When Johns Creek resident Eric Asberry decided he needed to get into shape, he chose biking to work as an alternative to the gym. Now, more than a year later he's dropped 75 pounds.
Asberry answered some questions from Patch about his motives for hopping on his bike and the benefits to himself and the environment.
1. How and when did you come about the idea for biking to work?
Last April I found myself tipping the scales at just under 300 lbs. I have a pretty sedentary job and knew I needed to exercise. I had joined a gym but found it really difficult to motivate myself to go consistently. The idea of bike commuting really appealed to me because I've always actually enjoyed biking, and making it part of my commute made it easier to incorporate exercise without it seeming like an extra chore. So far it has really paid off. I have still have more weight to lose but I'm down 75 pounds, and without having to take any medication any longer, my cholesterol levels and blood sugar levels are normal (I'm also a type 2 diabetic, and rode 66 miles in the Atlanta Tour de Cure this May).
2. What is your route like?
I don't take the most direct route to the office because the shortest route isn't always the most bicycle friendly. I ride through neighborhoods where I can, but unfortunately a lot of them aren't connected. I ride on Jones Bridge, which at least part of the way has bicycle lanes, though I get the impression sometimes that a lot of drivers aren't aware of them or what they're for. I also ride on Webb Bridge which is a designated bicycle route, and I'm also able to take the Big Creek Greenway for part of my route. I never ride on sidewalks. Some people think that's where bikes belong, but generally its actually illegal and is really unsafe for the cyclist and pedestrians, especially if you are riding at any kind of decent speed.
3. Do you bike to work every day?
Yes. I started off doing two or three days a week, and at first, it was always a decision I had to make: "Am I going to ride today?" But gradually it became an automatic, everyday thing. That works well for me because if I don't have to make a conscious decision each time to exercise, I'm less likely to talk myself out of it. If I have some kind of errand I have to do on a certain day where I have to have a car, I'll drive, but that only happens one or two days a month, at most. I also take my bike for errands like picking up a few groceries. I have some larger panniers on the back rack so I can carry quite a bit.
4. Tell me about the Clean Air Campaign rewards program.
It's a great incentive! If you are currently driving alone every day, you can sign up for the "Cash for Commuters" program and earn up to $100 for your first 90 days. For ongoing clean commuters (like me), every time you log your clean commute on their site you get entered into a monthly drawing for a $25 Visa gift card (I've won twice!) They also have gas card programs for people who carpool, and even a "guaranteed ride home" program if you have to leave work early and don't have a way to get home.
5. How do you think more people could be encouraged to bike to work?
People need to just give it a try. You don't have to make a huge commitment upfront. You don't need a fancy $2,000 bike; a lot of people commute on basic mountain bikes with backpacks. Riding on the streets can seem intimidating at first, but you can do test runs on the weekend before you try your first official commute and figure out routes that might be longer but more pleasant. Just start out doing one or two days a week and see how you like it.
6. What was your family's reaction to your decision to start biking to work?
When my mother-in-law heard that I was doing it, she asked my wife "Does his MOTHER know?" That still makes me laugh every time I think about it. They (along with my wife) worry about me some, but they have been very supportive about it, especially since they know it has really improved my health. My wife is especially concerned in the winter when I end up riding a lot in the dark. She said she wants me lit up like Christmas so I actually put some battery powered Christmas lights on my bike in December.
Like any choice we make in life, there is risk involved, but I feel like I was taking a lot bigger risks with my general state of health before I started doing this. It was a little scary at first, but most drivers are pretty accommodating. Every once in awhile a driver will honk or yell something obnoxious at me, and I just give them a friendly wave, which thoroughly confuses them. I remember being cranky when I was cooped up in a car, too.
7. What do you do if inclement weather strikes?
I get on my bike and ride! I've only commuted through one winter so far, and it was relatively mild. I did learn a lot about layering, though. When it's 30 degrees, it's not that bad to walk in, but when you are riding a bike, the wind chill effect really starts to kick in! I've told myself that if there's snow or ice, I will skip the bike ride. But for rain, I throw on a rain jacket and go anyway. Honestly, on a hot summer afternoon, I often wish for a rain storm just to cool down.
8. How do you think your decision benefits the community?
By riding my bike, there's one less car causing congestion and wear and tear on the roads, not to mention pollution. My health is much better, so I'm not having to make health insurance claims I might otherwise have to. By starting my day off with exercise, I'm wide awake when I get to the office, so my employer gets a more productive employee. Since I work and do a lot of riding in Alpharetta, I've become active in Bike Alpharetta which has led to doing volunteer work for the community that I otherwise wouldn't have done.