Monday, January 14, 2008

Keep That Resolution, the Five Keys to Commute By Bike

There are so many reasons riding your bike to work will help your resolutions, from exercising more, to losing weight, increasing energy, decreasing your carbon footprint, setting a good example for your kids…I could go on. The fact is, commuting by bike saves me a lot of time. I don’t sit in the car doing nothing. Rather I am getting my workout in as I am commuting. I even pick my daughter up from school on the bike. Granted she is three, but she loves it and her friends think it is the coolest thing.

I have commuted in Boston, New York, and Washington DC, year round, anywhere from four to twenty four miles a day. It is feasible, and this is a great time of year to start thinking about it. Why? Because it will get easier as the weather gets better, if you can do it now it will stick.
OK – Here are the five keys to succeed.

1. The Bike –
a. Go to a good bike shop in your neighborhood to buy your bike. It is worth the extra money for a few reasons. First they will find a bike that fits you and your needs. You do not need a Trek Madone unless you are Lance Armstrong and plan on crushing Le Alps this summer. A good bike shop will listen to what your needs are and give you a few bikes to try out. If this is your first bike in a few years do not spend more than $800.
b. The most important thing about a bike and the reason you go to the shop is fit. I good shop will fit you to a bike. I met my wife on a cross country bike ride. She complained constantly about her lower back pain. I adjusted her seat and handlebars about a quarter inch each and her pain was gone. Fit makes all of the difference.
c. Last year’s bikes are on sale now. Just like car dealers, bike shops need to get rid of old inventory. Now is a great time to head to a shop and see what they have. Just like cars, bikes change very little from year to year and to the newbie last year’s bike is still new.

2. The Helmet –
a. Don’t buy a bike if you are not going to wear a helmet every time, I mean every time, really every time, you get on the bike. I would not be writing this right now if I did not practice this advice. Smacking your melon on the ground after you hit a good pot hole will end a lot of your life dreams. I have done this and walked away, thanks to my helmet.
b. Besides set a good example for kids. Nothing frustrates me more than parents riding without helmets while forcing their kids to wear one. It’s a bit to hypocritical for me.
c. Yes my daughter has a helmet too. It is light blue with monkeys on it and she loves it. She puts it on as she rides her bike around our apartment, but that is another story.

3. Bike Clothes –
a. This is the toughest thing to write about. Personally, I follow my own advice from #1 above. I buy last year’s clothes on-line. I know my size and I know what I want. For the newbie, get a few things at the shop before doing this.
b. Get shorts that are comfortable for you. You do not need to get spandex shorts if it is not your gig. There are a number of shorts out there that have spandex liners that look just like typical cargo shorts.
c. In cold weather layer your clothes. This sounds familiar for a reason. If you are too hot just take something off. Do not wear anything that is cotton, wool and synthetics are your friend. They wick moisture away from your skin and do not become saturated.
d. Get a water resistant shell to make the rain bearable. Stuff it in your bag or in a water bottle. Always keep it with you, keeping the wind and water directly off you can make a miserable day pretty fun.

4. Work Clothes –
a. In terms of bags there are two options here, backpacks or panniers. For the beginner go with the pack, you can always change. Most of us have a reasonable pack in our closets that should be dusted off.Packs can get heavy, especially if you are carrying your food for the day as well. They can also throw off your center of gravity a bit. I have a pack that has a rain cover. It works well.The big reason to choose the pack of the panniers is distribution of weight. Some believe it is easier to ride without the extra weight on your body. Others believe the more weight that is on your body the more efficiently you ride. Unfortunately you need to decide for yourself.
b. I get my shirts folded from the cleaners. I fold my pants and a tie up on top of the shirt. Then I throw my underwear, t-shirt, socks in the bag as well. I keep a brown and a black pair of shoes at work, along with a couple sweaters and a jacket. The less you try to carry every day the more enjoyable the ride will be. Alternatively, bring clothes in with you on Monday and ride in on Tuesday. Even if you ride in two days a week, you are decreasing your commuting footprint by 40%.
c. Whether or not you need to shower at work or prior is up to you. I keep a shaving kit at work as well, that way I always have the option. My gym is close by so I can stretch and shower there most of the time. If I am really presses, I shower before I leave for work and take it easy on the way in.

5. Miscellaneous Bike Stuff –
If you have gotten this far and are still into it, there are a few more things to know:
a. Know how to change a flat tire. You will get one at some point, be prepared. I can change a flat and be back on the road in less than ten minutes, but I have a lot of experience. Plan a little extra time so you don’t miss a meeting or anything.
b. If you are riding in the dark, which you will, get a few lights. There are two reasons for this:
i. First you need to be seen, have a couple red flashers on the back and one white flasher on the front. Mix this in with a reflector here and there and you will be set. Yes this is goofy, but it is about being seen not looking cool. It is hard to look cool as you are flying across the hood of a car that cut you off because they didn’t see you.
ii. Second you need to see. If you are on city streets with good lights this is not that big of a problem. If you have some stretches of road with little or no light, consider investing in a rechargeable 9 to 15 watt light that is either bar or helmet mounted. They are pretty inexpensive now and add a lot of convenience and safety.
c. The best way to avoid a flat is to properly inflate your tires frequently. On my commuter bike I check the pressure twice a week. Get a good floor pump with a gauge on it to make this easy.
d. Lube the chain and moving parts once a month. This is not to hard either, you will figure it out quickly.
e. When in doubt just bring it to the shop. This is the another reason you buy from a local shop. In general they will help you out for free if you got the bike from them. Typically they will offer a tune up after a few months or 500 miles.

This might appear to be a lot, but think about how complicated it is to get a second car to commute. We all know how to get insurance, and oil changes, and sit in traffic … there are a number of examples out there. To change that paradigm might start off as a challenge, but I will guarantee you that you will never look back.

Think of me the first time you forget your socks. If it is the worst thing that happens to you that day you are pretty lucky. I don’t remember where I heard it, but a good piece of advice I got once is to act your shoe size every day for at least thirty minutes. Commuting on my bike is how I do it.

1 comment:

Jodi "Millennial 4 Earth" Williams said...

Coincidentally, I ran across an interesting article on bikeable cities today:,0,4961633.story?coll=la-home-commentary

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