Here are the top 7 most common mistakes that people make when they try to start bike commuting. Many people start bike commuting – and then quickly give up because it just does not work out. That’s not because they can’t do it – it’s just because they make some beginner mistakes.
Bike commuting is a great way to keep fit year round. Trust me, becoming a bike commuter is one of the best things you can do for yourself. It gives you a great start to your day, and provides stress relief at the end of each day. The years I spent as a bike commuter were among the happiest and healthiest years of my life. Now that I am semi-retired, the only thing I miss about work is the bike commute! OK, not quite the only thing – I admit that I also miss the pay checks!
The catch is that in order to succeed, you do have to be super organized. Unfortunately, more people fail than succeed when they try to become bike commuters. If that has happened to you, don’t feel bad! Just read our list of the top 7 biggest mistakes people make when they try to become bike commuters. Make sure you don’t make any of these mistakes, and you should be fine!
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Bike Commuting Mistake #1: Failing to Plan a Safe Route
If you just jump on your bike one morning and try to ride to work, things could go horribly wrong. The route on a bike is almost always completely different from the route in a car or on a bus. There are always easier, safer, and sometimes more direct routes you can take on a bike. But if you don’t plan, you could have a frightening, or even dangerous, experience on Day 1. This could very easily put you off for life.
So, it is essential to work out a safe route before you start. This can take a long time, because many quiet roads and paths don’t show up on maps. It’s well worth your while to spend a lot of time on this. Figure out the best possible route, and memorize it. That will make your first day of bike commuting much easier.
Below is the route I bike commuted on for years. This was my most challenging bike commute. I planned this route for more than a week before I started doing it. It kept me on safer cycling routes, and off busy roads.
By contrast, if I had been driving to work, I would have used this completely different route below. As you can see, the route by car and the route by bike have almost nothing in common.
On the day I finally did this bike commute, it was quite stress-free. I already knew it was a pretty safe route, and I could just relax and focus on pedaling and enjoying the ride!
Mistake #2: Not Having a Backup Plan for When Things Go Wrong while Bike Commuting
Sooner or later, something will go wrong on your bike commute. This could be a simple flat tire, but it could also be a broken axle, or a medical problem. I have personally experienced the first two. And the first one quite a few times.
So, carry a cell phone and a credit card with you, so you can call a cab. 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.
Now I rely on a credit card and a cell phone (and quite often, Mrs. Average Joe Cyclist). I know a guy who cannot 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 with him once when that happened, and within ten minutes he and his bike had disappeared in a cab!
Note: If you call for a cab in this circumstance, be sure to mention that you need a cab that can transport a bicycle.
Mistake #3: Not Having an Organized Plan for Your Work Clothes
I once arrived at work in full cycling gear, only to find I had forgotten to pack work pants. I had to spend the first hour of my working day buying pants! The alternative of walking around in cycling tights all day would have been cruel and unusual punishment for my colleagues. Shopping in my tights was not that much fun either! Of course, I was lucky that I was close to a clothing shop. This expensive mistake reminded me of the importance of being super organized about maintaining a supply of work clothes at the office.
Some bike commuters drive to work once a week, bringing in a week’s supply of clean clothes. Others bring in clean clothes every day, in a good pannier. If you are a woman, 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.
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Mistake #4: Not Having the Right Cycling Gear for Bike Commuting
The right cycling gear is essential! No one wants to get wet to the skin while cycling to work, or to almost get hypothermia. Both of these have happened to me on occasion, and they were not fun. So, make sure you have all of the required winter and waterproof cycling gear you need.
Keep your gear organized and at your fingertips. It’s a great idea to keep a cycling rain jacket in your pannier at all times.
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Mistake #5: Not Having an Appropriate Pannier to Transport Everything You Need while Bike Commuting
There is nothing much worse than being at the end of a long bike ride, perhaps a little late for work, and you’re scrabbling in a cavernous pannier, unable to find your keys. Or trying to get dressed in the locker room, still late for work, and now you can’t find your underwear or your socks! Having a really great, well-organized pannier relieves so much stress and annoyance. I have found that the best is to have pockets and sub-divisions, so you can organize stuff.
Some panniers have a designated place for keeping your shoes separate, which is really handy. The best commuting pannier I have used is the Two Wheel Gear Classic Pannier, which is made specifically for professionals who cycle to work.
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Mistake #6: Not Having a Suitable Bike
No one can succeed at bike commuting on a clunker. Buy the best quality commuter bike you can afford. If you are out of shape or physically challenged, consider getting an electric bike. (Here’s my blog with reviews of great electric bikes.) You can still get plenty of exercise, but your commute will be much less intense. (Read here about the surprising number of calories you can burn on an electric bike.)
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It is possible to get great bargains on bikes online, such as on Craigslist. This is 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!)
Mistake #7: Not Setting Up Your Commuter Bike Properly
It is essential to set your bike up correctly for commuting. This means having all the accessories that make commuting safe and comfortable, such as fenders, lights, rear-view mirror, bell, pump, and repair kit. You can read all about how to do that in the post below.
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Good luck with becoming a successful bike commuter!
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