Getting started with bike commuting is no different than making any other life change such as diet, exercise, or New Year resolution: we start with a lot of enthusiasm, only to find that it can be very hard to muster day after day as we yearn to settle back into comfortable habits. The secret is to set your biking goals to set yourself up for success from the get-go.
We’ve been trained that to make progress we need to set goals, sometimes very big ones. This seems like a good thing, but not when you consider that goals place our focus on a picture of the future, causing us to feel inadequacy in the present, and and a gnawing sense of failure if our progress is not consistent.
Overly rigid biking goals can do exactly that. For example, take a goal like this:
“I will ride my bike to work every day starting this month, no matter what, rain or shine (or black ice)!”
Unless you are already fully committed to a car-free lifestyle, there are several things wrong with this goal:
- There is no middle ground: it’s either complete success, or it’s a failure. If anything comes up (and you know it will), you have failed.
- There is no way to redeem the failure. If for some reason you cannot, or choose not to ride on a given day, you have already failed for the whole year.
- In the case of black ice, trying to meet your goal may actually prove dangerous.
So instead, why not set modest and incremental biking goals, which have some very tangible benefits. They are easier to reach (and rejoice in incremental progress) and easier to modify in case you discover things you might not have anticipated. They let you build on small successes, and reaching them gives you a sense of accomplishment, and may encourage you to pursue more ambitious goals.
You could set a small, modest goal like this:
“I will ride my bike x-number of miles this year.”
This type of goal has some advantages:
- It is not one-size-fits all solution. Unlike the number of days in the year, the mileage goal is flexible.
- It can be broken up into manageable monthly, weekly and daily chunks.
- You can exceed you goal! If you exceed it temporarily, it’s easier to forgive yourself if you fall behind another time.
- Conversely, if you’ve fallen behind, you haven’t failed. You can simply catch up in a week or a month.
- Partial success is possible. 800 miles out of a planned thousand is a worthy achievement.
Don’t ruin the joy of your biking experience by setting overly rigid goals. Especially if you are a relatively new cyclist. Focus on small victories and modest goals that will enhance your enjoyment of cycling. Like these:
- I will keep my biking stuff in one place, so it’s convenient for me to hop on my bike when I feel like it.
- I will make a list of places that are easy for me to get to by bike, and try to ride there whenever I can.
- I will have my bike tuned, and learn how to do a safety check, so that I know my bike’s ready when I am.
- I will challenge myself a once or twice a month to do a bike ride that tests my comfort zone (longer distance, challenging terrain or weather, heavier traffic, etc.)
- When making my daily transportation choices, I will consider my bike as a viable option.
Finally, decide in advance how you will deal with any obstacles, such as inclement weather, feeling tired, running late, etc. If you don’t take obstacles into account ahead of time, you may be tempted to turn each obstacle as an excuse not to ride as it comes up. That’s a slippery slope: once you make one excuse, it’s easier to make another. However, if you have a strategy and a set of rules for dealing with less than ideal situations, you’re still sticking to the plan. For example, I ride in the winter, but not when there’s accumulation of ice and/or snow. Because this is my pre-determined rule, I don’t have to beat myself up if I choose a different mode of transit on a snowy day.
The best tip I have for riding a bike — and eventually increasing the frequency of your biking trips — is to bike when you want to. Make it fun. Bike when the weather is nice, and when you know biking will make you feel good. Build on that. Better to rejoice in riding a couple miles than to feel guilty about not biking at all.