Saturday, May 30, 2009

Baby on Board: Pregnancy and bicycle commuting

Image of a pregnant cyclist in Copenhagen
The following was edited out of the manuscript of my book, The Bike to Work Guide: What You Need to Know to Save Gas, Go Green, Get Fit. The question of bicycle commuting while pregnant has come up occasionally from site readers. Comments and suggestions are welcome.

While pregnancy is undoubtedly a time when women need to pay close attention to their bodies and use some caution in their physical exertion, it’s a complete myth that pregnant women shouldn't exercise and continue healthy activities they enjoy. Safe exercise throughout pregnancy offers many benefits to both expectant mother and child, including increased blood flow, greater oxygen delivery, stress reduction, endorphins, improved mood. Maintaining physical fitness improves a woman's stamina during delivery and speeds postnatal recovery. If you can continue to work during your pregnancy, you can make your trip to work by bicycle.

Bicycle commuting can be a particularly healthy activity for expectant mothers, even up to the week before giving birth. Of all the exercises a pregnant woman might choose, cycling is among the best because of its smooth motion and it doesn’t require lifting, jumping, or sudden stops. The level of exertion can be varied, making it easy for a cyclist to lower the intensity of her riding as her pregnancy progresses. Possibly the only physical activity more suitable for pregnant women would have to be swimming.

Before embarking on any exercise during pregnancy, it’s important to consult with your obstetrician or midwife. Your caregiver should be completely involved in helping you design an exercise regimen that will be to your benefit. As long as your pregnancy progresses normally and you have no prior health concerns (such as a history of problems during pregnancy), a caregiver may encourage you to stay active with moderate exercise such as bicycle commuting.

The key to any exercise during pregnancy is not to overdo it. It’s fine to exercise as often as you normally would, but it’s best to keep the intensity level slightly lower than usual. For instance, while you may normally aim to keep your heart rate at between 70 and 80 percent of maximum while exercising, during pregnancy it’s best to keep it between 60 and 70 percent. Be sure to drink lots of fluids, take frequent breaks when pedaling, and avoid overheating.

Continue to be cautious when returning to biking after giving birth. While you’ll no longer be riding for two, you still need to keep your body well nourished, especially if you plan to breastfeed. Don’t be in too much of a rush to lose the extra weight you may have gained over the past months--it will come off steadily if you eat properly and continue cycling.

Your suggestions for happy bicycle commuting while pregnant?

Image: Web capture.
Visit: Can pregnant women safely ride bicycles, San Francisco Chronicle
Visit: Pedaling Pregnant, San Francisco Bicycle Coalition
Visit: Bicycling and Pregnancy, American Pregnancy Association
Visit: Biking with a bump: Should you ride while pregnant?, BikePortland.org
Visit: Preggo Velo, Tot Cycle Family Cycling
Visit: Riding while pregnant, MotherNature.com
Visit: Bicycle travel, with kids too!, Bike Commute Tips Blog
Visit: Bicycling Safety Considerations for Women
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Out of excuses: You—yes, you—can ride your bike to work

Image of MUNI bus in San Francisco with Bike to Work Day ad
From GreenRightNow.com, 05.13.09:

Paul Dorn knows that getting Americans to ride a bike to work instead of driving a car is quite the uphill battle. Even on a good day, he says, only a tiny percentage of the nation’s commuters use pedal power to get to their jobs.

He remains undeterred.

Given that this is national Bike to Work Week, it’s an apt time to pick Dorn’s brain on the subject. Between co-authoring a book (The Bike to Work Guide: What You Need to Know to Save Gas, Go Green, Get Fit) his bike commuting advice Web site and his commuting tips blog, he is well-versed in the subject.

"I'm fairly typical of most Americans in the sense that the day I got my driver's license, the bike went into the garage. I didn't really touch it again until my mid-30s, when I was living in San Francisco, and didn’t have a car," he said. His frustrating mass transit commute took 90 minutes. So he hopped on a bike, cut the commuting time in half, felt healthier, stopped paying bus fare and just generally started having more fun.

Of course, starting out in San Francisco helped. It’s a generally bike-friendly city, and Dorn...found a supportive cycling community to tell him about equipment, routes to avoid traffic and other advice. (Read more.)
It's Bike to Work Day in many cities across the U.S., including the San Francisco Bay Area. (BTWD in Sacramento is May 21.) This extensive article offers insights--many of them mine--into bike selection, bicycling safety, and advocacy for complete streets.

Bike to Work Day has been an effective promotion, encouraging commuters to reconsider their default transportation mode. A major challenge facing many prospective bicycle commuters is what we might call (with a nod to James Howard Kunstler) the "Psychology of Previous Investment."

Motorists have made a huge investment--social, psychological, emotional, and financial--in their automobiles. "I love my car" or "My car makes me look hot!" They've made payments on car loans and auto insurance. They are afraid of diminished social status: "Jeff's not driving, I wonder if he lost his job?" The characters on their favorite TV dramas and sit-coms drive; their friends, family, neighbors, coworkers, everyone drives. Cars evoke nostaglic memories; our parents took us on car trips, not bicycle tours. There's also the perception that bike commuters are either eccentric geeks or low-income transients. It's not mature or grown up.

Our entire culture has been built around the automobile. While the rest of the world built transit and high-speed rail, we built freeways and parking lots. In much of our country, it is truly unpleasant to walk or bike to destinations, which in sprawling suburbs are often separated by long distances and dull numbing strip mall streetscapes. In short, our public policy for the past 60-70 years has discouraged walking, transit use, or bicycling.

It's a challenge to consider shifting to bicycling.

Bike to Work Day is effective at raising awareness, as individual commuters and as citizens in a culture long-dominated by the auto-petrol industrial complex. BTWD offers a "safe" day to try bicycling, makes us confront our transportation reality, and causes us to examine our real options. And a few of us will try bicycle commuting, and possibly continue with it. Happy Bike to Work Day.

Image: San Francisco Bike Coalition.
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site