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Bike To Work Day: Your Photos, And Riding Advice From Grant Petersen

For many people, Bike to Work Day (which is today) is a reason to put air in their bike's tires and see if their chain is too rusty to get them to work on time. And as a growing list of photographs shows, many people who follow NPR online also ride to work.

You can submit a photo of yourself and your bike, a scene from your commute's route — or, if you can manage it safely, a picture of yourself actually riding to work. Just post the image to Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #NPRbike.

For Grant Petersen, Bike to Work Day probably feels like just another day — after all, he has been riding his bike to work for three decades.

"It's always been easier for me that way," Petersen tells NPR's David Greene, for an interview on Morning Edition. "I've never really taken to the car. I don't hate cars; I own a couple. But, I like to ride my bike."

Petersen is the iconoclastic founder of Rivendell Bicycle Works and the author of Just Ride, a new book that distills practical bike wisdom he has gleaned from years of riding and designing bikes. In it, he makes the case for putting comfort ahead of aerodynamics, and fun over efficiency.

When asked what advice he would give to bike commuters, Petersen starts out with the basics.

"Wear the clothes that you're going to wear at work," he says. "Don't dress up like an American Bike Geek just to ride a bicycle to work."

"If your commute is reasonable — say, 10 miles or under — no problem," Petersen adds. "Dress the way you're going to dress for the weather, or the day."

As for the equipment a commuter bike should have, here's what Petersen recommends: "A bell; lights; reflectors; kickstand; baskets; bags," he says. "You know, make the bike useful. Certainly for commuting, it is not a workout tool. It should be a pickup truck on two wheels."

Through his blog and his business, Petersen has often stressed the benefits of traditional materials like steel and wool, saying that for the average cyclist, they're both supremely appropriate and durable. Carbon and spandex don't rate much space on his shelves.

With that in mind, David asks Petersen, "Is that still a debate raging in the biking world, whether it's worth it to get this aerodynamic stuff?"

"There shouldn't be any debate at all," Petersen says. "Riding a bicycle should be just a natural part of your life. It's so easy. We are the only ones — 'we,' speaking as an American — we are generally the only ones who commute to work in racing clothing. Where is there room for debate about how ridiculous that is?"

Petersen says other things bike commuters should avoid include special "click-in" shoes that lock your feet onto the bike's pedals. For a commuter, "they are just absurd," he says.

That distinction lies in Petersen's belief that the needs and priorities of average riders and racers are very different — so much so that they rarely overlap.

"Racing bikes are just workout machines, really," he says. "So, you can't put baskets, you can't put bags on them, you can't carry weight on them. They aren't designed to carry weight."

In his book, Petersen recommends that your bike be able to carry a heavy sweater — and a couple of pounds of broccoli, as well.

David asks, "So, if I have a basket that can carry broccoli, I shouldn't be ashamed of that?"

"Absolutely," Petersen says. "Be proud of it."

The idea, then, is to get more cyclists to think about how they want to use their bike — and only a select few cyclists will use their bikes to race in the Tour de France, or any other road race. In contrast, Petersen is looking to help the "unracers" out there.

"Racing is presented to us as the goal that we should all aspire to — the highest level of bicycle riding," he says. "I totally don't believe that. Racing is fringe. Racing ruins bicycle riding for a lot of people."

The problem, Petersen says, is that once cyclists gain some experience, they feel the need to "ramp up" and buy a racing bike and other gear, so they can ride for dozens and dozens of miles — "and start not having fun on the bike."

"It ends up being a big trap," Petersen says. "And I was trapped in that for 20, 22 years, probably."

Despite rejecting the idea that all cyclists should emulate professional bike racers, Petersen admits, "I still enjoy hard rides, and a little bit longer rides; I enjoy challenging rides. I haven't thrown in the towel or anything like that."

"And I haven't totally shed, I guess, my 'racing ways,' " he adds. "I think, you know, when you see a rider up on the road, it's hard not to pedal a little bit harder, to see if you can catch that rider. But I'm not proud of that — I'm just stating it as a fact."

These days, Petersen often rides in the hilly countryside near his shop in Walnut Creek, Calif. And as his photographs can attest, Petersen often goes on "S24O" rides with friends and employees. The outings start after work, lead to an overnight stay outdoors, and conclude with a ride back to work in the morning.

S24O stands for "sub-24-hour overnights." And while it's doubtful that such rides will ever become the norm for Bike to Work Day, Petersen's description of the ride might offer one more bit of useful advice for occasional bike commuters:

"If you mess up and forget to bring something, or if the weather turns foul, it's OK," he writes, "because everything will be back to normal tomorrow."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.