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5 Tips: Commuting by Bicycle

This article was published on May 16, 2011.

Today is the first day of Bike To Work Week. If you've been considering riding your bicycle to work (or to school), you may be intimidated, even if you're an experienced recreational rider. These 5 Tips show you some of the things you'll need to think about to prepare for commuting by bike, and hopefully help you get over some of the hurdles.

1. Choose to make a commitment to bike commuting, but don't go overboard.

An important step to achieving any goal is to make a mental commitment to it. But the first step is to set a realistic goal. You don't have to give up your car cold turkey. Maybe start by promising to ride your bike to work one day a week. Later increase that to two or three days a week. That gives you some flexibility to adjust your biking schedule based on the weather and how you feel.

The weather is always a big concern for aspring bike commuters. If you really want to be committed, follow this rule: Decide to ride first, then check the weather to decide what to wear. If you check the weather first and it looks iffy, you're more likely to back out of riding that day. Regardless of what the forecast says, be prepared for any conditions. If it's warm when you start, pack extra layers in case it cools off. When it's cool, dress in layers so you can peel them off if it warms up.

Biking is supposed to be fun, so don't feel guilty or beat yourself up if you miss a day of riding. You deserve a break once in a while to avoid burnout, and you'll make up for it later. If you get in a riding day here and there, you'll start to enjoy it more and more. Before you know it, you'll be looking for more excuses to ride, rather than excuses not to ride.

2. Consider durability over speed when selecting your bike and gear

A lightweight racing bike may get you to your destination faster under the best of conditions. But commuting on a day-to-day basis will inevitably find you riding in less-than-ideal weather. Plus, your schedule might not let you keep up with the necessary maintenance on your bike as well as you'd like. Choosing a heavy-duty bike that can stand up to some abuse might keep you on the road more in the long run, instead of leaving you stranded by the side of the road with a broken spoke, busted shifter, or loose brakes. You might also consider heavy-duty tires and tubes that resist punctures better.

If your commute does not involve any steep hills, you might also consider a single-speed or fixed-gear bike. By removing the complexities of shifters and derailleurs, you remove a couple of potential points of failure.

Using a lower-end bike for you daily commuting also has the side benefit of making it less attractive to potential thieves who might be lurking in your parking area.

3. Do a dry run on a day off to scout out your route.

On your first day of bike commuting, if you just hop on your bike and go without any prior experience, it's sure-fire way to be late for work, and invite other unexpected frustrations that will make you less likely to want to bike to work again.

On a weekend or some other day off, do your ride from home to work to scout the streets and roads that you'll have to take. Look for alternate back streets that might provide just as short a route, but take you on roads with less car traffic. Look for ways around problem spots, like certain multi-way intersections that can be more dangerous than others, roads with less-than-ideal shoulders, and roads with more than the usual number of potholes.

Of course, doing this test-ride ahead of time also gives you an idea of how much time you'll need to allow yourself to get to your destination.

Ask for route suggestion from neighbors, friends, or co-workers who bike. Use maps and online resources such as Google Maps (now with Biking Directions). But remember that any resources can be out-of-date, so do a sanity check (even by car if necessary) before committing to any particular route.

4. Prepare your commuting gear the night before

Getting ready for a bike ride to work takes a little more time than the usual routine of showering, dressing, and driving. To avoid a last-minute rush in the morning (which can more likely lead to forgetting something), get all of your stuff ready the night before:

  • Pack up your change of clothes and your spare riding clothes.
  • Do a quick safety check of your bike.
  • Make sure your lights have good batteries or are recharged (and pack a spare set of lights just in case).
  • Pump up your tires; the amount of pressure they might lose between the evening and the next morning won't be significant.
  • If you pack a lunch, do it the night before, so you can just grab it from the refridgerator and go in the morning.
  • Set your helmet, gloves, and cycling shoes near your bike.

5. Check out the numerous other bike commuting resources available

These 5 Tips are just the beginning. As mentioned before, asking friends who ride is one of the best ways to find tips, as well as build your confidence. Stop by your local bicycle shop and ask for their advice. There are tons of resources available on the Internet to assist you with planning your bike commuting, such as online discussion forums, plus these additional articles:

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