, not going by open doors of buses and streetcars as people are getting on and off. Yvonne Bambrick, author of the Urban Cycling Survival Guide, tells the CBC:
When people don't know what you're going to do, they get nervous, when you're nervous you get afraid, when you're afraid sometimes you get angry and it's just this vicious cycle. If you indicate your intentions and ride predictably, you're going to reduce your risk and have a safer, more enjoyable ride.
In the end, cyclists will only get the infrastructure they deserve when there are enough of them to matter, and more of them do it all the time. So lets try and make this not bike to work day or week but Bike To Work Year. We need volume and consistency if we are going to get real change. Then everyone can have a safer, more enjoyable ride.