Bike Commuting 101
This entry was posted on February 28, 2013.
Bicycle commuting can be intimidating for new riders. Because of concerns about safety, weather, proper equipment and arriving at your destination sweaty, most people stick to their same old travel methods.
They are missing out! Bike commuting is not only a great method of transportation, it’s a great way to explore the area you live, get exercise and fresh air, and reduce your environmental impact. With the proper preparation and the right equipment, bike commuting is easy and fun. Let’s dive into some of the important considerations.
Choosing the right cycle is an important part of having a good commuting experience. While any bike could work for commuting, ideally you want an efficient cycle that has fender attachment points to keep mud off, rack mount points to carry pannier saddle bags, good handling for city streets, and comfortable geometry.
Most commuters prefer either a road bike with drop handlebars -- which is the most efficient and fastest option -- or a specially made commuter bike with medium-size tires and a flat handlebar. Many riders also use mountain bikes, but these will be less efficient and are not ideal for longer distances.
Check out our Bikes 101 guide to learn more about the different styles of cycles on the market.
Choosing the right path to your destination is a critical and often-overlooked part of bike commuting. Many novice riders fail to consider alternate routes and take the main roads towards their destination. This is a great way to scare a person away from riding, as the arterials and busy streets frequented by car are often the worst route for cyclists.
Before you take your first commute, consult a map and plan your route. Try to avoid busy streets as much as possible (after all, on a bike you go about the same speed on a side street as on a main road). Consider weaving through neighborhoods and using trails and alleyways to connect your path. On a bike, the safest and most relaxing route is usually the quietest one.
Check out our Bicycle Safety 101 guide for more information about choosing a good route and riding in a safe manner.
Having a good set of cycling clothes will increase your comfort greatly. While padded spandex bottoms are ideal, many riders can get by with close-fitting athletic clothes. If you plan on riding in the wintertime or in the rain, it is important to have raingear, gloves, and insulating layers, preferably layers that breathe well or can be quickly and easily slipped on and off.
Specially designed bike clothing provides the best performance for riding with features like extra-long back panels to accommodate your bent-over position, but any sportswear will provide better performance than casual clothes. Try to avoid cotton clothing except in the summertime, as it will trap moisture and make you cold. Wool, silk and synthetic fabrics are best.
You can learn more about cold-weather cycling clothing here.
Make sure you have a good bike helmet as well - it is one of your most important considerations for safety.
If you ride in the wet season, or even when the road is damp, it is important to have fenders on your bike. Good bike fenders will intercept mud and water flung off your rotating wheels that would otherwise end up on your back and neck.
Most bicycles have mount points for fenders, but many road bikes don’t have enough clearance between the frame and the tire to allow a full coverage fender inside. Talk to a bike shop representative before you purchase fenders to make sure they will fit your bike.
Most bikes also have mount points for a rear rack (some include front rack mount points as well). A rack allows you to mount panniers (saddle bags) and strap other gear on top, and is indispensable for riding. Cycling with a backpack for more than a mile or two is a very bad idea, as it compromises your back and can lead to discomfort and even injury over the long term.
Most serious commuters use a rack, but some prefer backpacks made specifically for bikes. Messenger bags, as they are called, are an option for those who prefer a bag that is easy to carry once their bike is left behind.
Panniers allow you to carry all of your belongings with little extra effort. Unlike a backpack, which can be very uncomfortable while riding, pannier bags actually add to the stability of your bike by lowering the center of gravity. Ideally, weight in pannier bags should be distributed equally between both sides, especially if you are carrying more than 10 or 15 pounds of gear.
Most commuters use pannier bags to carry a clean set of work clothes, shoes, computer, a lunch and any other work supplies they need. Some riders can also use a shower at their work to clean up before commencing their day, and carry a set of toiletries for the purpose of cleaning up.