Bike commuting is a great way to keep fit year round – but to succeed you have to be super organized and have a great game plan. Here are my top ten tips for successful bike commuting.
Tip #1: Work out a safe route before you start. This can take a while, because many paths don’t show up on maps. It’s well worthwhile spending a lot of time on this. It helps if you start by getting a detailed bike route map, as this is a great starting point. But don’t follow it blindly – sometimes there are parts of the route where a parallel road or path is quieter, or less steep. Take the time to try some different options. Figure out the best possible route, and memorize it. That will make your first day of bike commuting much easier.
Tip #2: Have a backup plan – sooner or later, something will go wrong. This could be a simple flat tire, but it could also be a broken axle, or a medical problem. So either have a cell phone and a credit card, or have a good repair kit and know how to use it. Read my story here, about how the Automobile Association failed to be a good backup plan for me. Personally I rely on a credit card and a cell phone (and quite often, Mrs. Average Joe Cyclist). I know a guy who cannot even walk without assistance, but he can ride a bike. He carries a cell phone and a credit card, so if the bike breaks down, he has an out. I was biking with him once when that happened, and within ten minutes he and his bike had disappeared in a cab! If you prefer to carry tools and fix things like a flat tire, check out this video that shows how simple fixing a flat can be:
Tip #3: Have bike lights in front and back of your bike. (Best to have two sets of lights, including backup lights. Here’s my complete guide to bike lights for those who are planning on bike commuting.) And use the lights during the day time too, just as people do with cars. A bus driver once told me that he loves it when cyclists use day-time lights, because he can see them from two blocks a way – instead of struggling to notice them until he is almost on top of them. That statement turned me into an immediate proponent of day-time lights on bikes!
Tip #4: Find an organized way to keep a supply of clean business clothes at work (I once had to spend the first hour of my working day buying pants and having their hem taken up – the alternative of walking around in tights all day would have been cruel and unusual punishment for my colleagues). Some bike commuters drive to work once a week, bringing in a week’s supply of clean clothes. Read Mrs. Average Joe Cyclist’s tips for women bike commuters, which talks about the things you need to get in place if you want to bike to work and still look groomed and professional.
Tip #5: Buy waterproof cycling gear. No one wants to be wet to the skin on a bike. Here’s my very popular post that tells you everything you need to know about waterproof fabric, and compares the 7 best waterproof cycling jackets. Or you might prefer to read about the Top 5 Essential Cycling Accessories for bike commuting.
Tip #6: Assume that all motorists have a disability that prevents them from seeing cyclists, and dress and ride accordingly (bright clothes, bright lights, and defensive cycling).
Tip #7: Even if you are doing everything in no. 6, continue to assume that all motorists are stone blind. Cycle as if you are invisible – because a lot of the time, you are.
Tip #8: Ride safely and follow the rules of the road. Don’t do anything unexpected, such as riding on the wrong side of the road, because that exponentially increases the chance of an accident.
Tip #9: Try to ride outside of peak rush hours, if you can. There’s nothing quite like a bike ride in the crisp hours of a perfect dawn – with no one else around!
Tip #10: Have a decent quality bike – no one can succeed at bike commuting on a clunker. The bike above is my own commuter bike, set up for success with all the necessities for safe bike commuting: lights, rack, fenders, rear view mirror and bell. Try to buy the best quality commuter bike you can afford, and be sure to kit it out with safety essentials. Not many people use rear view mirrors, which I find extraordinary. I always use a mirror, and it has saved me from harm more than once. One time I was minding my own business in the bike lane, when I noticed in my mirror that a jeep was thundering up right behind me. He had taken a left turn too wide, and ended up in the bike lane. Seeing him in my mirror gave me a couple of seconds to jump onto the sidewalk. Being hit from behind is one of the most common ways to be seriously injured on a bike, and I avoided it that day only because I had a mirror. Sure, I could hear the jeep behind me, but there was tons of traffic around, and I had no reason to look behind me to see if one of those noisy vehicles was actually in the bike lane! Even with a road bike or tricross bike, you can get a Mirrorcycle which fits into the bar end. You wouldn’t drive without a rear view mirror, so why cycle without one?
Get a bike that works for you. For example, if you have back problems, a recumbent might be the way to go.
Or, you might do better with a comfortable upright bike. Maggie loves her upright bike, and the fact that it is step through, so she can ride it while wearing a skirt.
Or if you are out of shape or physically challenged (bad knees, heart problems, etc.), consider getting an electric bike. (Here’s my blog with reviews of great electric bikes.) You can still get plenty of exercise, but it will be less intense. (Read here about the surprising number of calories you can burn on an electric bike.)
As for getting the right bike – bear in mind that it is possible to get great bargains online, such as Craigslist, because so many people buy bikes with good intentions, and then don’t use them. Here’s my Bike Buyer’s Guide, which focuses on how to buy decent bikes online (you can get this book as a free download if you subscribe to this blog!)
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