With the price of fuel flirting with the $6 mark, many people have started to take a new look at alternative modes of transportation. As awareness of our impact on the environment grows, more and more people are looking to the latest technological developments to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and our carbon footprint. However, one of the simplest and best ways to reduce your reliance on fossil fuel is to focus on manpower rather than horsepower.
Get back on your bike
In May, many countries across the globe celebrate Bike Month. The month is marked with events to raise the awareness of cycling, not merely as a sport but as a practical solution to the transportation challenges faced in many nations, whether highly developed or developing.
In the United States, the League of American Bicyclists will be celebrating Bike-to-Work Week from 16 to 20 May in the hope of not only convincing more people to dust off their bicycles and use them on their morning commute, but also raise awareness among businesses, city councils and other road users on the role the bicycle can play in addressing many transport related issues. Locally, organisations like the Cayman Islands Cycling Association and the 53//11 Crankers Cycling Club also work to increase awareness of cycling, whether as a sport or a transportation alternative.
According to statistics more than half of the US population live within five miles of their place of work, with the situation in Cayman not much different for many people who live in George Town and surrounding areas.
However, in Cayman, as in many other parts of the world, commuting by bicycle still has somewhat of a stigma attached to it. Most of the people who do use bicycles as their primary mode of transportation do so because they lack the financial means to purchase a car and the bicycle therefore has a stigma attached to it of not having ‘made it’ yet.
However, as going green becomes every more fashionable, a bicycle may well be a more attainable, if somewhat less comfortable, mode of eco transportation than a hybrid or plug-in electric vehicle.
Dealing with excuses
One of the main excuses raised by many potential commuters is that there is a lack of facilities at their workplace, including a lack of parking for bicycles or lack of shower facilities. Unfortunately, as long as there is no demand for such facilities, employers will not think to provide them and the demand will not exist without people using their bikes to commute to work regularly. Of course, no one wants to arrive at the office all sweaty and not be able to freshen up. However, there are numerous ways to work around this. Leaving a selection of office wear at the office means you will not have to commute in the clothes you plan to wear. These clothes can always be replaced over the weekend, or on days where you know you will need to drive to work anyway due to weather or other appointments. Taking more time on the morning commute should allow you to stay in relatively good shape, even in Cayman’s warm and humid weather. Leave the cardio workout section of your commute for the run home instead.
Parents often have the added excuse of having to transport their children to and from day care as well.
However, for those committed enough, even having to take children along for the ride is not a deterrent. Many companies offer bicycle trailers designed to transport children in safety and comfort, while older children can sit in a child seat mounted on a rear panier. However, the addition of a trailer to a bicycle on the narrow roads of Cayman can certainly increase a parent’s apprehension. Fortunately most trailers come with enhanced visibility features, such as reflective materials for low light conditions and tall flags to ensure that the position of the trailer is visible to all forms of traffic. Even when junior is not being transported, a bicycle trailer provides the possibility of going shopping with a bicycle and not being limited to what can fit into a backpack.
Fitting a rack to the back of a bicycle can also make a big difference to the carrying capacity.
Even though no-one likes to cycle in rainy weather, there are numerous wa
ys to deal with everything from a quick shower to wet roads. Fitting mudguards to a bicycle can eliminate water thrown up by the wheels from creating a wet, black stripe up the middle of your back, while there are also many backpacks and laptop bags available with shower-proof covers integrated into the bags.
inding the right bike
Selecting the right bike for a regular commute is a very important aspect of commuting. Even though any old bike will do, safety and comfort should also be taken into account, as should reliability and maintenance.
“Overall for an island of this size, bicycles would be the perfect mode of transportation,” said William McTaggart, managing director of Uncle Bill’s.
Although he is quick to admit that there are numerous challenges, McTaggart said that selecting the right bike for commuting can greatly improve your daily commute.
“Many people buy what I consider the department store bike, but I would much prefer to sell a person a decent bike any day. Buying a better bike, you’re going to have less maintenance, it’s going to be an easier commute, if you commute by bike, because everything is going to work smoother and it’s going to be a more comfortable ride,” he said.
Although many people instinctively go for wide-tired cruiser bikes when looking for something to commute on, a dedicated commuter bike may be much more suited.
“Go with a hybrid bike if you prefer the upright position, and if you prefer the drop bars, get a road bike,” said McTaggart.
However, he suggests swapping out the standard racing tyres on a road bike for something a little bit wider and tougher in order to give a more comfortable ride and better puncture resistance.
It is also important to take safety into account, with a well maintained bike being much safer than one with weak brakes and bent wheels.
“Of course you want to consider lights in case you get caught in the dark when you’re riding home kind of late. I think that is so important that people have proper lighting on their bikes – a little red flasher on the back and a white light on the front,” said McTaggart.
Although there might be challenges aplenty when it comes to making the bicycle a viable transportation option for the Cayman Islands, with a little bit of planning and dedication these challenges can be overcome and possibly set Cayman on the path to a more sustainable future, two wheels at a time.