For me, planning my route was not only a crucial part of success in sticking with my goal of bike commuting, it was also incredibly counter-intuitive. To get to from where I live to where I work, I can take one of two routes that, according to Google Maps, are 3.4 miles and 3.9 miles. The route that I bike is nearly twice that distance, clocking in at 6.9 miles. The extra mileage didn’t come from some masochistic desire to rival friends who do long distance road biking trips; instead, I examined my options and chose the route that was within my abilities and had low traffic.

Know Your Limits
I live in a relatively hilly area. In fact, when I was testing out routes I discovered that the hill at the bottom of my road was so steep that when I attempted it on my old Panasonic I was so nervous that I was going to flip over backwards that I walked the rest of the hill. That was the 3.4 mile route out of the way. Like exercising or budgeting, you’re far more likely to follow through on your resolution if it’s something within your ability. While I was eventually able to work up to tackling the hill, had I forced myself to do it initially I would have become demoralized and given up. It’s ok to challenge yourself, but remember, you’re already ahead of the game by getting exercise and reducing commuting costs. There’s no need to overdo it.

Safety Is Important
The other obvious route was nixed because it involved a long stretch on a high traffic road that had no shoulder and several blind-spots. Though it’s nice to have an alternate route to mix it up a bit with (particularly because it has a fantastic coasting section), this is a pretty high-stress route because I’m always checking my mirror for cars and being passed by a dump truck on the left with a ditch to the right is not the adrenaline rush I’m looking for. If at all possible, look for the route with the lightest traffic and the widest shoulder.

The Most Important Step
Test your route. Find a chunk of free time (yeah, I know, who has that, right?) and bike it. When I tested my route out, I threw my bike in the trunk and carpooled to work. (As an aside, check your local forecast: the first day I tried commuting home, the weather was bright, sunny and cool, aka ideal biking conditions. I fell in love.) When doing your test ride, take note of a few things. Does this pass the safety and feasibility test? Also important to know is how long is your ride?

My first ride took my about forty minutes at a leisurely pace. Add to that about fifteen minutes to lock your bike and clean yourself up and you’ll have an idea of what time you’ll want to leave. Though I’ve actually managed to drop my time down about ten minutes from my initial trip as I’ve gotten faster, I always ballpark commute time by that first trip because the padding leaves room for unexpected events like tightening up a loose toe cage or carrying your bike around a downed tree (both of which I got to experience on Friday). Bike commuting may take longer, but remember: you’re being efficient because now you don’t need that expensive, time-consuming gym membership.

A Happy Ending
The route I ultimately chose wound up being incredibly counter-intuitive. When comparing my bike route with my original driving route, my bike route is like a backwards “C”: to get to where I needed to be, which was southeast of my starting point, I went north. This back road led me to a road that, while lacking a shoulder was incredibly low traffic, and eventually linked up with an off-road canal path. When I neared the bank I work at, I went north again giving me one of the longer distances between two points.

Though my trek is 6.9 miles, 1 mile is this unpaved back road, and 4.5 are on a car-free path. As an added bonus, the main road where the bank is located is under construction so I experience a bit of schadenfreude because not only have I biked along this beautiful path where even in the most intense storms I can smell beautiful honeysuckle, I now get to blaze past all of the traffic. (I admit it, I can be annoyingly smug about this…)

I chose a route that was indirect, but low traffic, and challenging, but within my abilities. Some days are better rides than others, but it’s never so perilous or challenging that I am discouraged. So bust out that map and craft your dream ride. And stayed tuned for more on bike commuting.

Photo Credit: Stock Xchng