“To me, cycling is part of my DNA,” Mr. Bennett said in an interview from Tbilisi, Georgia, where he was overseeing investment in road construction. He travels with a bike that disassembles and fits in an average-size suitcase, or uses bicycles he stores at hotels he frequents. “Bellhops know when I’m coming and bring them to me,” he said.
The number of business travelers who bike is not tracked. But based on the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey data released last month, there was a 43 percent increase nationally from 2000 to 2008 in people who bike to work regularly, though the numbers are still small: 786,098 last year, compared with 488,497 in 2000.
Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists, said health, being green and, more recently, economics were among the reasons more people are cycling to work. Many riders are continuing the habit on business trips. “They don’t want to miss a day in the saddle if they can help it,” he said.
That was the case for Alison Chaiken, a software engineer in the San Francisco Bay area. “I usually bicycle commute and thought it’d be fun to do it on a business trip,” said Ms. Chaiken, who traveled to England last fall for Hewlett-Packard, then her employer. And, she said, it made sense. With no good public transportation from her hotel in downtown Bristol to the company site in the countryside, and her concerns about driving on the “wrong” side of the road, she biked the scenic Bristol & Bath Railway Path for the week. She estimates that she saved the company hundreds of dollars by not renting a car and avoiding the high price of gas overseas. And she skirted rush-hour traffic.
Recent efforts have made biking easier and safer. Hotels often offer bicycle rentals, and many American cities have created bike paths and lanes, improved markings on streets and installed bicycle traffic lights. And public-private bicycle sharing programs, based in large part on the success of European models, have begun or are in development in more than a dozen of the largest cities in the United States, Mr. Clarke said.
Most bicycle-sharing programs in Europe offer fleets of sturdy bicycles at multiple locations that are ideal for “for getting around town, from one meeting to another,” Mr. Clarke said.
But Eric V. Swanson, program manager for the World Bank, said he had trouble in Europe because the machines at the kiosks could not read his American credit card. “I became frustrated on several occasions,” he said. He was in Paris during the transit strike two years ago and “there were bikes in stands all over the city, and I couldn’t do it.” He ended up walking the three miles to his meeting and back.
Joshua Gaughen, who travels frequently as a government contractor, said he had faced hurdles as well in keeping up his bicycle habit. He said he stopped taking his full-size bicycle on airplanes because it was cumbersome and expensive. “It was just a nightmare,” he said. The bike case or disposable boxes he used had to be unpacked at the airport because they did not fit in the compact cars that the government required on business trips. For a business trip to Hawaii in March, it would have cost $450 to fly his bicycle from Virginia. He said he recently bought a folding bike that fits into a regular suitcase. “It’s really the only thing that allows me to keep riding,” he said.
Mr. Gaughen and others recommend that bicyclists research baggage policies in advance because there is a huge variation in what airlines charge to transport bicycles.
Some avid cyclists say that the bicycles available at hotels are often poor quality and unsafe, and that finding local bike shops that rent can be a challenge.
George Gill recalled trying unsuccessfully to rent a bike before a business meeting in Dallas several years ago. On the flight there, he remembers thinking, “There’s got to be a better way.” He said he wrote the beginnings of a business plan for a bicycle rental company on a cocktail napkin on the plane. Now the company, RentaBikeNow.com, offers a large selection of bicycles through local bike shops — from cruisers to carbon-fiber racing bikes — at an average cost of about $40 a day, in 181 cities in the United States and Canada.
But even if a cycling enthusiast finds a good bicycle, safety is an issue, particularly in some foreign countries where laws and customs can be quite different.
Jim Langley, an author and cycling expert, receives e-mail messages asking about the pros and cons of bringing or renting a bike, whether to bring a helmet or not, or how to ride without dirtying clothes. “Many see it as a hassle, but if they do their homework, it’s worth it,” he said. “It helps me feel more centered and sharper in meetings. And the fastest way to get over jet lag quickly is a one-hour bike ride. It just brings you back to life.""