Wheels of Fortune

Biking to work fattens your wallet and slims you down. It’s also easier than you think

Illustration by Jason Schneider

On my first morning as a bike commuter, I made it the 11 miles to work—Pasadena to Rosemead. It was exhilarating. Everyone at my office was so happy for me. I raced out the door at the end of the day, expecting to fly home, but I crapped out at one-and-a-half miles. The problem? My return trip is from the floor of the San Gabriel Valley to the foothills. It was 90 degrees outside and uphill the whole way. No wonder the ride in had been so easy—it was downhill! So I hopped on the bus to get home.

But each day I’d pedal a little farther before getting on the bus. When I’d hop on, the driver would say, “You again?” By the three-month mark, I made it all the way home. One time, the bus driver saw me on my bike and honked his horn. Everyone on the bus cheered.

The key to bike commuting is to make sure that cars see you. I have lights in front and back, always signal my turns, stop at all stop signs, and make eye contact with drivers at a four-way stop. I ride three feet away from parked cars to avoid the “door zone.” I have rearview mirrors on both sides, so I don’t have to turn my head and take my eyes off the road. I take a smaller street parallel to San Gabriel Boulevard to avoid traffic.

Since I started commuting, I’ve gone down three dress sizes, from a 10 to a 4. My cholesterol has dropped from 200 to 160. Now that I am not closeted in my car, I have come to know my neighbors, like this older Chinese woman who can’t speak English and gives me pomelos from her tree. I also figured out that by commuting two days a week, I save enough gas money to be able to afford a new bike every three years. I just bought a road bike.

Williams, 39, rides one hour each way to work, two days a week. She began bike commuting in 2008.