A Beginner’s Guide to Commuting by Bike
Let’s say you’ve had it with high gasoline prices, are not happy with riding buses and trains, and you want to try something new for your health. You are a candidate for commuting by bike! This may be to your job, school, or running errands. The health and environmental benefits of commuting by bike are well known and these new incentives may just push you to take action and try it out. It may take some experimenting to develop a new routine, but the following six tips will help to get you started.
1. Find your Motivation
It helps to keep in mind the benefits of commuting to work to keep your motivation up and remind yourself why you are doing it. Here are some reasons that you might want to commute to work on a bike:
Besides being mindful of the benefits of commuting by bike, a riding buddy can help with your motivation to keep going and to hold yourself accountable for riding on those days you might just slack off.
At one time or another challenges will appear that threaten your resolve to commute by bike. This might be inclement weather, impatient motorists, time constraints, and equipment malfunctions. It is during these times it helps to remind yourself of the benefits and joy you get by commuting by bike. This will keep you motivated.
2. Gather your Gear
You don’t need the latest high tech gear to successfully commute by bike but you do need some basics.
a) Bike - make sure the bike you will ride to work or school is safe to ride with fully functioning brakes and gears and is adjusted to fit you. If you are going to ride a bike that you recently removed from storage it is a good idea to take it to a bike shop first for a tune up. Make sure your tires are inflated properly and your bike lights are charged.
b) Helmet – a helmet is essential to protect against any impacts to your head.
c) Clothing – dress in layers ideally with clothing that wicks the moisture away from your skin. Select clothing with bright colors and reflective fabric. If you live in an area with cold temperatures, invest in a jacket, hat, scarf, and gloves.
d) A way to carry gear – obtain either a back pack or a rack on your bike along with bike bags. You should use these to carry your essential gear such as wallet, cell phone, keys, bike lock, work computer and papers, lunch, snacks, and change of clothes.
e) Bike lock – invest in a sturdy lock, preferably the ulock or "D" style, made of hardened steel that locks at both shackles. Take steps to protect your wheels with a cable or wheel locks so they cannot be easily removed by a thief when you are out of sight of your bike.
f) Lights – if your ride starts early in the morning or ends at dusk be sure to carry a front and rear light to see and be seen.
If you make a long term commitment to commuting by bike there is some optional gear that will enable you to be more comfortable on your ride. The money that you spend on these optional items will be cost effective over the long term due to the money that you save on gas, auto maintenance or public transit fees. Items in this optional category are fenders, tools for fixing a flat, a bell, and clothing that keeps you warm and dry.
Prepare your workplace for your bike commute by stashing extra clothes, toiletries, a towel, and snacks in your desk or locker. This will eliminate the need to carry these items back and forth and it will be comforting to have them available when you need them.
3. Plan Your Route
In an ideal world you would bike to work or school on a dedicated bike path for your entire commute. Unfortunately there are only a few cities around the world where this infrastructure exists so you will need to plan ahead the route you will take. It may be worth going extra miles to avoid a street with heavy, fast traffic. The shortest route may not be the safest. When selecting your route select low traffic streets or those with striped bike lanes or bicycle facilities whenever possible. Be aware of any road closures and construction that may delay your ride.
4. Have a Contingency Plan
There will be days where weather, issues with your gear, schedule, or energy level make it challenging to bike so develop a plan in advance for those days you do not bike. Options include taking public transit, carpooling, driving a car, or having a backup bike in case of equipment problems. If you decide you just don’t want to ride that day, don’t ride. There is no shame in missing a day.
5. Brush up on Safe Cycling
Rules and regulations that apply to cyclists vary by municipality so take the time to become familiar with them. A simple Google search on bike commuting will result in a lot of good information or you can visit the site of the League of American Bicyclists or your state advocacy organization such as Ride Illinois for information about your area. In general, safe cycling best practices include:
a) Being predictable
b) Avoiding biking on sidewalks
c) Taking the lane when the situation warrants it
d) Using hand signals
e) Watching for car doors and pedestrians
f) Ditching the headphones
6. Embrace Continuous Learning
No matter how much you plan there will be times when things do not go as planned. You may forget your shoes, arrive at work late, wet, cold, or hot. Learn from these mistakes and resolve to do better next time.
If you start small, i.e., commute one day a month or a week, and then add additional days as you develop more experience your newly formed bike commute habit will stick with you. Commuting by bike gives you a sense of confidence and achievement that will serve you well in other parts of your life. Ride safe and strong.
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