Safety Publications/Articles


The bicycle flight instructor

Pedaling with class

Everything is wrong with a CFI biking to the airport. No student wants to sit shoulder-to-shoulder in a 152 with a sweaty guy in a T-shirt. And where's the aura of authority and professionalism when your client drives up in a BMW only to see you locking up your dusty Schwinn? Then again, you got to park right at the door.

My wife and I only have one car. This works because the Portland, Maine, airport is only three miles from my house and only 4.5 miles from my downtown office. When I head out to the airport to fly with a student, I'm almost always on my bike.

Why not just get a second car and be done with it? Because I like a challenge and I'm a Yankee cheapskate. Knowing that fellow instructors aren't people to shy away from challenges, and that many seek out the value packs of Soup-in-a-cup to stretch the lunch budget, perhaps sharing a bit of two-wheel travel tips would be helpful.

The three big challenges to making things work as a bicycling CFI are sweat, nice clothes, and showing up on time.

Granted, I live far enough north that a flight into Canada barely counts as a cross country, but it still gets hot enough to make sweat--and the accompanying B.O.--a real issue in the summertime. If your school or FBO has a shower in the pilot's lounge, that's a no-brainer. But what if it doesn't?

Step one is to keep cool on the ride over. Do what you need to keep the en route sweating low. I'll ride in 50-degree weather with a T-shirt on but with a hat under my helmet and gloves on. The worst sweating is usually right after you stop riding. Head straight to the restroom and put a wet, cool towel (even paper towels work) on your forehead and the back of your neck. This will often stop the worst sweat from forming.

It's amazing how much you can clean up with just a sink and a small towel. (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was right that a towel is the most useful thing you can carry.) Of course, a little Speed Stick is helpful too, just the way breath mints are if you drink coffee.

Cleaned up, you'll make your swap to professional clothes. Even if you think you can ride in your CFI duds, have a spare set ready. Dirt happens on the road. Investing in a pannier that hangs on the side of the bike and carries things can be a good move. A backpack works, but it makes your back sweat more, which can bleed through to the clothes inside, and...well, you can see where this is going. Panniers also let you carry odd-shaped items like headsets and shoes without them digging into your kidneys.

The quick shower and change mean planning to show up early. You'll need to time your routes to the airport and see how long it takes to get there. Get a map or use Google Maps to grab a birds-eye view of the area. Often the best route on your bike is not the one used in a car. I cut five minutes off my ride and avoid the busiest road by taking a back route that's a dead end for a car, but lets me bike through on a short sidewalk section.

Hedge your bets too by knowing how to change a flat tire. Don't bother patching a tire on the road, either. Just get a spare tube to toss in there and pump up. Fix the flat after the lesson is over. Like any good pilot, you'll want a backup plan too. For me it's a cab ride or our bus system that parallels my route. (I have yet to need it, although on a rainy day I have negotiated to use the car.)

I won't dwell on safety gear--helmets, lights, and the like--here, but remember you project an image in everything you do. You can't espouse safety in flight and ride home after a night cross-country with no lights or reflective gear.

We all may have different reason's to bike to the airport. Maybe it's for exercise. Maybe it's to save a few bucks on gas--or because you don't have the bucks to put new tires on the car. Maybe it's to placate a tiny bit of environmental guilt from the 38-gph takeoff and initial climb in a client's SR22 Turbo.

Maybe it's just because you can always park right in front.

Jeff Van West is a flight instructor in Portland, Maine, and editor of IFR magazine.

By Jeff Van West

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