It’s Bike Week! Sustain Charlotte created this guide to show you how to begin commuting on two wheels easily and safely.
Find a route
The key to a good commute is planning a safe and practical route. The Charlotte Cycling Guide shows current and planned bike lanes, signed bike routes, paved and unpaved greenways, off-street paths and suggested bike routes. If there are no bike lanes or greenways nearby, don’t assume you can’t commute by bike.
Many of our neighborhood streets have low traffic volume and are ideal for new bicyclists. Use Google Maps with the ‘imagery’ view selected to see detailed street and intersection layouts. You can choose the ‘bicycle’ option to find a recommended route between any two locations, or a circuit of locations. It’s always a good idea to ask bicyclists in your neighborhood or workplace what routes they recommend. Then, “ground truth” your route before you commute by riding on a low-traffic day. CDOT’s Bicycle Program page offers info about routes and safety.
Combine your bike commute with public transportation. CATS buses can carry up to two bikes (see this video of how to load it on the rack), and you can bring your bike on the LYNX light rail.
Don’t have a bike? If you have a Charlotte B-cycle station near your home and workplace, an annual membership is a simple and cost-effective way to commute. The Re-Cyclery repairs donated bicycles and sells them at an affordable price to the public. Our many area bike shops can help you choose equipment that fits your needs and budget.
The Re-cyclery sells bikes at reasonable prices and proceeds support bike education for kids.
Mecklenburg County is home to an estimated 300,000 bikes, many of them lurking unused in garages and attics. Dust off that bike, check the brakes and adjust the tire pressure, visit your local bike shop for any needed repairs and take an easy test ride to make sure everything is in working order.
You don’t need spandex or a lot of expensive gear to get started. Here are the essentials:
- Properly fitting helmet
- Bike lock
- Rear and front lights
- Water bottle and holder
- Air pump for tire inflation
Learn to ride safely
Whether you ride on bike lanes, greenways or main travel lanes, always follow traffic laws and make yourself visible to vehicle drivers, pedestrians and other bicyclists. Interact respectfully with other road users. At a minimum, become familiar with basic bike safety practices and laws. Cycling classes for individuals or groups can be scheduled with certified instructors from the League of American Bicyclists. Cycling Savvy is a very beginner-friendly series which includes three sessions where you’ll learn how to identify and avoid safety hazards, practice new technical skills in an indoor space and end with a tour around Charlotte to develop confidence riding alone and with a group.
Obstacle avoidance drill during a Cycling Savvy class.
Get comfortable and connected
If the idea of bike commuting still feels uncomfortable, ease yourself into it with plenty of planning and practice. Become comfortable riding near your home. Try out your commuting route for the first time during a low traffic time of the week, perhaps a Saturday or Sunday morning. Come to a beginner-friendly group ride like the Sunday Slow Ride, bring the whole family to the Saturday morning Kidical Mass Ride or find a ride that meets your skill level at WeeklyRides.com. Join the Charlotte Bicycle Commuter Mentor Program forum to meet experienced bike commuters from all over the region who will be able to offer advice on routes, parking, equipment and may even offer to meet you or accompany you on your first bike commuter outing.
Commit to commute
Start small by committing to commute by bike one day per week. Friday is a great day for most employees since many companies allow a more casual dress code, the workday is often shorter than earlier in the week, and there are few late afternoon or evening business obligations.
The Free Wheelin’ Fridays bike commute is designed to help new bike commuters to Uptown overcome barriers and enjoy a stress-free ride to work. There are currently three departure points (Plaza Midwood, South End, and Wesley Heights). If your commute doesn’t end in Uptown, why not organize a small group of neighbors or co-workers to meet for breakfast one day a week and begin riding together?
Meet new friends and commute to Uptown with Free Wheelin’ Fridays!
Enjoy the benefits
The average household in Mecklenburg County spends 26% of their income on transportation, much higher than the national average of only 19%. AAA reports that the annual cost of owning and maintaining a car is $8,876. Replacing some or all of your car commutes with bike commuting will free up money that you can spend on other things.
Did you know that Charlotte has the largest Bike Benefits program in the country? This little sticker goes on your bike helmet and earns you big discounts at dozens of local businesses when you ride your bike to them.
Commuting by bike will fatten your wallet, but it can also shrink your waistline. A study of nearly 2,400 adults found that those who biked to work were fitter; were leaner; had better triglyceride levels, blood pressure and insulin levels and were less likely to be obese than those who didn’t active commute to work. Plus, 30-60 minutes of daily physical activity, such as biking to work, is associated with lower blood pressure in women and low hypertension in both genders.
Each car trip you replace with a bike ride means that no ozone-forming pollutants and greenhouse gases will enter our air as a result of your commute. As Mecklenburg County’s population grows, clean commuting will help to keep our community a great place to live, work and play for generations to come. Together, we can improve our region’s air quality!
Learn more about commuting by bike and other forms of sustainable transportation at MoveCharlotteSmarter.org.