“I’d totally bike to work, but….”
If you’re reading this, we’d bet 5 bucks that you’ve either heard this from at least one of your friends or coworkers, or you’re the one saying it. Converting from a car commuter to a bike commuter is a good thing—we can all agree on that.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of misconceptions that discourage would-be cyclists from making bicycling their primary form of transportation to and from work, school and other places in Asheville. Let’s bust a few of the most commonly perpetuated myths about biking to work (and other places you need to go), so you or your reluctant friend will have no more excuses to not give bike commuting a try!
Myth: I’m safer in a car.
Reality: Yes, there are risks to riding a bicycle—but there is risk with any form of travel. For instance, NCDOT statistics show that 853 fatal car crashes, 207 fatal pedestrian traffic incidents, and 18 fatal bicycle wrecks were reported in 2015. While it’s tough to compare rates (and accidents are notoriously underreported), you take a risk every time you step out your front door.
The good news is just a few simple precautions and cheap bike upgrades can increase your safety while riding:
- Get a front and rear light for your bike, and run them every time you ride. Several studies have shown that simply lighting up can significantly reduce your chance of getting hit. Front and rear lights are required by law in NC for biking at night on streets.
- Wear bright and reflective clothing. Those loud, hi-vis bike jerseys are not a fashion statement, they’re for safety. Can’t stomach wearing ectoplasmic green? Get a reflective safety vest; they’re cheap. For extra punch, wear your hi-vis on the moving parts of your body, like your feet, hands, and helmet. Neon colors make you more visible during the day and reflective materials help you show up better at night. Note that reflective material is not a replacement for powered lights.
- Wear a properly fitting helmet. You know why you need to wear a bike helmet, but getting the right fit takes a little practice. You want a snug, but not skull-crushing, fit before the chin strap is buckled. Learn all about helmet fitting here.
- Investigate low-traffic routes to your regular destinations. You’re most likely to get hit on roads where drivers aren’t expecting to see cyclists, like Patton Ave. or Tunnel Road. Check out sources like RideWithGPS, Strava or MapMyRide for routes.
- Follow all traffic laws. It may be tempting to slip through the line of waiting vehicles, but it is the law for cyclists to obey stop signs and red lights, and use turn signals. If you must ride on the sidewalk, yield to pedestrians and walk your bike in crowded places.
It’s worth noting that almost all the risks of cycling on roads comes from the cars on the road—thus as we build better infrastructure, with design features to better support pedestrian and cycling road users, the injury rates for cycling and walking go down. You can read more about this interplay between road design, city planning, and accident rates here.
Myth: Asheville’s too hilly to bike anywhere!
Reality: That’s why gears were invented! Yes. Asheville is hillier than Myrtle Beach, but there are flatter roads and paths to many business/recreation locations. (Hint: Get involved with Asheville on Bikes to meet veteran bike commuters who’ll be more than happy to show you around).
Other ways to get around the hills:
- Trade in your beach cruiser for a multi-geared commuter. If you struggle to get around on your hand-me-down clunker, you’d be surprised by the huge difference having a lighter, geared bike makes. Our local shops offer high-quality hybrids that fit most budgets.
- Consider an electric-assist bike. E-bikes are gaining steam among riders who want to get from point A to B faster and with less sweat. They’re most beneficial on uphills, and many models can go 50 miles or more per battery charge.
- Keep riding, you’ll get in shape quickly. And no one’s judging if you walk your bike up the hills. Just keep your bike between you and traffic when you walk.
- Learn the hidden flat city within our city. Did you know their is a flat city lurking within our current grid? There is! To find it, follow the water. Each drainage basin takes you downhill to a collection of flattish roads and greenways that run along the French Broad. By connecting to that hidden flat city many trips can involve only one main hill climb, the one up to the downtown level. Going from the river to downtown is about a 100 foot elevation change.
- Combine the bicycle with the bus. Let ART climb the hills for you, then use your bike to get to ART and to get around within downtown.
Myth: It’s faster to drive / biking takes too long, etc.
Reality: Maybe, maybe not. We can tell you from experience that if you live in West Asheville, it’s almost always faster to ride a bike to downtown Asheville than inch through car traffic. Factor in the lengthy hunt for parking and the walk after you finally find a spot a mile from your destination, and it’s often WAY faster. Many city neighborhoods share the same story. If you live further out, consider a bike/bus combo commute. ART busses have bike racks on the front!
Myth: I’ll be gross by the time I get to work.
Reality: Admittedly, in the thick of August humidity, you’re going to glisten after a ride of any length. But this is easily managed with a little prep work. Wear bike-only clothes during your commute (no, they don’t have to be spandex, any bright-colored clothes), and put your work clothes in large Zip-loc bags during your commute—this prevents rain or sweat getting through while they’re in your basket or backpack.
Stash a pack of baby wipes too. They’re a convenient way to freshen up if there aren’t shower facilities at your workplace. Also, keep a pair of shoes at work. This saves you the hassle of lugging your pumps, loafers or steel-toed boots back and forth every day. Finally, bike fenders are worth their weight in gold when it comes to keeping skid marks off your rear end and road juice off your face. Here’s everything you want to know and more about fenders.
Myth: There’s nowhere to safely put my bike.
Reality: If there’s one great thing we’ve seen in Asheville in recent years, it’s that bike-friendly businesses are popping up everywhere! Many restaurants, shops and office buildings are more than happy for you to bring your steed inside, or at least lock up on their porch.
The City of Asheville, NCDOT, and local business associations are stepping up, too, installing bike corrals in key corridors. While bike theft is relatively low in Asheville compared to other larger cities, it’s smart to lock up every time—and run your bike lock through the front wheel AND the frame.
Feel better about bicycling in Asheville now? Great!
Like any major change in our daily routine, making the leap from driver to rider can be easier said than done. But with these commonly-cited barriers dismantled, we hope you’ll give bike commuting another try. For more great info about Asheville cycling, check out our resources for bike riders. See you on the road!