Put the Pedal to the Mettle 

How one woman decided to put down her car keys and bicycle to work.

About a month ago, I decided to bike to work. I'd like to say that my ecological conscience made me want to mend my carbon-emitting ways, but that wasn't my primary reason.

Really, I just got sick of the cost.

I never would have thought that at 22, my friends and I would reminisce about how much less things cost when we were young — four years ago.

At first I balked at the $60 to $120 price range for a bicycle, until I realized that the cost was equivalent to two tanks of gas. The next day, I rode my new six-speed to work.

At the beginning, I wasn't overjoyed. I've never been athletic, and I worried I looked stupid on my bike. Some guy yelled at me, "Hey, cheesegrater!" and I'm still not sure what that means. I was sweaty when I got to work, and at the end of the day, the last thing I wanted to do was exercise.

But after about a week, things changed. The ride home became my favorite part of the day. In fact, I hadn't realized how much I disliked driving until I began biking. When biking, jaywalking pedestrians don't affect me. I never get stuck behind someone turning left.

Now I feel the wind in my hair and the sun on my skin during my commute. And the most unexpected benefit: When I get to work, I'm not tired. I don't pour a cup of coffee the minute I walk in.

For the first time, I'm alert and cheerful at 9 a.m. I feel good while I'm cycling, and the feeling stays with me the whole day. Oddly, I don't think of my rides as — shudder — exercise but as my alone time with the city and nature.

I had several concerns when I began biking. How much longer will it take me to get to work? Well, I found that my bike ride took a mere extra five minutes — and I'm no Lance Armstrong.

Then I worried that it would get me sweaty just as I got to work. This one turned out to be partially true. My first week, I sweated a lot. The next week, I sweated less. Now, I barely sweat. When I get to work, I freshen up with a mini-deodorant stick. And you can always bring a change of clothes in your backpack.

Finally, is it safe? Safer than you might think. While there were 770 biking fatalities in America in 2006, there were 38,588 auto fatalities. It's also safer than walking: Only 0.5 percent of cycling injuries are critical as opposed to 3 percent of pedestrian injuries.

Making the switch has been one of the best decisions I've ever made. I'm happier, I have more energy, and I feel really proud of the physical and ecological improvements I've made. If helping the environment and your bank account hasn't been enough of a catalyst for you, helping your heart and mind should be.

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