Bike Commute Guide: The Essentials
Today I’m talking commute basics, as somebody recently asked me what to keep in mind when making the transition to bike commuting. It took me back to when I dusted off my old Ross mountain bike and said to myself, “Metro no more. I’m going to make this bike commute thing happen.” Happily, it wasn’t a tough transition to make, but it was a change to my personal transportation system that took time to refine and become routine.
Now that I’ve adjusted, it’s hard to imagine a time when I relied on metro or car more than my bicycle as my primary form of transportation.
For those considering bike commuting, this post discusses the the basic gear I purchased and the adaptations I made to bike commute. Everyone develops their own systems over time, and this is my basic rundown.
1. Obtain a bike or (in cities like Washington, D.C.) purchase a Bikeshare membership. This post is more for the person with his or her own bike, but some of it applies to anyone riding to work. Wonder what type of bike is good for commuting? This post I wrote about my Surly Long Haul Trucker, which is my primary commuter, gives you some factors to consider including price point, utility, carrying capacity, and comfort.
2. Make sure your bike is in good working condition. Tires, wheels, shifting, chain, brakes… perhaps consider a trip to the local bike shop for a pre-commute tuneup.
3. Purchase a pump, spare tube, multitool, bike levers, and patch kit and stow them on your bike. Nobody wants a flat tire, but it’s important to have the right stuff to fix one if it happens. You might also consider carrying a small packet of wet wipes so that you can clean up any dirt and grease that may have rubbed off on you.
4. Map out a route with quiet streets, even if you have to ride a little further. Figure out your route before you hop on the bike. Ask around to other cyclists about good commute routes. There are lots of forums out there with commuters who are happy to offer route suggestions. One resource in the D.C. area is the Washington Area Bike Forum.
5. Figure out the best place to park your bike. Can you park in your office? Is there a nearby parking garage with an attendant on duty? Scope it out. If you know or see another commuter in your building, ask him or her.
6. Commute on a bike that can take panniers (I prefer Ortliebs) or at least allows you to ride without anything on your back. Some people may not mind riding with a backpack or messenger bag, but it bothers my back and I don’t like to be encumbered by the extra weight.
If you ride to work in your work clothes, the following three points may not apply to you. I’m all for it if someone wants to ride in work clothes, and I do so often enough. That said, I’ve found it puts additional extra wear and tear on my work attire, which means I have to go out and replace it more frequently. It’s also better for rainy days, as I avoid a day spent in wet work clothes. Hence, the following three points for those who, like me, change from their riding clothes into business attire after arriving at the office.
7. Don’t carry your work clothes in every day, if you can help it. Figure out a place to stash them in your office. I have a file drawer that conceals a couple of sweaters, a wrinkle-free skirt, and a couple of other regularly used pieces.
8. Find a dry cleaner close to your job. That way, you avoid having to haul clothes back home, dry cleaning them, and then figuring out how to fold them back into your panniers or packs to bring them back in to work.
9. Rotate clothes in and out of you office as the seasons change. Oh, and as they get dirty :).
10. Keep a brush, towel and some deodorant at the office. Also, on hot days, save the makeup application for post-work arrival. Otherwise it just melts off.
11. Don’t let the rain scare you off. Get some fenders. Invest in a rain jacket. They’re worth it.
12. Purchase a good front and rear light. I’m currently using a Light & Motion Urban 180 front light (which has been replaced with the Urban 200) and another Light & Motion Vis 180 Micro taillight. Both recharge via USB charger, which makes it easy to juice them up at the office. These are reasonably priced, durable lights with good illumination. Lights are important not only to see, but also to be seen. When I made the switch to bike commuting, I was shocked by how invisible those who ride or run at night become without lights or reflective gear.
13. Wear reflective gear, especially if you ride at night or commute before dawn. It may not be stylish, but reflective stuff makes your more visible to drivers and other cyclists. Ankle bands and reflective vests are cheap. Don’t give anybody the excuse to say that they did not see you.
14. Helmet. I am not going to tell you what to do, but it’s part of my checklist.
15. Invest in and carry a good bike lock. This is especially important if you have to park your bike outside or plan to go on any pre- or post-work outings in the city. Even though a U-lock can be broken by a determined thief, they are less likely to be messed with than cable locks. U-locks do add a little bit of weight to your bike, but I’d rather deal with that and have the additional security than fret all day about my bike and put it at greater risk for being stolen.
That concludes my list of commute basics, though I probably forgot something. Hope you find it helpful and as always, please feel free to add to this post with your own checklist items in the comments section. Thanks!