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)

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An ode to helmet hair (and biking!)

Author wearing orange glasses in the shape of a windmill.

Did my Dutch heritage inspire my cycling? Absolutely! Bikes are everywhere in the Netherlands!

When I first received the invitation to join a Bike to Work Week team, I was visiting my family in the Netherlands. There were bikes all over the place – young people biking to school, professionals biking to their offices, families biking to the grocery store, seniors biking to community spaces, friends biking to their favourite restaurants, and thousands upon thousands of people biking to train stations. Inspired in part by all of these active commuters and my Dutch heritage, I decided to join a Bike to Work Week team.

Now, after a really fun and eye-opening week, I’m considering adding a new activity to my routine: biking to work!

I loved the chance to dip my toes into the water when it comes to biking to work. I think that I’m ready to take the plunge!

Map of bike route.

Don’t let distance keep you down! Drive part of the way to your work site and then find yourself a nice, manageable route to start and end your day.

Here’s what I learned this week:

  1. Biking to work is a great way to get my (minimum) 150 minutes of physical activity as per the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines. My route took 10-15 minutes. Multiply that by 2 (it’s a return trip, after all!) and a week’s worth of bike trips brought me to 100-150 minutes of physical activity!
  2. Biking to work is quicker than I thought! Or maybe the issue is that driving isn’t quite as fast as I thought it was? I was surprised that I didn’t have to get up much earlier than usual (maybe 10 minutes to give myself a cushion) and didn’t get home noticeably later than driving days.
  3. Co-workers and others embrace (or don’t notice or remark on!) helmet hair!
  4. Hills can be tough, but people are very impressed when you tell them that your route includes a hill! Their oohs and aahs – along with my sense of achievement – more than make up for the sweaty brow at the top!
  5. Walking your bike up hills is allowed, of course!
  6. Don’t let distance keep you down! On some days, my commute is over an hour as I travel from Vanderhoof to Prince George. 100 km is admittedly a little far for a daily bike commute but I realized that just because I’m in my car, doesn’t mean I have to stay there! I threw my bike into the car, parked 5-10 km from the office, and got to enjoy a 15-minute bike ride to start and end my day! The same might apply for you! Do you live out of town? Drive in and bike the last few kilometres. Live on top of a hill? Drive to the bottom and start your bike ride from there!

So, what do you say? Will I see you on your bike this year?

Vince Terstappen

About Vince Terstappen

Vince Terstappen is a Project Assistant with the health promotions team at Northern Health. He has an undergraduate and graduate degree in the area of community health and is passionate about upstream population health issues. Born and raised in Calgary, Vince lived, studied, and worked in Saskatoon, Victoria, and Vancouver before moving to Vanderhoof in 2012. When not cooking or baking, he enjoys speedskating, gardening, playing soccer, attending local community events, and Skyping with his old community health classmates who are scattered across the world. Vince works with Northern Health program areas to share healthy living stories and tips through the blog and moderates all comments for the Northern Health Matters blog. (Vince no longer works with Northern Health, we wish him all the best.)

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6 tips to stay safe while biking to work

Two cyclists with bikes and helmets in front of workplace.

Biking to work is a great way to be active every day and reach the 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity that adults need every week. Follow a few safety tips to ensure that your commute is both fun and safe! Are you biking to work this spring and summer?

It’s Bike to Work Week all over northern B.C. and I’ve had a great time logging my trips as part of a team of cycling commuters from Northern Health!

It’s also been an eye-opening experience to see how easy and accessible cycling to work can be! To think that I’m staying active, reducing my environmental footprint, and arriving at work and at home energized without significantly adding to my commuting time is amazing! I’m thinking that this may continue well beyond just this week!

To help me and my fellow riders stay safe this week and into the summer, I chatted with Shellie O’Brien, a regional injury prevention coordinator with Northern Health. Cycling is the leading cause of sports-related injury so to make sure that I can take part in this great activity as safely as possible, Shellie provided some great safety tips!

Why is safe cycling important?

When done safely, cycling is a great way to get active and decrease environmental emissions. Following safe cycling practices, such as wearing a helmet and having a properly adjusted bike, means you and your kids can be safe on the road.

What can drivers do to keep cyclists safe?

Drivers should actively watch for cyclists – including shoulder checking before turning right and watching for oncoming cyclists when making left turns. Remember to always scan for cyclists when you’re pulling onto a road, like from a driveway or parking lot.

When you’ve parked, remember that opening your door can be a hazard. Watch for cyclists before you or your passengers open a door.

Bike to Work Week has great tips for drivers.

How can cyclists like me stay safe?

  1. Protect your head – wear a helmet. A properly-fitted and correctly-worn bike helmet can make a dramatic difference, cutting the risk of serious head injury by up to 85%. When fitting a helmet, use the 2V1 rule: 2 fingers distance from helmet to brow, V-shape around both ears, and 1 finger between chin and strap.
  2. Maintain your bike. Ensure it is adjusted to the recommended height for the rider, tires are inflated and brakes are working properly. The beginning of the cycling season is a good time to tune up your bike.
  3. Know the rules of the road. Use appropriate hand signals and obey all traffic signs. Always ride on the right side of the road, the same direction that traffic is going and stay as far right as possible.
  4. Use designated areas for riding when available. If designated areas aren’t available, choose to ride on streets where the speed limit is lower and where traffic is less busy.
  5. Be seen and heard. Wear bright reflective clothing. Ride in well-lit areas and use bike reflectors and lights if you’re planning to ride in low light areas. Ensure your bike is equipped with a bell to announce when passing, if not, use your voice!
  6. Be a role model. Staying safe is an important message to communicate with children. The best way to do this is to role model the behaviours.
Vince Terstappen

About Vince Terstappen

Vince Terstappen is a Project Assistant with the health promotions team at Northern Health. He has an undergraduate and graduate degree in the area of community health and is passionate about upstream population health issues. Born and raised in Calgary, Vince lived, studied, and worked in Saskatoon, Victoria, and Vancouver before moving to Vanderhoof in 2012. When not cooking or baking, he enjoys speedskating, gardening, playing soccer, attending local community events, and Skyping with his old community health classmates who are scattered across the world. Vince works with Northern Health program areas to share healthy living stories and tips through the blog and moderates all comments for the Northern Health Matters blog. (Vince no longer works with Northern Health, we wish him all the best.)

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