It’s easy to see why 60 percent of employees at SRAM in Chicago bike to work. Its office overwhelmingly caters to bike commuters needs — offering 400 spots for their 150 employees to park bikes, a place to wash and repair bicycles and locker rooms for sweaty riders to shower in.
“It’s removing any barriers for why someone might say, ‘Oh, I can’t ride to work,’ ” explained David Zimberoff, the bicycle part company’s vice president of marketing.
Fewer than 10 percent of employees drive to work, and no one rents a parking spot in the basement garage. The culture at the company completely turns on its head the traditional American commuting experience. While the number of commuters traveling by bike doubled in the last decade, it is still only 0.6 percent of U.S. workers.
Zimberoff said SRAM sees itself as an example for what other workplaces should do. Cycling and transportation experts agree, saying offices generally aren’t doing enough to aid bike commuters despite the benefits the mode of transit brings.
“The good [office] examples are the exception, not the norm,” said Greg Billing, the president of Washington Area Bicyclist Association. “Our job will be done when biking is unremarkable — when you don’t have to make a scene about how to deal with your bike when you get to an office building.”
Commuting by bike guarantees an active lifestyle, leading to health benefits for riders. Employers that help cover health-care costs benefit too. One Dutch study found that cyclists were less likely to call in sick to work than non-cyclists.
The importance of a range of transportation modes, cycling included, was highlighted this week as Washington, D.C.’s Metrorail system was shut down for 24 hours Wednesday, leaving commuters scrambling for alternate ways to get to work.
“It’s so important that we have a complete transportation system,” Billing said. “When we have options, we’re a more resilient city.”
He cited the World Bank as a D.C. company that’s stood out for being friendly to bike commuters.
Many World Bank employees come from Europe, where bike commuting is more prevalent than the United States. Their presence has helped build a grass-roots push to be a bike-friendly workplace, according to World Bank environmental specialist Adam Rubinfield.
The World Bank has locker rooms and 500 indoor parking spots for cyclists. These have grown in recent years as the organization sees more commuters taking bikes.
Now the World Bank is looking at what it can do an advocacy front, pushing for bike-friendly roads where its employees commute.
For employers, bicycles can be parked at a workplace at a much lower cost than cars. And when commuters choose a bike over a car, bus or train, less pollution is generated. Research has shown that creative potential is higher after exercise, meaning employees who arrive on a bicycle are positioned to perform better than other employees.
For employers to enjoy all of these gains would require workplaces to adapt. Kevin J. Krizek, a University of Colorado professor who studied efficient and sustainable transpiration sees an “enormous amount” of room for improvement in how U.S. workplaces welcome cyclists.
First, he said workplaces should embrace flexible attire — allowing employees to wear clothes that are comfortable to ride in.
“As Americans we have a hard time showing up to work having just biked in sweaty,” said Krizek, noting how our cultural norms are different than in Denmark and the Netherlands, two hotbeds of bike commuting. “If employers want to increase their accessibility to a higher qualified work force, they can offer a greater, more balanced transportation portfolio.”
Second, have locker rooms on site for commuters to shower and change in. Third, offer indoor and secure bicycle parking in a convenient location, not tucked away at the bottom of a multi-story garage. There should be signs, which clearly mark for visitors where available bike parking is according to Billing, the president of Washington Area Bicyclist Association.
Tim Blumenthal, president of People for Bikes, argues that urban workplaces have no choice but to cater to cyclists, given the limits of city infrastructure.
“We’re adding 2½ million net new Americans every year and a lot of them want to live in cities. This is making our cities more crowded and congested,” Blumenthal said. “We don’t have much more room or money to build our way out of it with new highways. We’re going to have to think about transportation choices.”