Although I’m a bicycling enthusiast of many years, I’m continually encouraged by how easy it is to get rolling. The beauty of riding a bicycle, especially in Memphis’s late winter/early spring, is that it doesn’t take much to get started. Just a bike with working brakes, aired-up tires, and a sturdy lock and you are ready to give it a try. Sure, you might want to bring a light jacket for unexpected downpours, but if you get caught in the rain, you might just let yourself get wet. As they say in The Netherlands, “We’re not made of sugar.” Well, maybe you are, but I am definitely not!
I think riding a bicycle gives us a chance to be more in tune with the climate. On cool mornings that turn into warm afternoons, you might ride out in a jacket but carry it home in your bag. Early spring is definitely the time of year when I try not to over-bundle myself. In fact, on upper-40s and 50-degree mornings, I’m often sorry that I wore a coat because after I pedal for ten minutes or so, I’m entirely too hot. Instead, I prefer to wear a puffy vest or light jacket and my cashmere sweater sleeves. I have some I made myself but you can search “cashmere arm warmers” on Etsy and find plenty of choices. I may wear light gloves and a wool hat under my helmet. The idea behind all of these items is that they can be easily removed as I get warmer – and if my commute (fake or otherwise) is over three miles, I’m sure to heat up.
The mental health benefits of fresh air and active transportation are really important to me. I love to bicycle for fun and to stay healthy, but I am also a big proponent of making it a part of my workweek. Commuting by bicycle is a safe and fun way to get to and from work. There is no better way to arrive at work than with your mental faculties sharpened. Bicycling is also a great way to de-stress after the workday is done.
Children greatly benefit from bicycling as well. An organization called Outride studied middle school aged youth and bicycling over the last several years. In their 2021 report, they especially considered the effects of the pandemic, including increased sedentary behavior and isolation from friends. Specifically, they have data from the winter/spring semester of 2021 showing that youth who participated in their bicycle riding program “reported higher levels of well-being.” They also note that “additional research is needed to better understand why bicycling often brings about feelings of joy across all ages and provides youth with a sense of freedom they many not otherwise enjoy, both of which can contribute to one’s well-being.” This study was with middle schoolers, but I am confident that these same benefits of riding a bicycle also pertain to adults. In fact, our friends at the Dutch Cycling Embassy note that “thirty minutes a day of cycling is equivalent to the World Health Organization weekly recommended level of physical activity and reduces the risk of diabetes, obesity, depression and many other serious diseases.”
If bicycling to work is not an option for you, public transportation and carpooling have many surprising benefits. Remembering that we are a part of a community always helps me get through the stress that the world continues to offer, and riding to work in the company of others is a perfect way to start your day. When you’re not driving, you can check your social media, make phone calls, and chat by text. As our world faces many uncertainties and upheavals, a simple connection with co-workers or fellow public transportation riders is so meaningful. Not to mention the savings on gas and the benefits to our environment!
So, if you haven’t tried carpooling before, now would be a good time to share the high cost of gas. Even carpooling just once or twice a week can give your budget a break. If you’ve wondered about riding the bus to work, and especially if you are near one of our more frequent lines like the Poplar 50 or the Crosstown 42, try it and say hello to your fellow riders! Or if riding your bike solo feels lonely, head out for a ride and say hello to neighbors along the way and invite them to join you. You’ll be glad you did!
Sylvia Crum joined Innovate Memphis in 2019 as the Commute Options Program Manager. This work allows her to encourage local businesses, employees, and students to shift from drive-alone commutes to transit, walking, carpooling, and bicycling.