In 2011, when Olivia Hinthong Arends began commuting by bike because her car needed repairs, she was surprised by how much she got out of it.
“I got hooked on it,” the resident of Chicago's Edgewater neighborhood said. “I could actually get home quicker than a car or public transit sometimes. It saved time and the aggravation of sitting in traffic. Now it's for my mental sanity, and for fitness reasons. It helps me feel good throughout the day at work.”
With three years of experience under her belt, Hinthong Arends (pictured) started a blog, DriventoBike.com, offering advice for new bike commuters.
She also participated in the Bike Commuter Challenge for the first time in 2014, leading a team at her office in the north suburbs and introducing bike commuting to a group of her coworkers.
Hinthong Arends showed her mettle in the competition, placing in the top 14 overall and finishing first among female riders in terms of miles logged (her trip was 20 miles each way).
The Bike Commuter Challenge is a week-long annual event produced by the Active Transportation Alliance, this year taking place June 12-19.
Companies throughout Chicago can sign up, and participating employees will log rides during the week. Active Trans then tallies all logged bike trips and ranks workplaces in size categories by the percentage of employees who participated at least once during the week.
“My coworkers were always curious about bike commuting,” Hinthong Arends said. “One lady said the event got her started and it was the first time she rode to work. Having a group of us do it, it made it more acceptable.”
Now at a different company, Hinthong Arends is getting another team together for the 2015 Bike Commuter Challenge.
Her blog can serve as a resource for new bike commuters, with informative posts that include “Finding a Safe Route” and “The Cubicle as a Rest Stop.” She offers a bevy of advice, including:
- Have a helmet and be sure use lights for when it’s dark.
- Go to a bike shop for a tuneup and have them check your fit on the bike.
- Find comfortable clothing that works for you.
- Low-stress roads are good places to practice riding in traffic, hand-signaling and looking over your shoulder.
- Get to know the traffic of an area first, and then plan a safe route.
- Be able to haul cargo on the back of your bike. (She avoids expensive panniers, opting to attach a backpack with bungee cords.)
- Bring changes of clothes and extra snacks to the office in advance.
“Go your own pace and enjoy what you’re doing,” she said. “Just be confident and use your common sense. Sometimes you just need to take the lane, and if cars don't like it they can wait a few seconds. that's your right to the road, and it's your safety that's most important.”
As she’s seen conditions get better for cyclists in Chicago, she knows there are still barriers, such as a lack of bike parking, few workplaces that offer showers and limited bike accessibility on public transit.
As a team leader during the Bike Commuter Challenge, it was her role on the team to provide advice and answer questions from coworkers.
Here is some of her advice to anyone looking to be a team leader at this year’s event:
- Check in on coworkers and ask how their commute is going.
- Share your experiences so people can learn and discuss.
- Email the team with advice, such as remembering to stay hydrated.
- Encourage team members often.
- Set a good example.
You can also find a great collection of resources on the Bike Commuter Challenge website.
Hinthong Arends said the Bike Commuter Challenge is a great venue for introducing new people to bike commuting, and for those who already do ride to work it’s an opportunity to take pride in what they do.
“It’s a fun event,” she said. “People just need to hop on a bike and give it a try.”
Blog post was authored by former Active Trans communications intern Michael Sewall. Photo courtesy of Olivia Hinthong Arends.