I’m a newbie bike commuter, and a big chicken: in Toronto, I’ll only cycle on dedicated bicycle lanes. Luckily, if I tack on an extra eight kilometres to my commute, I can ride to Benefits Canada HQ almost entirely on bike paths. So two or three days a week, I’ll lug my rust-speckled clunker off the porch and get my heart rate up before I’ve checked my email. And that, science says, is good for both my cardiovascular health and my employer’s bottom line.

Read: 5 ways to encourage healthy choices 

A 2010 study looking at 1,236 Dutch employees found that those who cycle to work take one fewer sick day each year than their peers, and those whose bike commutes are longer than five kilometres take even less time off. Plus, biking to work saves employees time (no more rushing to the gym after an hour of sitting in traffic) and money (pedal power is cheaper than both bus fare and gas), and a 2013 systematic review found outdoor exercise boosts your mood.

So how can employers encourage staff members to clip on their helmets and pedal to work?

The basics

“What we have mostly focused on is getting good infrastructure within UHN so people can actually bike to work,” says Lisa Vanlint, energy steward at the University Health Network in Toronto. “It doesn’t sound very exciting but this is what really facilitates [bike commuting.]” So the UHN, which has 700 employees in its Bicycle User Group, installed secure bike racks at many of its hospitals and research centres, as well as three air pumps for filling up unexpected flats.

“The other thing too is there’s showers and lockers right next door [to one bike parking lot] so that allows your colleagues to like your bike ride as much as you do,” Vanlint says.

Read: Transat strives for sustainable commuting 

Don’t forget that all-important bike route, especially for cyclists who aren’t quite spandex warriors, and share maps of nearby bike lanes. Vanlint recommends the Ride the City app, which is available for six Canadian cities and lets users toggle between safest, safe and direct paths when planning their commutes.

The knowledge 

“A big part of it is also education and encouragement,” says Megan Fitzgerald, a transportation planner at the City of Surrey in British Columbia. “There’s this idea, often, of if you build it, they’ll come, right? But what we found is by offering cycling education workshops to our employees, bike maintenance workshops, free of charge to our employees, and organizing events like Bike to Work Week commuter stations, it helps create a little bit of excitement for our employees.”

UHN also offers bike education, both in-class seminars for safety tips and popular hands-on lessons “where you learn how to actually diagnose your own bike, how to make sure your wheel is on straight, how to grease/degrease your chain, sometimes how to tighten your chain, how to check your brakes, things like that,” Vanlint says.

Read: Help your employees save

Surrey tries to encourage employees to try biking to work, even if it’s not their regular commuting style. “So it’s about helping employees realize, hey, you could maybe bike one day,” Fitzgerald says. “Or you could bike one day, one way, and put your bike on the bus, and then four days a week, drive to work. It’s not an all or nothing. It’s finding a combination of commuting options that work for you.”

The perks

UHN is considering subsidizing employees’ memberships to a bike-sharing program as part of the overall compensation package. A recent poll suggested staff would be very interested if the price could be brought down to $50 a year, though “not many wanted to pay the full amount.”

The network is also part of Smart Commute, a program in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area that encourages sustainable methods of getting to work. One of the program’s initiatives is its Emergency Ride Home program, which covers cab rides home if an emergency arises for an employee who cycled — or ran or carpooled — to work in the morning.

Cycling can also encourage workplace friendships, even across business hierarchies, says Fitzgerald. “One of the really cool things about commuting culture here at city hall is that it’s not just your average employee — it’s also senior management who is cycling as well,” she says, pointing to Surrey’s general manager of planning, head of transportation engineering and a human resources executive who all bike commute on a regular basis. “So there are all these different role models whom people can look up to and get advice.”

May 30 is Bike Day in Canada.

Read: UHN nurtures healthy healthcare provides

Sara Tatelman is an associate editor at Benefits Canada.

Copyright © 2017 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com

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