Bike to work year

As some of you know I ride my bike to work. I have been doing this for over a year now. I really enjoy it and it saves us a ton of money. Here are some of the pearls of wisdom I have learned over the year.
First off I will let you know my cycling style. I ride about 4k a day (2 to work and 2 back home). Second is I ride in almost all weather conditions. That is the type of riding I will be talking about commuter riding in all weather.
Let’s go over some of the gear you will need starting with your bike. Currently I am riding on a $50 walmart special and while it has served me well, you may want to invest a little if you are riding all the time. My bike is really starting to show wear and it just isn’t really meant to last. You also want to find a good all around bike. If you by a skinny tired road bike it will work great on dry, clean roads but as soon as you hit rain, gravel or snow (yes you can hit snow) you are in trouble. Also, a huge tired mountain bike is great for getting through the slick and loose stuff but you have to really work a lot harder to move those big soft tires up a hill. Also, you are really going to want a few gears. I really don’t see the need to have more than 15 (I typically only use about 5 of mine) but you need some. Those fancy classic cruiser bikes may look cool (I am taking to you, artsy hipsters!) but if they don’t have gears you will find yourself walking your bike. Go to your local bike shop and tell them what you are doing with your bike. They should be able to show you a few good commuter bikes that should let you ride almost every day. As for bike accessories I highly recommend some lights. I don’t ride much at night but during the winter I have had to be at work early. You really need both a headlight and a taillight to be seen. Some nice LED based lights work great and last a long time between battery changes. I, personally, am not a big fan of mud flaps. I find they get in the way more than they keep you dry but give them a shot if you like. I also don’t use a bag rack on my bike. I just use a backpack but if you have to haul a lot of gear to and from work you may want to invest in a bag rack and maybe some saddle bags. You want to have more space than you think you need. Buy a really long bike lock. A long lock works best in case you ever need to lock to a tree. I just use a bare metal chain and a pad lock. It works well. That pretty much covers it in the bike department. On to all weather clothing.
You have to be ready for all weather conditions. Let’s start from the bottom and work up. I use a simple running shoe for riding. It works well and is comfortable. I also have a change of shoes at my office because while running shoes go great with a bike they don’t go well with a tie. Also, your shoes may get wet so always have a spare pair. That goes for socks too. Throw a spare pair in a desk or a locker at work. In the summer, wear shorts when you bike. If you are wearing pants, you have to make sure they don’t get into your front sprocket (gears) or you will tear them and jam up your bike. Wear tight fitting pants (shudder), tuck your pants into your socks (shudder) or use a Velcro strap to keep them away. I know that all of these solutions aren’t the most fashionable but it is better than going through a pair of pants every week. In cold weather I also wear long johns. Your legs will get pretty chilly without them. As with most things, dress in layers on top. I wear just a t-shirt in the summer but in colder weather I either wear a hoodie or my winter jacket. Be sure if you are wearing heavy clothing you can unzip as you go. My ride to work is always way colder then my ride home. If you are really sensitive to cold weather you may want to wrap a scarf around your face or get a mask. You want to find a good pair of tight fitting glasses. Try not to get a pair that is tinted too dark. You need to wear them in many different weather conditions. Cold air, snow (yeah, snow, for real) and rain are really hard to see in without glasses but you don’t want them too dark or you won’t be able to see. Top thing off always with a helmet. This is very important and if you don’t wear one, you are just asking for a brain injury. I also have a thin toque. You don’t want anything too bulky because it makes it hard to get your helmet on over it so a nice thin toque is your best option. If it has rained, there is a good chance you will get a bit muddy riding in. If your workplace has a shower, use it. Don’t shower when you leave the house, just shower at work. Otherwise pack some pit stick and you change of clothes. Wash your face and arms at work and re-pit. You may also want to pack a sweat towel if you are up hill to work.
So now you have your bike and you are dressed, what is next. Well you are always going to want to pack a change of clothes or store a set at work. Weather can change quickly and because you don’t have a car to whip home quickly in, be prepared! Don’t forget a second set of footwear. Like I mentioned above your feet will eventually get wet. Depending on the length of your trip you may want to pack some water with you. One thing I recommend leaving at home is your MP3 player. If you are riding a bike trail it might not be an issue but if you are riding on the roads you really want to be able to hear what is going on around you. I use my ears a lot when riding on the streets. People don’t generally pay attention to cyclists so you always have to be responsible for your own safety.
Weather is your biggest challenge when riding. There are a few things to be aware of. When the roads are wet be sure to slow down a bit. It is amazing how a little water affects your traction. You can also ride in sub-zero temperatures but be very aware of ice. If you hit ice on two wheels you will go down, fast. I have ridden to work when it is snowing but if there is more than a skiff on the ground you may want to walk to work. Also, be aware that after a snow, the plows rarely go near the bike lanes so you have to keep an extra eye on the vehicles around you. When ride a bike you save a ton on vehicle costs. Start a cab fare jar where you put in $10 a month. That should give you more than enough for those rare times you need to call a cab. Also, learn the bus schedule. Many times in bad weather you can use the bus to get to work. Cheaper than a cab and in this city they are never crowded. When riding in town, share the road goes both ways. Drivers are supposed to share the road with you but you also don’t own it on a bike. Get over when you can and let drivers pass you safely. You are a slow moving vehicle so yield the road when possible. Also, unless you make direct eye contact, assume drivers don’t see you. Make sure you error on the side of caution. You saying you had the right of way doesn’t do you much good when you are in traction.
So that is my biking run down. The last thing I want to say is that ANYONE who is able to walk, can ride to work. You may almost die the first week. You will wheeze. You will sweat. But if you try it out for one week, it will become bearable. After 2 or 3 weeks you may even enjoy it. I am a perfect example. I am over weight (obese by Wii standards!) and I basically get no other real physical activity, and I can do this. By riding to work, I save us $300 a month car payment, $25 a week in gas, $100 a month insurance, $20 a month maintenance. Bike tires cost pennies to repair and I can do it myself. I am also almost carbon neutral (I breathe pretty heavy). So if you are trying to save money, get fit, be green or just because I dare you to, get out and ride. There really isn’t an excuse. Please post comments or questions below. I am sure there are things I missed but I am happy to answer questions.

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One Response

  1. I am in the market for a bike but I keep procrastinating. Thanks for the list and the encouragement!

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