Bike Commute Tips Blog
Commute by Bike
Ken Kifer’s Bike Pages
League of American Bicyclists
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I want to share some things I've learned from my bicycling experiences. I invite you to share your tips in the comment section. Bike commuting is a great way to lower your carbon footprint, get some exercise, save money on gas, and improve your life.
- Got bike? If you don't have a bike, it's hard to start commuting by bike. For good tips on what to look for, check out my sweetie's guest post on buying a used bike. If you have the money to go buy a new bike, make sure to shop at a reputable bike shop rather than the big box stores so that you get a good bike put together by qualified mechanics. For those on a budget, check yard sales, ads, and craigslist for additional gear. (Don't buy a used helmet, however.)
- Wear a helmet. Serious brain injuries can occur even in accidents at very slow speeds. Replace your helmet after a crash even if it looks perfectly fine. Its ability to protect your head will be compromised, and it's just not worth risking your brain.
- Comfort counts. If riding is uncomfortable, you will be less likely to choose the bike over the car. Get a seat that works for you and make sure your bike is adjusted for your body. Here is just one example of how to adjust your bike fit.
- Always lock your bike. You always lock your car when you leave it, so why wouldn't you do the same for your bike? If your bike is your ride, you don't want to come out of work, a store, or even your home to find it missing. Buy a quality lock and use it.
- Always take water with you. Even a short trip may take longer than you expect if you get a flat tire. Some metal water bottles will fit in a bike's bottle cage and some now even offer a sport top for active people.
- Know your local cycling laws and obey the rules of the road. Some communities provide a handout of this information, often available at local bike stores. Here are the bicycle traffic laws for Tucson.
- Find a good route. The safest route may not necessarily be the one with the shortest distance. Check with your local bike shop for maps and suggestions.
- Plan ahead. Biking may take longer than driving and you need to allow time to lock up your bike at your destination.
- Allow time to change clothes and clean up at work. If transporting your work clothes in good condition is impossible by bike, consider driving in every Monday with a week’s worth of work clothes. Bring the dirty clothes home on Friday in a bike bag.
- Learn to repair a flat and change a tire. You'll save money and time if you know how to deal with your own flat tires. Carry a small bike pump, flat tire repair kit, and spare tube with you. If you get a lot of flats, consider sliming your tubes or buying flat-resistant tires.
- Get out there and ride. No amount of reading can substitute for experience.
Tips for Carrying Stuff
There are plenty of ways to carry stuff on your bike. Some are fairly low-cost while others require more of an investment. How much you need to carry will determine your needs. I recommend against hanging bags of groceries from your handlebars, though, as this makes the bike less stable.
Don't forget to check thrift stores, ads, yard sales, and craigslist to find these options used.
- Backpack - this option lets you take everything with you at each stop. The disadvantages are carrying weight on your back and sweat soaking your shirt.
- Rack - mounting a rack over the rear wheel provides a platform for carrying stuff, as well as a place to attach other options. Versatile.
- Bungee cords - great for securing stuff to racks. I keep a couple on hand most of the time, just in case.
- Rack bag - a specially designed bag that attaches to the rack to hold your stuff. They are not all that big, but there's enough room to toss in a change of clothes or a bag of groceries.
- Baskets - wire baskets often hang off the rear rack, providing a place to just toss your stuff and go. Bungee cords are handy for taller items. Some baskets also fold flat when not in use, a nice feature for crowded bike racks.
- Panniers - these soft bags also hang off the rear rack but are easily removed at your destination. Made with a variety of materials. If rain is possible, be sure to select a waterproof pair. (Mine have a rain cover in the top pocket that provides complete coverage during bad weather. I love the bright yellow color on the rain covers as it increases my visibility as well.)
- Cargo bikes - these are bikes designed for carrying more stuff on a regular basis. They are great for businesses that deliver by bike as well as individuals looking for ways to transport goods without driving. My Xtracycle is a type of cargo bike.
- Trailers - a way to seriously increase a bike's ability to haul stuff. There are many types of trailers available, ranging from home-built options to expensive but very sturdy designs that you can use to move darn near anything. (There are people that move from one home to another by bike, including all their major appliances!)
Tips for Biking in Heat
- Bike early in the day when the temperatures are cooler. This doesn't always work if the places you are going don't open early.
- Dress in lighter clothes, especially fabrics that wick away sweat. Technical fabrics are much cooler on a hot day than cotton or denim. Check thrift stores to buy used.
- Wear a helmet. A bike helmet with good ventilation will keep your head cooler (and more protected in an accident) than riding bare-headed.
- Wet down hair and/or clothes. Evaporation will help cool you off when it's hot.
- Electric assist. This is my answer to dealing with 100+ degree summer temperatures in the desert. I can use a little, or a lot, of power to keep me from getting over-heated.
Tips for Biking in Cold
I don't have as much experience with biking in cold weather other than a chilly and wet winter in Oregon. However, even severe winter weather is not an excuse for the dedicated cyclist.
- Dress appropriately for your conditions. This may mean dressing in layers to retain heat and checking out clothes made specifically for cold weather sports. Find what works for you.
- Learn appropriate riding techniques for ice and snow.
Tips for Biking in Rain
- Wear a waterproof outer layer. A good "shell" will keep you from getting soaked. This is especially important in cold weather where being wet and chilled can lead to hypothermia. For drenching rains, remember to look into rain pants as well as a jacket.
- Fenders. These will keep water and mud from spraying up your backside from the back tire. Definitely worth it if heading out to an important business meeting!
- Keep your seat dry. Cover your bike seat with a plastic bag when leaving the bike in the rain. Remove bag before heading out and your butt will stay dry.
- Slow down and pay close attention to road. Rain makes the road more slippery. Manhole covers and painted road lines get very slick so avoid them if at all possible. If you can’t avoid them, ride straight over them without turning or braking.
- Be visible. Drivers can’t see as well in poor conditions so wear bright rain gear and use your lights.
Tips for Biking at Night
- Be visible! Drivers will not be able to see you as well as you can see them.
- Have a bright rear blinking red light and a front headlight. The brighter, the better.
- Ride defensively. Assume that cars will not see you and ride accordingly.
- Know your route. Hitting unexpected potholes can be hazardous.
Share your Tips
Do you have some additional tips to share? What were the important lessons you learned when you began commuting by bike?