Basic Tips for Commuting By Bike
There are few greater joys for a cyclist than watching car commuters lurch along in bumper-to-bumper traffic while you casually pedal home from work. Instead of adding to life’s aggravations, commuting by bike melts away work day stress. For those new to bike commuting, here are some helpful tips to get you started.
Commuter Bike: As the name implies, this is the ideal bike for commuting. Popular in Europe and Asia, these bikes are known for their comfortable, upright riding position. They are typically outfitted with conveniences such as fenders and a chainguard to keep you clean and dry on wet roads; a rack or rack mounts for your bags; and extra safety features like a bell, lights and reflectors.
Road Bike: Built for speed, road bikes are lighter, have narrower tires, drop handlebars and smaller seats. This is the perfect choice if you need to ride long distances in a short period of time, but road bikes typically lack cargo-carrying capabilities.
Mountain Bike: Designed for off-road riding, mountain bikes have knobby tires that provide great traction on dirt, but are less efficient on pavement. If you’ll be using a mountain bike for commuting on paved streets, consider swapping out the knobbies for a pair of semi-slick tires to lessen rolling resistance.
Comfort Bike: Think beach cruiser and you get the idea. Comfort bikes are just that – comfortable. Expect a wide, comfortable seat; relaxed, upright riding position and enough gears to pedal up small hills. If your commute is short and not too technical or hilly, a comfort bike is the perfect choice. On longer commutes, comfort bikes may be too heavy and slow.
Single Speed / Fixed Gear Bike: Single speed or fixed gear bikes are the pinnacle of simplicity. In the last decade these types of bikes have become more and more common place in cities every where. They are typically either road or track bike frames with a single chainring in the front and a single cog in the back, with no gears or derailleurs. With fewer moving parts, maintenance becomes pretty straight forward, since there are fewer things to break. Single speed bikes generally have a freewheel cog in the back that allows the rider to coast while riding. Fixed gear bikes have a fixed track cog in the back with no freewheel, so the rider can not coast (the cranks are always moving). Some bikes come with a "flip-flop" hub that has a freewheel on one side, and a fixed cog on the other. These simple machines allow for endless customization to make your bike your own. For hilly areas, some riders may find the lack of gearing options a challenge, and learning to ride a fixed gear bike in particular can have a pretty steep learning curve.
FINDING THE BEST ROUTE
Even in your car, the freeway is not always the best way to get around. Over the years you’ve probably found some short-cuts to avoid high traffic areas during rush hour. These alternative routes are likely good candidates for your bike commute. It’s also worth checking with you local parks or transportation department to see if they produce a bike route map.
Another strategy is to head out on your bike over the weekend and explore. Traffic patterns will differ some, but you can still find out which roads have bike lanes or ample shoulders, and which are not cyclist-friendly. Also be on the lookout for side streets, bike paths and trails that can be worked into your route. If you have friends who commute, find out which routes they use. Even if they don’t start their ride from the same neighborhood as you, they may be able to provide advice on areas closer to your destination.
No matter which route you choose, remember that cyclists bear the same responsibilities as drivers. Use hand signals to make others aware of your intentions, and always ride with the flow of traffic, not against it or on sidewalks. And of course, always wear a helmet. It could save your life.
CARGO CARRYING OPTIONS
Unless you want to spend your entire workday in your cycling clothes, you’ll need to figure out how to get a change of clothes to the office. If you plan on riding to work every day, consider bringing in clothes for the week on the Friday before. That way you’ll have everything you need when you get to work. If you don’t have extra storage space, then you’re going to need a way to carry things on your bike. Here are some options:
Panniers: Often the best cargo carrying option because they mount on your bike, using panniers means you wont be restricted as to how much you can carry on your back and still ride comfortably. Panniers also lower your center of gravity, providing a more stable ride. To install them you’ll need a rack and compatible bike frame.
Rack Trunks: A great option if you don’t have much to carry, or if your commute is short enough that you can ride in your work clothes. Rack trunks are the perfect size for toiletries and a pair of shoes. You can also combine them with panniers to increase cargo-carrying capacity. As the name implies, you will need a rear rack to mount the trunk, so make sure you have a rack-compatible frame.
Backpack: Depending on your packs size, you should have plenty of room to carry a change of clothes, toiletries and your lunch. If your commute is long, make sure your backpack provides plenty of support by way of a chest strap and waist belt.
Messenger Bag: These versatile bags are built for on-the-bike cargo carrying. Most have ample room for clothes, shoes, a lunch and even a laptop. And the single shoulder strap design makes it easy to dig out your wallet when you stop to grab a coffee without taking the bag off.
WHAT TO CARRY
Aside from your work attire, always carry a pump, spare tube, multi-tool, and light set. To make sure you’re prepared, consider laying everything out the night before, so you don’t have to spend valuable morning time getting things together. If your commute is particularly long, pack a snack so you don’t bonk. No matter what time of day you commute, always have a front and rear light with you. Even if you think you'll only be riding in daylight, it's always good to be prepared. To find the light that's right for you, click here check out our light article.
Leave Early: Barring the unforeseen, riding to work will take about twice as long as driving. Make sure to leave early enough that you have plenty of time to get to the office and get cleaned up and changed.
Find Partners: See if you can convince a few co-workers to join you. Riding with friends is fun, and cars are more likely to see a group of riders.
Keep a Log: Track your miles ridden and you’ll see just how much you saved in gas, and how many calories you’ve burned.
KEY COMMUTING STATS
- Using a bicycle to commute four days a week for four miles (one-way) saves 54 gallons of gas a year. (1.)
- The energy and resources needed to build one medium-sized car could produce 100 bicycles. (1.)
- Cars and SUV’s account for 40 percent of daily U.S. oil consumption. (2.)
- Traffic congestion wastes three billion gallons of gas a year. (3.)
- It costs about $50 to build and maintain one space in a bike rack and $500 for a bike locker, yet one car parking space in a parking structure costs about $8,500. (1.)
- Eugene, OR, Bicycle Map, American Lung Association, Oregon Traffic Commission, Association of Commuter Transportation, American Automobile Association, City of Eugene.
- Associated Press
- 30 Simple Energy Things You Can Do to Save the Earth. Los Angeles: South California Edison, 1990, p. 11.