5 tips for bike commuting

Bike commuting can be intimidating at first, but once you get the hang of it, it’s a fun and exciting way to get to work. To get us started, we talked to one bike commuter who has been pedaling himself to work for almost six years. Noah uses alternative transportation to get himself around Kansas. Learn about how your commuting can help fight climate change: CLIF 2 Mile Challenge

I started bicycle commuting back in 2006, when my car broke and the part to fix it was back-ordered. No one — not even the dealership — would be able to get the part to fix it for at least a month. At the time, my office was 23 miles from home. I bought a cheap department store bike, started riding to a bus stop about 3 miles away, and took advantage of a program my employer offered: Give up your parking pass and they’ll give you a monthly bus pass for next to nothing. I could handle using a bike and the bus for a month, right?

I started bicycle commuting out of necessity. I had no clue the journey I was about to begin. The first few days were difficult. I hadn’t exercised since I graduated high school almost a decade prior. I was the stereotypical fat IT guy. After a weekend of rest, the second week was much easier, and I started to notice little things along the road that I’d never seen from inside my car. I was noticing that I encountered the same folks every day, too. Some were walking their dogs, others were out for a stroll, and one guy was just sitting on the corner with a little stereo, apparently waiting for his car pool. I noticed I was sleeping better and waking up feeling more energized.

That department store bike barely lasted through the month that I initially needed it. You know the kind: Under $100, front and rear suspension and very heavy. The rear hub had broken, the brakes were shot, the wheels were bent, and that snazzy rear suspension had collapsed and made a bunch of noise when pedaling. I was already hooked, though. I went out and found a solid used mountain bike from a local shop. I eventually fixed my car, but I’ve never quit riding to work. It’s not because I need the exercise, because gas is insanely expensive, or because I’m somehow indebted to the environment. It’s simply because bicycle commuting is fun!

Almost five years have passed since I started. I moved closer to the office and picked up a road bike, allowing me to get to the office by bike alone. I set the bike up with a cargo rack and panniers, because a backpack wasn’t comfortable for the longer trips I was taking. I eventually got laid off, and found a job even closer to home a few months later.

Here is some advice for getting started:

Start small. Try riding to the post office, pharmacy and bank to take care of those small errands close to home. A significant number of car trips in the US are for errands within 2 miles of home. If you’re out of shape like I was, don’t get discouraged! Give yourself some time to adjust. Maybe start riding a few times per week.

Look at a map and find smaller, residential streets to help you get where you’re going. Don’t forget those un-marked cul-de-sac sidewalk cut-throughs and other shortcuts! There’s an art in finding pleasant routes through town. Even if you live far from work, look into using trains, buses or subways to augment your commute. I take photos of transit schedules and keep them stored in my phone’s picture library for quick reference.

If you’re worried about sweat and you don’t have a locker room at the office, find a locking bathroom stall and bring a change of clothes with you, or leave clean clothes at the office. Some pharmacies and sporting goods stores sell body cleaning cloths, similar to baby wipes but meant for adult use, in unscented or deodorant-scented varieties. These are also good to have around. If you have a whole locking bathroom to yourself, you can even take a quick sink bath with a washcloth.

Don’t worry too much about bicycle accessories at first, but a good blinking tail light and a helmet aren’t bad ideas. Experiment with different ways to get yourself and your stuff to the office. For example, I rarely need my dress shoes outside of work, so I leave them in my filing cabinet instead of carrying them both ways. Also, I started keeping my important data on my Android phone instead of lugging a laptop between home and office. Check with your IT staff before hooking personal devices up at work, though. You may want to carry clothes, a wallet, your phone and lunch with you. There are backpacks, messenger bags, handlebar bags, baskets, and all kinds of attachments for rear cargo racks — like panniers and trunk bags or simply strapping stuff directly to the rack. Only you can decide what will work best.

Last but not least: Get your work and bicycling stuff ready the night before. It’s harder to come up with excuses in the morning when all you have to do is hop on the bike and go.

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