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With all the responsibilities we have, finding enough time to ride can be difficult. Commuting to work or school by bike can be a great way to spend more time in the saddle, especially considering that part of that time would be spent commuting anyway.

I started bike commuting several years ago after my first trip to Moab where it took me 5 1/2 hours to complete the Slickrock trail. I was seriously out of shape, and the only cure was to ride more. Combine that with $4 a gallon gas at the time and a paved bike path taking me to within several blocks of work, and bike commuting was a no-brainer.

Often the hardest part of bike commuting is getting started. But once you establish a good route and invest in a few items to make the ride go smoothly, you’ll forget about that old gas guzzler and will be amazed at your fitness after just a few short weeks. Here are a few tips to get your wheels rolling.

Route Finding

The way you bike to work may or may not follow the normal car route. Google Maps has a cool ‘bicycling directions’ feature that can give you an overview of your planned route, but dont trust it implicitly. Once you have a general route, do a weekend test ride. This will help you make any adjustments to your path plus it will give you an idea of how long the ride will take.

Clothing and Equipment

A few people ride in their work clothes but for myself and others, this isn’t the best idea due to sweat issues. I wear the same thing I would wear mountain biking and carry a change of clothes with me. I wear cleated bike shoes that look casual/outdoorsy but you could also leave a pair of street shoes at work. Some folks use a backpack to transport work stuff but depending on how much stuff you have, this can get heavy. If your bike has the tabs for it, consider getting a decent pannier rack or, if you don’t need to carry a laptop, a simple ‘trunk’ type bag should work. If you do carry a laptop, check out something like the Cannondale Cypod.

Safety

Keep your bike well maintained and adjusted and carry tools and spares for basic repairs. Most of us commute in areas with excellent cell coverage so remember to pack your phone in case your bike becomes disabled. As for vehicular traffic, ALWAYS assume that drivers dont see you and/or dont understand who has the right of way. Malicious drivers are pretty rare, but I see dumb things on my commute all the time.

Lights

Even if your schedule keeps you well within daylight hours, having lights is still a good idea so that motorists can see you. There are a number of inexpensive headlights and ‘blinky’ taillights on the market designed specifically for commuting. If you already have lights for night mountain biking, you could use those as well (though some may be heavy and/or bulky).

The Bike

At first I used my only bike, a hardtail mountain bike, for both mountain biking and commuting. While any bike will get you there and back, hardtails, ‘cross bikes, and road bikes are definitely better suited to the task. I have since upgraded to a full suspension ride, but I kept my old hardtail and turned it into a fully rigid, dedicated commuter.

Bike commuting isn’t nearly as much fun as hitting the dirt, but as a way to get in those extra miles it’s a great alternative to sitting in traffic. Just look at these two photos and decide for yourself.

photo right: by MSVG.

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# Comments

  • nanook

    Be careful! If you start commuting, you might find yourself starting to run everyday errands on you commuter bike as well! Now that I have a decent commuter setup, I find I am much more likely to ride to the supermarket, hardware store, or other shops. Last week, I even rode to the DMV to renew the registration on my car!

  • dgaddis

    I miss being able to commute on my bike. At my old apartment/job I had a nice low traffic 8 mile route, with showers at work. But now I live further away, and wouldn’t feel comfortable commuting, the roads are twisty, rural, higher speed traffic, and very very dark. Since I’m at work before 7am, that would mean needing to be on the road at 6am, when it’s still dark. Just too risky.

  • maddslacker

    @dgaddis, yeah, I’m really lucky that the Denver Metro area is committed to bike travel.

    @seenvic, I’m not sure what you mean…

  • seenvic

    Must be my computer screen. Everything is coming across as purple but I think it is black. The tires and fork look purple on my screen. I am sure they are black. The red bike is coming across as pink.

    So I am looking at a pink and purple commuter bike and was thinking the color scheme must be the security system.

  • BUDDAH

    I have to agree with the title “Bike Commuting Steps Up Your MTB Game”..
    I commuted to work last year for 8 weeks up until my bike got stolen. It really helped my MTB game because the cardio I was getting from riding 18 miles round trip was increasing my lung capacity, strengthening my legs(as I rode uphill home), help build stamina and endurance which helped me ride harder and longer on the dirt. It help with climbing up on singletrack which I was extremely happy with cause I sucked at climbing(not that I like to climb but I am better at it..LOL). I wa commuting on a fully rigid old skool MTB with slicks on it but now I am (can’t belive Im goona say this) actually looking to get me a road bike for commuting on…
    Go way to be green as well and great saving on gas which can go into my Teocali… 🙂

  • trek7k

    Agreed. The strongest mountain bikers I know also commute on their bikes. Some of these guys compete in ultra endurance events and you wonder how they have the time to train… until you realize they ride twice a day on their way to work and back.

  • maddslacker

    That was the big thing for me. When I first commuted it was 40 mins by bike, or 25 mins by car. So I was really only gone from the house 30 extra mins, but getting in an 80 min workout!

  • benuntu

    I’ve been commuting by bike for a little over a year now, and it has definitely improved my trail rides. I still ride about twice each week on the trails, which is about the same as before commuting. However, I feel that I retain a lot more of that fitness gained on my longer 2+ hour trail rides. It keeps up my metabolism, burns calories, and keeps me in better overall shape between the long rides.

    And if that weren’t good enough, I sold my car, put $6,000 in the bank, and bought a brand new road bike for commuting and longer road rides. I’m also saving about $200 each month in gas, insurance, maintenance, vehicle reg fees, etc. The longer I commute by bike, the more I wonder why it took me so long to do it!

  • kingerik

    You can really step up the game depending on your location. Commuting year round up here in Minnesota means you get some very technical terrain – even though the pavement is down there, there’s a lot of ice, slush, snow and other debris that makes things more interesting. Definitely helps to be in cycling-friendly areas though!

  • roliryka

    Maddslacker, I can vouch for your 5 hour plus slickrock ride. I was waiting at the end hoping the vultures hadn’t found you! I’m sure your commuting has helped you make great strides in your endurance. Another commuting option for those of you who need your cars at work, such as salesmen like myself can commute 1/2 way each day. I live 30 miles from my office and will load my bike up along with the next day’s work clothes and drive to work (usually Monday), then I commute home that night, often branching off on detours and making a good 50 mile route out of the trip. I then ride straight back to work Tuesday morning where my car and clothes for the next day are waiting for me. This way I get 60-80 miles in over the 12 hour period. I find my road bike is a great tool to stay in shape for those weekend mountain bike rides!

  • joetutt

    Nice write up maddslacker! Funny, I’ve been seriously thinking about buying a bike for commuting to work. Everyone says why not get a road bike? I feel like I’d be conditioning myself better for the trails when on a MTB. When I was younger I road biked a lot (150miles a week). A skinny tire road bike is obviously much easier to ride, less roll resistance, better aerodynamics, etc, but if I’m gonna do it I’d prefer to better condition myself for the trails. Plus, it’s a great excuse to tell the wife why I NEED a 29er!

  • Goo

    Great article maddslacker! The picture at the bottom is awesome, great comparison! Bike commuting is something that I’ve always kind of wanted to do, but I’ve never taken the plunge and committed to it. I think it has something to do with how much I hate riding FS bikes with 5+” of travel on the pavement.

    I’m getting a 29er HT sometime this spring though… maybe that will make all the difference!

  • maddslacker

    @roliryka, you can also vouch that the next time it was 2 hours 45 mins, *with* the practice loop added on!

    @joetutt, I almost bought a road bike for commuting, but I found the old hardtail to be well suited. It can haul a ton of crap, and I don’t have to hop over every little crack in the pavement. Definitely get urban tires though. I have the now-discontinued Bontrager Comfort Hard Case.

    @Goo, a 29er hardtail would be PERFECT.

  • Goo

    Good to know! I think I’ll get it right as the temps begin to get comfortable… I think I’m going to just have to dive in and start riding everywhere!

    BTW, how long is your commute?

  • maddslacker

    It has gone from (all one-away) 10 miles, to 17 miles, back to 10 miles and I start a new job Monday and it will be 6 miles, less if I cut across the park by my house.

  • Goo

    Dang, yeah, that was quite the commute! 6 miles is still pretty solid.

  • maddslacker

    To be clear, the ‘new’ job is a former employer that I’m going back to. But I have moved and I live closer now. It was the place I worked at when I first started bike commuting.

  • saminguz

    Great article and inspiration. After moving to the Metro DC area i only had a hard tail with fat tires. Solution – spare wheels with semi slick 1.5″ tires, cheaper than a second commuting bike. Only 1 puncture in 18 months of riding the detritus filled gutters of NOVA/DC – I’m considering converting my commute wheels to tubeless. I have adjusted my route over time starting with the most direct 17 mile each way and now drive in bike back, and ride in drive back over 2 days twice a week. This means i always have a car at work should i need to leave in a hurry or weather closes in too much. The route has changed somewhat now i have realised how bike unfriendly American roads can be (I’m a Brit) and my ride home is 24 mile when the traffic is bad as i stick mainly to trails (mostly paved) and quieter routes.
    The key is preparation and having the right clothing. You don’t have to have the latest cycling garb, but ensure you have wicking under layers and a windproof/waterproof shell. I prefer bright clothes and you can’t have too many lights. I usually have red lights on the bike, my helmet, camelback or daysack, ankle and use my MTB lights in strobe mode on the front unless i’m deep in trails. I’ve cycled in all temperature ranges and rain and only stop when it’s too windy or snow makes the trails too difficult. Ultimately i find myself less stressed when i get home, get fitter enjoy my off road time more and feel better connected to the outside world.
    I’ve now gone FS with my son hijacking my HT so i lock out the forks, pump up the rear can as if i was a clydesdale and leave it in propedal – where there is a will there is a way!!!!!!

  • AK_Dan

    Great post, sorry I missed it when it originally went live- I was probably doing that work thing myself. I keep an old Starbucks Rockhopper equipped with road friendly tires for all things asphalt. I find myself urban riding more and more these days and that’s a very good thing. Like all the other replies here the added work out of just spinning some cranks for a while when hitting the trails isn’t really an option is paramount for keeping the endurance level up. One of these days I may live in one spot and actually do the ‘commute’ thing.

    I like Nanook’s reply; ‘rode the bike to the DMV to renew his car registration‘. Every bicycle advocate in the world would smile over that one.

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