Improve Your Bike Commute

  1. Get a bike. You don’t need a high-end road bike, or even a new bike, to ride to work. What you do need is something that is safe, comfortable and suits your circumstances. Feel free to dust off your old mountain bike in garage, or hunt around some online classifieds. But, if you find something old or used, it might be worth having a bike mechanic give it a quick tune. It doesn’t take much to get a bike in working order-and you can always invest more later on. I bought my bike a few years ago. It’s a flat-bar hybrid with lots of gears. I didn’t bother investing in a superlight frame, as my daily lunch and clothes-plus fenders, lights, paniers, etc.-weighs me down anyway. The result is a hearty bike that’s comfortable, carries all my gear and rides well on almost any city road. With any type of bike, it’s worth planning proper security. At home, I park in a secure underground area-making sure to lock my frame and both wheels to a solid bike rack. At work, I bring my bike into the office where there’s very little risk for theft. The only time I leave it unattended in a public space is in front of a grocery store-where I’m careful to lock it securely and remove all components.
  2. Dress for weather. I’ll admit to being a bit of a fair-weather rider. I haven’t spent much time cycling in the rain or in the dark, and I’ve rarely ridden during the coldest winter months. My first bike commute this year took place March 1. It was early for me. Temperatures were just above freezing, and the shift in Daylight Savings the following week left me cycling in the dark each morning. I learned quickly to dress for warmth. The first part of my ride is mostly downhill, which means I don’t have the opportunity to warm up. When it’s cold, a pair of long underwear under some light pants make for better temperature control, and a shirt with a high neck helps protect vulnerable skin from sharp winds. A light hood also fits beneath my helmet when it’s cold and tucks into my collar when it’s warm. Gloves are a great addition all-year round-although, especially when it’s freezing or wet outside; good blood circulation and grip are important for competent braking and shifting between gears. I also keep a light rain jacket handy at home, and make sure to pack it when the forecast calls for wet weather. It’s light and breathable and doesn’t keep me completely dry-but it’s much better than being soaked to the bone. I always assume I’ll arrive to work either doused in mud or bogged down in sweat. To avoid a hypothermic and soggy day at work, I bring a full change of clothes and a towel. I also keep a spare set of shoes and all my hygiene supplies at my work desk. To make sure my clothes, lunch and anything else I bring to work doesn’t get wet, I also ride with waterproof paniers. They’re a bit more pricy, but if you live in a place where it rains a lot, well worth the money.
  3. See and be seen. Being (or not being) visible is my biggest concern on the road. I always pack at least two lights-one front, one rear-in my bag for riding in the dark. When I first bought them, the guy at the shop asked me, “Do you need to see or be seen?” At the time, it was obvious: I needed both. In hindsight, seeing has not been an issue when it’s dark. I typically ride on city streets, where there is plenty of illumination from streetlights, vehicle headlights, storefronts and other public lighting. The illumination from my headlamp is hardly noticeable. It’s a much different situation when riding dark trails or rural roads at night-and if this is the case, I recommend using several lights for a wider field of vision. Where I really value having lights is in being more visible to traffic. I always ride with both lights, front and back, set to a quick, attention-grabbing strobe. Eye protection was also something I never considered when I first started biking to work. I’ve since come to value wearing glasses in the city and especially during dry dusty summers. They’re a huge help in keeping dust and dirt particles out of the eyes-and avoiding red itchiness that can last for days. Eye protection can also keep the rain from flying in your eyes when it’s wet. Most of the time I ride with just a set of prescription glasses, but I’ve considered buying some wrap-around glasses or goggles.