Healthy Living in the North

From Prince George to Paris: how I learned to love commuting via bike

Every year around April, I start to get excited about the prospects of the snow melting and digging out my bike. For the last couple of years, I’ve enjoyed biking to work and school so I always associate the spring with bike season.

I love biking for a few reasons: firstly, it’s a fantastic way to get outside and get some vitamin N (nature!), and secondly, it’s a great way to stay active and get in that crucial daily physical activity. The third reason I love biking so much, is because it takes me back to a very special time in my life. For me, the inspiration to bike to work and school started when I was living in Paris, France.

During my undergraduate studies, I was fortunate to participate in a bilateral university exchange through the University of Northern British Columbia and the Paris School of Business for two semesters.

View of city of Paris from Notre-Dame.

Commuting via bike was the best way to see Paris!

Living in the City of Love opened my eyes to big city public transport and the hurried nature of city commuters. For the first time in my life, I didn’t need to rely on a vehicle for transportation and I quickly became accustomed to using the city’s metro system on a daily basis. I was able to get to where I needed to go relatively quickly and reliably without having to worry about driving (yay!), but the downside was that I was missing out on seeing the city with all the time I was spending underground commuting.

I decided to try out the Paris Velib’ system. For those who aren’t familiar, Velib’ (the name is a play on the French words vélo-bike and libre-free) is a public bicycle sharing system with an app and convenient pick up and drop off stations throughout the city. I was too nervous to try and bike to school in the mornings (my school was very strict about being late) so I decided to figure out how to bike home after school. I’m so glad I did!

Biking home after my classes became one of my favourite parts of my day. It made me feel like a local and I was able to see parts of the city that I wouldn’t have seen on the metro. I took in all the details and day-to-day scenes around me, and enjoyed being present. It was also a great way to balance all the French pastries I was indulging in!

When I returned home from Paris, I was inspired to continue commuting via bike. Although Prince George is no Paris, I realized that the north has its own unique kind of beauty. Biking through evergreen trees and being beneath blue northern skies made me fall in love with the northern BC landscape I grew up in, and made me appreciate being back home that much more.

Old red cruiser bike.

My beloved old cruiser bike and basket.

With Bike to Work and School Week approaching on May 28-June 3, 2018, I’ll be getting ready for another season of commuting. Below are some bike commuting tips I’ve learned along the way.

5 tips for a successful bike commute:

  1. Map your route. First time riding to work or school? Ease some of your anxiety about how you’re going to get there and map it out beforehand. Take note of high traffic areas and streets with no cyclist access.
  2. Test it out! Before you make your bike commuting debut, designate some time during your free time to test out your planned route. Be sure to time yourself while doing it so you have an idea of how long it will take you. The more you ride, the more consistent your commute time will become.
  3. Give yourself some extra time. I’d recommend giving yourself an extra 15-20 mins during your first couple rides until you’re comfortable. If you’re planning on changing clothes, make sure to factor in some time to change. There’s nothing worse than starting your day in catch up mode!
  4. Wear the right gear and clothing. Wearing a helmet is a must! If your route includes lots of hills you may want to consider wearing an athletic outfit and then changing into your work or school clothes afterwards. Have a shorter or less tedious route? I’ve been known to bike in dresses – I just make sure to wear shorts underneath. In the fall, I’ll wear biking leggings over top of tights for an added layer of warmth. Make sure that whatever bottoms you wear won’t catch in your gears. Nothing like chain grease to ruin an outfit! Sturdy, closed toed shoes are also a good idea. You can leave a pair of shoes to change into at your destination or toss ‘em in with your change of clothes that you’ll carry with you.
  5. Add a basket. If you’re anything like me, and love the aesthetic of a bike as much as the practicality, I highly recommend adding an accessory that makes you happy. My bike basket brings me joy, holds my lunch bag securely, and lets me incorporate a little piece of Parisienne chic into my everyday life!

Looking for more biking tips? Taylar shared some great tips for schools and families on how to get involved in biking this season, including teaching resources for road safety. Curious about how biking and wellness are connected? Check out Gloria’s blog on the benefits of biking!

To all the seasoned bike commuters in the north, happy bike season! To those who are planning on trying out commuting by bike for the first time: I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. Happy biking everyone! Or as they say in Paris, bon trajet!

Haylee Seiter

About Haylee Seiter

A Northerner since childhood, Haylee has grown up in Prince George and recently completed her Bachelor of Commerce at the University of Northern British Columbia. During university Haylee found her passion for health promotion while volunteering heavily with the Canadian Cancer Society and was also involved with the UNBC JDC West team, bringing home gold as part of the Marketing team in 2016. Joining the communications team as an advisor for population and public health has been a dream come true for her. When she is not dreaming up marketing and communications strategies, she can be found cycling with the Wheelin Warriors or enjoying a glass of wine with friends. (NH Blog Admin)


Learning to love my bike

Andrew and his bike

Andrew learned to cherish the opportunity to ride his bike to work every day! Do you use active transportation to get to where you’re going?

For several years, my body and I did not get along. I had osteoarthritis in my hips that caused considerable pain and seriously limited my mobility. For years, I had gotten my daily exercise by walking, but as the pain in my hips worsened, the walking faded away. I became more and more sedentary and packed on a lot of weight.

In 2006, I had my right hip resurfaced and in 2010, I had the left one done. The pain was gone but I discovered that the surgery changed the angle of the joint and that, combined with years of avoiding pain-causing exercise, meant that I couldn’t just go back to my old exercise routine.

Then I got an email about Bike to Work Week, and a real change started for me. Making a commitment to ride to work for a week seemed doable, so I tried it. After the week was over, it seemed like something I could keep on doing. In a short time, biking to work evolved into a routine that now works for me.

I start work at 8 a.m. every morning but my day starts at 6 a.m. I have a light breakfast and head for the aquatic centre. Twenty lengths of the pool and ten minutes in the steam room, followed by a shower, take about forty five minutes, giving me enough time to ride my bicycle to work. Swimming and bicycle riding both take a lot of strain off of the hip joints allowing the muscle to build and the joint to get used to mobility again.

At first, getting up early to swim and riding my bike every day seemed like a chore, and I had the “five more minutes” argument with my pillow every morning. After a while though, I began to notice some changes: I realized that I felt better all day, I have more energy, and my clothes started to fit better. What seemed like a long ride a few months ago now seems like a short hop, and I find myself looking forward to my daily routine.

When the weather closes in, I feel anxious about possibly not being able to ride my bike. I have taken to going for a ride in the evenings as well, and on Saturday mornings, my partner and I ride our bikes to the Farmers’ Market or to our favorite coffee shop. When I began this routine, a friend said it would cost a lot to go swimming every day, but funny thing about it is that it doesn’t. I save more in gas by not taking my van to work every day than it costs for a monthly swim pass. What was a chore a few months ago has become a cherished part of my life. With the arrival of Fall, I know I’ll need to find something to take the place of the bicycle when the snow flies. I did see an exercise bike at a garage sale last weekend. Guess I’ll clear some space in the rec room…!

Getting to your daily destination using active transportation (like riding a bike) is a great option for many reasons! How do you actively travel around your community?

[Editor’s note: Don’t forget to enter the Healthy Living Week 4 Challenge and tell us about how you source local food for your chance to win a great mini freezer!]

Andrew Burton

About Andrew Burton

Andrew is a Community Integration Systems Navigator for Northern Health’s HIV and Hepatitis C Care team and works to support healthy living practices in communities across northern B.C. Andrew is developing positive activity and diet practices for two reasons: to deal with his own health concerns, and to “walk the talk” of promoting healthy living. Building on his training and experience in creative arts therapy, Andrew founded and runs the Street Spirits Theatre program promoting social responsibility among young people. This work has been recognized nationally and internationally as a leading method of social change.