ONE MONTH INTO 2012 AND I bet a number of you made a New Year’s resolution that involves getting more exercise. I wish you well and I hope you’re sticking with it. If you included cycling in your fitness plans, good deal. At the time of this writing, the mild winter has offered a lot of outdoor cycling opportunities, but indoors on a machine or trainer works if you want to avoid the cold. And if you decided that 2012 was going to be the year you get a bike and ride to work every day, I say, please don’t—not just yet. Let me explain.

Just like many other things we do to improve our health and well-being, bike commuting can be a huge lifestyle change. You have to consider factors like your work hours, getting ready for work, transporting clothes, and cleaning up. There is the travel distance, weather, and traffic to deal with. The success of your commuting experience relies on how well you handle all of these, which involves a lot of change. Don’t change too much too fast to become an instant bike commuter; instead, consider another approach.

I have coworkers, friends and relatives who, when commenting about my bike commuting, often say things like “I could never do that.” And I don’t even commute year round. (In the interest of marital harmony—Love you, honey!—I bike commute from March to October.) I know those of you who are regular bike commuters hear similar comments. People speak admirably about you but they cannot picture themselves doing that.

Thinking back, I did not set out to be a bike commuter. I am the happy victim of incrementally increasing fun. Twenty years ago, I had friends who rode mountain bikes. Hearing them talk about how fun their rides were got me interested enough that I bought a bike and joined them. At the time, I only lived a couple of miles from work so I thought I would try riding to work. I rode when the weather was nice and I took it slow to keep from sweating in my clothes. I only rode to work a few times a year and I enjoyed it very much. And I think that is what did it. In the beginning, I rode for the fun of it.

Learning to enjoy riding is the key to expanding the role of a bicycle in your life. If it becomes a chore or something painful, then you’re not going to look forward to it. If that is the case, how likely will you want to continue with it? Far too many bicycles end up disappearing behind stuff and collecting dust in a garage through no fault of their own. Do you know someone who bought a bike and had big plans but didn’t follow through with them? What happened to their bike? Yard sale?

Instead of jumping in with both feet, start out small and expand your riding as you have fun with it. Take a trip to a park. Go out with a friend. Take your bike to Summer Parkways or Spokefest. Check out a club ride. Run a light errand. One of my favorite rides is pedaling to an ice cream shop. Occasionally give yourself a treat. You deserve it.

And while you’re riding, take note of everything your senses notice that you would normally miss if you were behind the wheel of a car. It’s uplifting when people make eye contact and say, “Good morning.” See and hear children playing in their yard. Savor the aroma of a barbecue. Stop by a neighborhood lemonade stand. You never do that in a car, do you? A bicycle makes you feel contented and free. You’re part of traffic, but you’re not stuck in it.

Riding comfortably is very important so choosing a bike is a critical decision. Just like the clothes and shoes you try on before you buy, the bike needs to fit you. Your local bike shop is a great place to get help with fitting and making adjustments for your bike. If you get a knotted neck or a sore back from reaching for your handlebars, you will avoid your bike. If you cannot stand over your bike because the frame is too tall, a very painful experience is in your future. Once that happens, you will avoid your bike. You don’t want a bike that hurts you. You want one that beckons to you. One that says, “Let’s go outside and play!”

Enjoy every opportunity you have to ride your bike. Over time, you will be doing longer rides, buying other gear, riding in bad weather, carrying stuff in panniers, wearing appropriate clothing for different conditions, and more. And before long you will tell someone that you ride to work every day and they will say, “I could never do that.”

You can then reply, “It’s easier than you think. I started out just having fun. And that’s all I’m doing now.”