Switching Gears: More Commuters Bike To Work Cycling has at least tripled over the past two decades in big cities across the U.S. And researchers have found that the cities with the highest rates of walking and cycling to work have lower obesity rates.
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Switching Gears: More Commuters Bike To Work

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Switching Gears: More Commuters Bike To Work

Switching Gears: More Commuters Bike To Work

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More and more adults are getting their exercise riding bikes. And in some cities - like Minneapolis, Portland, Washington, D.C. - they're biking to work. Consider our colleague, White House correspondent Ari Shapiro. He sometimes shows up to work here at MORNING EDITION after biking through the middle of the night.

Researchers at Rutgers University say the number of cyclists commuting in these cities - Washington, D.C., Minneapolis, Portland - has tripled in the last couple of decades.

NPR's Allison Aubrey takes us to a workplace where dozens of cyclists commute.

ALLISON AUBREY: The headquarters of National Geographic is in D.C., just a few blocks from the White House. And as I learned a few weeks ago, it is full of outdoorsy, adventure-seeking types who think nothing of biking busy city streets.

(Soundbite of bell ringing)

Mr. JOHN FAHEY (CEO, National Geographic Society): We try to obey the traffic laws and stay, you know, on the right side of the streets.

AUBREY: That's John Fahey, the boss at the National Geographic Society, the CEO. He's an avid biker, and one of the ways you can get to know him - even if you have just an entry-level job - is to take him up on his lunchtime offer to ride.

Mr. FAHEY: Anyone else downstairs? Okay. So we ready to go, guys?

AUBREY: It's one of the last warm, sunny days of fall, and about 20 staffers have turned out. Some have racing bikes. One woman shows up on a banged-up 10-speed, trading high heels for sneakers. And then there's staffer Susan Straight.

Ms. SUSAN STRAIGHT (National Geographic Society): I haven't ridden as much lately, and I'm on probably the slowest bike out here. I'm on my old mountain bike.

AUBREY: She won't break any records today, but that's not the point. John Fahey says he's just trying to encourage a little exercise, and he likes getting to know folks informally.

Mr. FAHEY: What happens is, I find out sort of what the scuttlebutt in the hallways is. And sometimes, it's totally ill-informed and sometimes, it's spot-on. But it's really good to know what people think.

AUBREY: Most of the writers here use their bikes to get to and from work every day. Photo editor Dan Westergren has been biking in for 19 years. He says he has noticed a biker boom in D.C.

Mr. DAN WESTERGREN (Photo Editor, National Geographic Society): Yeah, there's definitely a lot more people riding in.

AUBREY: His daily commute is about 12 miles a day, to and from home. And when he adds in a few lunchtime rides with the boss, Westergren says he doesn't need a gym membership to stay fit.

Mr. WESTERGREN: Really, to build it into your daily routine by commuting -for me has always just been the best thing. And when the kids were little, I never had time to go out and recreationally bike ride. And it was really important to bike ride, so commuting became the way that I just ride all the time.

AUBREY: It's always easy to skip the gym or an exercise class, but if your bike is your one way home, you don't have much of a choice, even if there are a few drawbacks, says Julia Yordanova.

Ms. JULIA YORDANOVA (National Geographic Society): In the winter, it's just gross, sometimes, with the ice.

AUBREY: Then you have to fit in a shower at the office, says Barbra Noe.

Ms. BARBARA NOE (National Geographic Society): You're just trying to hide, like, the bike grease on your calf as you're sitting in a meeting or whatever. So...

(Soundbite of laughter)

AUBREY: But hey, if the office culture tolerates a little sweat on the brow or grease on the calf, take it as a sign of good health. That's the way biking researcher John Pucher, of Rutgers, sees it.

Professor JOHN PUCHER (Rutgers University): Most people understand that walking and cycling is healthy, but they don't think of this as something they could integrate into their daily lives.

AUBREY: His studies actually show that cities with the highest numbers of active commuters have significantly lower rates of chronic diseases - for instance, 25 percent fewer cases of type 2 diabetes. And National Geographic's John Fahey says: Who doesn't feel invigorated after a bike ride?

Ready to go?

Mr. FAHEY: Fantastic. A beautiful day for a ride, and I couldn't ask for anything more.

Ms. LORI EPSTEIN (National Geographic Society): The more fresh air we get, the happier we are. I mean, it's a no-brainer.

AUBREY: And Lori Epstein adds: What boss doesn't want that?

Allison Aubrey, NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)


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