By Laurel-Lea Shannon
After twelve years of cycling to work, Kerry Guglielmin has overcome all the barriers, fears and concerns most women have about commuting by bike. Eight months of the year she pedals her royal-blue hybrid bike to work beside the Rideau Canal, which weaves its way through Canada’s capital, Ottawa.
“Biking to work perks you up in the morning and it’s a good stress-relief after work.” Kerry says, “I just kind of lollygag on the way home, checking out the sights of the season—the ducks and flowers in the spring, the changing colours of the leaves in the fall. It’s like being on summer holidays—you’re not part of the rat race.”
Get Started and Just Keep Going
Beating the rat race isn’t the only challenge for bike commuters in Ottawa. The blistering heat and humidity in the summer, and the bum-numbing cold of our winters add an extra challenge. Kerry, a three-season commuter, wisely chooses to give the winter months a miss, leaving the icy roads and two-metre snow banks to a handful of extreme cyclists. But in all other conditions she rides to work. “I’m going to work anyway,” she says, “This way I get my fresh air and exercise as part of my daily routine.”
A few years ago Kerry sold her car. Now, when the weather turns nasty, or on “just-don’t-feel-like-it-days” she can’t be lured into driving to work. “You just learn to dress for all kinds of weather.” Her secret: wear lots and lots of layers.
Helmet Hair and Hygiene
The wire basket attached to the back of her bike carries everything she needs for work: clothes, lunch and shoes. “I buy casual clothes made of fabrics that don’t wrinkle too much,” Kerry says. Her workplace, a health organization, promotes active living and includes a gym, and change rooms with showers—handy on the rare days she gets soaked by rain or sweaty in the dog days of summer.
But most days she doesn’t need to shower when she gets to work. She quickly changes into her work clothes and spruces up her hair, ready to start her work day, refreshed and energized from her bike ride.
For most women, the threat of being stranded on a busy street with a flat tire is even more daunting than helmet hair. But Kerry has solved this problem: Find out where the nearest bike shops are enroute. Kerry has three. When she gets a flat tire she nips into the nearest shop and gets it repaired.
She encourages women who commute to work to keep their bikes in good running form: “Every spring I take my bike in for a tune-up, and once a week I pump up the tires and oil the chain.” This reduces the risk of flats.
There are different kinds of bike commuters. Some weave wildly between cars and trucks valiantly fighting their way through rush hour traffic in a daily death-defying sprint to work. But Kerry favours safety over speed. During her years of bicycling to work she has never had an adrenalin-boosting, heart-pounding encounter with a car. She’s had her share of car doors flying open just as she’s about to pass, and inconsiderate motorists cutting in front of her at intersections, but she stays alert and focuses on safety. “I’m very, very cautious.” she says, “I wear bright fluorescent colours so I’m easily seen. I leave a metre between my bike and parked cars when I pass, and when necessary, I take the lane.” During the fall months when her ride home is in the dark she has front and back lights on her bike—lots and lots of them.
By riding her bike to work Kerry saves $6,600 every year. (It’s estimated that the owner of a compact car in Canada spends over $6,200 a year to own, maintain and operate that vehicle. A monthly bus pass in Ottawa costs $68.)
What does she do with the extra loot? This past September, Kerry and her husband Phil went on a two week cycling tour in Provence—a handsome, well-deserved pay-off for getting to work under her own steam.
Excerpts from this article are published in the Bike To Work book. Available March 2009 at Amazon.com.
© 2009 Laurel-Lea Shannon