5 Tips for Bike Commuting

This week in Flagstaff is Bike to Work Week and I have ridden over 70 miles to get to work and meetings and errands.  I have discovered the joys of bike commuting, like riding through a mist of water when the sprinkler system on campus is on next to the bike path.  From the seat of my bike this week I watched an osprey dive down to a pond to catch a fish.  I relish in the door to door convenience of bike commuting, and flying along on the bike path as traffic sits at a standstill waiting for a school to let out.  The school kids ride by on their bikes and we give each other the nod, connected by our shared experience of getting around town on two wheels.

Of course, with all the joys and benefits of bike commuting, there are also challenges.  So here are a few tips to help you overcome the challenges of a day in the saddle.

  1. Wear a helmet!  Seriously, no excuses!  If you’re concerned about your hair either go with a hairstyle that is not as easily mussed or bring hair products with you to work.
  2. Wear sturdy shoes.  Ideally a closed toed shoe with a good sole.  When you are just pedaling for a mile on an even surface without traffic you don’t realize the need for decent shoes, but the second anything unexpected happens, you are going to wish you had real shoes.
  3. Get a good map that shows bike routes and trails as well as roads.  Also, Google Maps has bicycle directions for many cities that are quite good.  Most maps produced by bicycle groups will indicate which areas are dangerous for bikes.  In general you will end up taking a different route on your bike than you would in your car, so if you are new to biking, ask around for the best paths and neighborhood cut-throughs.  On Wednesday, I had a 45 minute ride back from a meeting and only 5 minutes of it were spent on a street (even then it had a designated bike lane).
  4. Dress comfortably with layers.  In Flagstaff the temperature drops 20 degrees when the sun goes down.  I bring along a light jacket and wind breaker vest to give myself options.  I also love to bike in a skirt or dress with bike shorts underneath.  Just don’t forget to bring a pair of underwear to change into so that you don’t have to sit in a shammy all day.
  5. How to store your stuff?  There are lots of options for bike racks, baskets, panniers (bags that attach to your bike or rack), trailers, and backpacks.  Keep the weight as evenly distributed as possible and as close to the center of gravity of the bike as possible (near the frame or over the wheels).  A heavy basket on the front can affect your steering and balance and a backpack will put stress on your body.  I prefer a rack over the rear tire with panniers attached to it (see picture at top).  The panniers are nice because they are easy to pull on and off so that you can take your stuff with you into the office.

Have you biked to work or for errands?  What tips would you share?  If you haven’t started biking, what do you see as the barriers to biking?

Jay riding commuter bike with trailer

Jay doing a short test ride of the commuter bike with attached trailer — Note: he put on a helmet to test it outside.

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