The Conservative Guide to Bike Commuting

It seems like most bike commuting articles are written like vegetarian rants; basically that everyone on earth should bike commute or they are terrible people. So for this week we’re switching from silicon tech to metal, rubber and lycra in our conservative guide to bike commuting.

Q: Should everyone commute by bike?
A: Probably Not.

Even though I know the joys and thrills that come with cycling and can not imagine a life without them, I’m also a realist. The bottom line is: most of us live quite a ways from work, our jobs don’t have places to park bikes or store our clothes and frankly, most of America is too out of shape to bike to work.

That being what it is, it is great for your health and longevity as well as for environment so if you’re considering it but aren’t a regular cyclist, here are a few tips to make sure that you don’t dive into the deep end and end up swallowing the pool water and swearing off bikes forever:

1: Make sure your bike is in good shape
Squishy tires, rubbing breaks and squeaky chains are a drag, literally. Make sure that your bike is in good condition before taking it out on the road. If your bike has been in storage for a year or more, have your local shop lube the chain and replace the cables for you. Make sure your tires are inflated to their maximum recommended psi.

2: Ride for fun first.
Take a weekend day when the weather is nice and you aren’t in a rush to ride around your neighborhood or park and re-familiarize yourself with the joys of biking. Pay attention to how you feel on hills and after riding for a while. If you’re finding yourself tiring easily you may need to get a few more miles in before you start doing it on the clock (and under pressure)

3: Do your route on the weekend
Riding your route on the weekend won’t give you a feel for navigating traffic, but it will give you a chance to pick the route you want to try. You will also have a chance to time yourself to know what your “best case” scenario is, as well as get a feel for your physical fitness and make sure you’ll be able to handle it.

4: Get good equipment
Cycling with your gear is HARD and you don’t want to show up at work soggy. Good clothes are expensive but worth every penny; they will keep pools of sweat forming and will allow you to dry quickly when you show up at your destination–often by the time you’ve walked up to the restroom to change. You may also consider wearing high performance shorts or pants over your aerodynamic cycling bottoms. Even if you’re already chiseled like a Michelangelo sculpture nobody at work really wants to see it.

5: Pay attention!
Remember that none of your car driving friends will remember you when you’re a cyclist. This means that they will be trying to run you off the road. Remember “defensive driving” from school? This goes double when you’re cycling.

6: Take it easy! (on the way to work)
A nice warm shower and dinner are waiting for you after your commute home, but you have nothing but a day of work waiting for you at the office, so ride as if this is the case. Pedal easy. Coast. Ring your bell. Have some fun. Cycling is a great meditative way to get you in a positive frame of mind for work.

7: Have your bail-out plan ready
In the world of cycling, flats happen. If you aren’t already an expert at fixing flat tires, at least have a plan in case you get one and can’t fix it. Many major cities have bike racks on buses and cities with subways will usually allow bikes in the last car. Have your public transportation card handy (or plan your commuting route so that you pass a bike shop on the way)

8: Please Don’t Store your bike outside
It breaks my heart to see bikes chained up on fences. It really does. The first time it rains you will have a rusty chain. The second time your bike is as good as useless as the cables will start to corrode and seize up. Unless you want to spend $80/month on bike shop repairs do yourself a favor and bring the bike inside.

Other notes:
– Panniers (pictured above) are great because they keep the weight off of your shoulders, help to keep your back dry, and aid in organization (eg: put your clothes in one and your office supplies in the other)
– Bike commuting doesn’t work well with spikey hairstyles. The more natural the hair, the less likely you’ll have “helmet head”

3 Thoughts to “The Conservative Guide to Bike Commuting”

  1. Just ran across this post. Great job, good tips!

  2. szavo

    Way to fill a niche. I hope your post made the rounds of the hard core bike commute bloggers. One additional piece of advice, or rather a caveat to your “panniers are a good idea” tip: Assess whether you will be carrying your bike up or down stairs during your commute (e.g., up to the train platform or down from your 4th floor walk-up). If your commute involves a lot of carrying, and your ride is not too long, it might be best to keep the bike light and where your gear on your back.

  3. nate

    Hey man , you are still rockin the breezer??? I went Fixie a few years back… we should ride sometime!
    _nate…a long lost room mate.

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