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.
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.
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.
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).
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.