Complete Guide to Bike Commuting

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Strictly speaking, bike commuting is using a bicycle to get to and from work or school on a regular basis. However, we created this guide to apply to other situations when you may be using your bicycle for transportation or other practical use, in place of other conveyances, such as a car, transit, ride share or walking.

Practical biking differs somewhat from recreational, fitness or other non-utilitarian cycling trips. If you use your bike to get to and from work, or for running specific errands, your starting and ending points are strictly defined. You may be able to adjust your route to suit your preferences, but chances are you won’t be able to rely entirely on bike trails, and will have to share the roads with motorized traffic. You probably also have to arrive at a specific time, or fit your errands into an available time window, and you may find yourself biking during the heaviest points of rush hour. Even though it may seem that covering the distance by bike would take longer than driving, you are much more likely to be able to set a consistent pace on a bike, regardless of traffic.

As a commuting or transportation cyclist, you will likely have to leave your bike unattended while you go to work or run errands, you may have to carry a change of clothing, gear needed for work or other items or packages, and —if your bike is your primary mode of travel on any given day— you may have to be prepared to ride in less than ideal weather. And to get you where you need to go at the time you need to be there, your bike needs to be completely reliable.

This guide is divided into four sections, with articles that will address those, and many other finer points of getting started, and getting good at, bicycle commuting and transportation.

Get Ready

  • Get in the right mindset. The benefits of using a bike to get around the city are numerous. It’s sustainable, non-polluting and economical. It will improve your health and fitness,, and help manage stress. It can save you time and improve your quality of life. It can make our neighborhoods more livable, and boost local economies. However, here’s the most important reason to do it.

  • Don’t set yourself up for failure. Some people are good at jumping in with both feet, but for others it may be better to start small and build on early successes. And though some people embrace an entirely car-free lifestyle, biking doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. If you drive or get on the bus today, it doesn't mean you can't bike tomorrow. You are free to use your bike when it makes sense to you.

Get Set

  • The Bike:

  • Other Equipment:

    • Essential commuting gear

    • Everything you need to know about locking your bike

    • Invest in the best puncture-resistant tires you can afford, but do carry a flat repair kit (and know how to use it)

    • Clothing

      • For shorter commutes and jobs with a more relaxed dress code, simply ride in your work clothes.

      • If you must change, carry your spare clothes in a waterproof bag, or keep a set at work if space permits.

      • If you opt to ride through any weather, investigate foul weather jackets and pants. Don’t believe the marketing messages: there’s no such thing as truly waterproof-breathable attire. A good rain suit will keep you from getting soaked through, but on wet days you should have provisions for a dry change of clothes and shoes at your destination.

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Go

Repeat

  • Revisit your goals. They may become more ambitious as biking becomes a greater part of your life, and perhaps even a habit. But if you’re finding it challenging to bike as often as you thought you were going to, cut yourself some slack. Here are some words of wisdom from Grant Peterson, a person who certainly knows a thing or two about bikes:

    • “No ride is too short. Five minutes of riding after a day of sitting or standing is a great way to unwind.”

    • “If you must keep score or set goals, set the requirements so you can win.”

    • “Counting days is best of all because it’s easiest. When you count a day, you check it off whether you ride five minutes of five hours. I rode my bike today! Count things that add up fast, come easy and encourage you.”

  • Have a maintenance plan in place.

  • Keep all your bike gear in one place. It’s easier to choose to bike on a moment’s notice when your bike, helmet, lock, lights and bags are in the same place, and your bike pump is available in case the tires feel a little soft.

  • Be only as pure as you want to be. Some of us whole-heartedly embrace a car-free lifestyle. Many of us don’t. Don’t feel like you’ve given up on biking you spent the past rainy week stuck in traffic in your car. Simply pick up your bike the next time it makes sense to you, start pedaling, and have fun. Follow your own reasons, not those of other people.

  • Be ready to grow. What are you going to try next? A century ride? Bike touring? Bikepacking?