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The bike-to-work alternative: Save money and stay fit
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Safety is another big issue. Per kilometer traveled, a cyclist is 12 times likelier than a car occupant to be killed, according to a 2003 American Journal of Public Health. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's most recent numbers show that there were 773 cyclist fatalities in 2006, up from from 732 in 2001.

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Bicycling necessities
First and foremost, you'll need a bike. It doesn't have to be expensive, but it does need to fit you and be durable enough to survive a regular commute.

But don't assume that bikes are cheap. Prices vary. You can pay a couple hundred dollars for a used, inexpensive road bike or more than $10,000 for a road racer like Lance Armstrong's. Most people can find a new bike -- mountain or road -- for generally between $500 and $800, though you may be able to find cheaper models at discount stores.

Some people use modified mountain bikes without suspension, a cross or hybrid bike (which combines the characteristics of a mountain bike with a road bike), or a touring road bike. Town cruisers generally aren't built for speed or for long commutes but for riding around town. They're souped-up versions of the bike you rode as a kid, but with a big plush saddle and usually one or three gears. Fancier ones have exotic paint jobs, chopper handles and other gimmickry. Electra carries a line of town cruisers, from a basic model to fancier ones.

When in doubt about what to buy, ask a more experienced cycling friend or get advice from your local bike shop. Also, even if a less-expensive bike isn't perfect for commuting, you may want to use it for a while before you invest in something pricier.

You'll also want to look into what tires are best for your commute. Knobby mountain bike tires increase traction but will create too much friction and will slow you down. They are overkill on city streets. While knobbies are out, so is their polar opposite: thin, light race tires. Instead, strike the middle road. Try to get a sturdy, non-knobby road tire that's not too skinny. Remember to replace tires every 1,500 miles or so or as they become worn.

In addition to a bike, you may want fenders to protect yourself from water or mud splatters, a bell to warn people of your approach, a mirror (mounted on your helmet or on your handlebars) and a bike lock if you will be parking your bike in an unattended area. If there's a chance that you'll be riding at night, you'll need reflectors on your bicycle. Bike lights are also a good idea and are often required by law for night riding.

You also have to figure out storage on your bike. You'll need a place to stow your emergency equipment -- hand pump, tire irons, tube -- as well as anything else you need to bring to work, such as a change of clothes or files. Probably the lowest-cost way to go is to use a spare backpack, if you have one, or a large fanny pack. Hydration systems also usually offer some storage. Most bikes can be equipped with panniers (saddle bags which affix to a rack mounted in the rear or over the front tire). A large basket mounted to the front may suffice.

As gas prices continue to rise, you'll likely see more and more bicycles on the road. Just about anyone who knows how to ride a bicycle can use one to commute to work, even if only occasionally. It can also be a great way to decompress after a hard day at work.

Preston of the League of American Bicyclists, says, "Just do it. People make it a lot more complex than it needs to be. You don't have to buy a lot or do a lot to start commuting by bicycle."

Next up: "12 steps to get your bike commute started"

Freelance writer Jenny McCune is president of the Gallatin Valley Bicycle Club in Bozeman, Mont. She owns two mountain bikes and two road bikes, including a Trek Madone WSD 5.2 with a carbon fiber frame and Shimano Ultegra components, an investment of about $3,000.'s corrections policy -- Updated: May 13, 2008
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