Jun 07, 2012 • By

Missed bus leads to year-round bike commuting

For a handful of intrepid employees at General Mills, bicycling season never ends. I became one of these year-round bicycle commuters almost by accident on a cold January day in Minnesota – my first day as a new associate marketing manager at our headquarters, in 2010.

So, on this Bike to Work Day, allow me to look back at how I became hooked on this healthy habit.

Before starting my career at General Mills I did not expect to be a bike commuter. My first day, I planned to take a bus, but misjudged the schedule and ended up watching the bus pull away from the stop without me.

Rather than wait 20 minutes I decided to brave the cold and take my bicycle instead. Two winters later I still ride my bike three miles (one way) to work at least four days a week, 12 months a year.

For me bicycling to work is all about easy exercise. According to the International Bicycling Fund, the average person can expect to lose 13 pounds of body weight during their first year of bike commuting if they maintain the same eating habits.

It’s more convenient than joining a sports team, going to the gym, or training for a marathon. The same 15 minutes I would spend sitting in a car instead becomes 15 minutes of exercise and enjoyment.

One of the many benefits of working at General Mills’ Minneapolis office is easy bike commuting. Locker rooms and showers are unique examples, but there are many other perks. My favorites are covered bike racks, our exercise incentives, and the friendly and active Bike & Tri Club.

(A few of the employees who biked to work at our headquarters on June 7)

And last but not least, our Minneapolis community makes bicycling more safe and accessible with more than 130 miles of trails and bike paths.

Some have rated Minneapolis the No. 1 bicycling city in the U.S.

General Mills’ support for bike commuters is most visible every spring during Bike to Work day when veterans and first-timers fill up the bike racks.

Our Bike & Tri Club helps first-time commuters find the best routes and even organize bicycling caravans led by veteran cyclists. We hope to break our participation record by getting 160 bicyclists to the main office today.

Riding to work certainly does not require extensive planning, but a little preparation helps.

  • First, make sure your bicycle is functioning properly. A carbon frame and titanium spokes are not required, but working brakes, freely rotating pedals and inflated tires are recommended.
  • Second, find a good route. Most commuters will use a combination of bike trails and surface streets. Others opt for hybrid commuting modes, including driving part of the way or using public transportation in order to ease access and reduce distance.
  • Third, decide what to wear. A helmet might be the only bike-specific gear you need. For my daily ride I simply wear my work clothes (including my dress shoes) and use a Velcro strap around my pant legs to keep from getting grease on my slacks. I manage to stay clean and sweat-free without too much effort.

During the winter months riding a bicycle in Minnesota can also be fun, but it requires a little more preparation.

When my co-workers discover that I bike in winter their top question (after “Are you crazy?”) is, “Do you use snow tires?”

Not only do I use different tires in winter, I also use a completely different bike in the winter. I set it up specifically for winter commuting. The tires are hybrid-style, which means they are wider and knobbier than typical road tires.

I also have a flashing light mounted to the front and back to increase visibility to drivers who may not be expecting to share the road with a cyclist on snowy mornings in January. My winter bike is also worth less than $15, so I don’t mind the extra winter wear and tear from snow and salt.

With a scarf, gloves, and a knit hat under my helmet I stay reasonably warm and enjoy the thrill of biking through the occasional snow storm — sometimes even keeping pace with slow-moving cars jammed up in winter traffic.

Bicycling is one of my favorite activities. Whether it’s June or January, it brings a smile to my face.