Practical Biking

Complete Guide to Bike Commuting


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.




  • 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?

Must-have Bike Book


Twelve quotes to convince you to get Just Ride by Grant Petersen, a no-nonsense, supremely practical and refreshing book on biking:

  • Goals: “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.”

  • Fashions: “When you don’t race, almost every shirt, sweater, jacket or coat you own is a cycling garment.”

  • Courtesy: “Be saintlike on the bike path.” That is the title of Chapter 22. This entire half-page chapter should be required reading for anyone who’s ever shouted “ON YOUR LEFT!”

  • Dieting: “A typical, healthy low-carb diet includes lots of meat, eggs, cheese, all above-ground vegetables, berries, walnuts, almonds, macademia nuts, low-carb Greek yogurt, and maybe some dense-cocoa/low-carb chocolate for a treat.”

  • Water: “When you sweat, you get thirsty and drink. This has been a successful, automatic hydration strategy for mammals for millions of years.”

  • Gravity: “Your bike won’t stand up by itself, and a kickstand it the simplest, most obvious, most logical way to do the job.”

  • Common sense: “If your chain and your rear cogs have grown old together, they may both need replacing.”

  • Aesthetics: “Beausage is a useful concept that can help cure you of an obsession to keep the bike spick-and-span. Buy good stuff, use it, and enjoy the beausage.”

  • Brawn: “Steel is the oldest, heaviest, and cheapest material, but also the toughest, safest, most repairable, most durable, and I’d say the most beautiful.”

  • Love: “Everybody who hangs out around cyclists knows of successful cycling couples, but they’d be successful couples with or without riding, so don’t think riding is relationship glue.”

  • Vacation: “The most fun I have with my bike is during overnight bike camping in the local hills.”

  • Fun: “Whatever benefits accrue from riding your bike won’t stop accruing just because you’re having fun. In fact, the more fun you have on it, the more you’ll ride it.”

Just Ride is available at Cosmic Bikes for $13.95.

The Best Time to Ride Your Bike is NOW


Aren’t you relieved August is over? Seriously, between the heat, the air & water show (aka. war porn) and the back to school buying bonanza, the once lazy dog days of summer have become the pressure cooker of frayed and volatile emotions.

Hellllloooo September!

By contrast to the period preceding Labor day, early weeks of Chicago autumn offer a relaxed vibe and some of the best cycling weather of the year. Even if you haven’t ridden much this summer, this is a fantastic time to roll out your bike right now and take advantage of milder temperatures, less crowded trails (and campgrounds, if you fancy overnight bike trips).

If you haven't used your bike to get around before, rest assured that it will get you from point A to point B in the city quickly and easily, with no waiting and less hassle than public transportation, and at a considerably lower cost than a car. For riding short distances around the neighborhood, just about any bike will do. Really. Any basic bike is good enough to get you started, as long as it meets the following criteria:

  1. It rolls, and

  2. IT STOPS. Seriously, this is non-negotiable, if your bike doesn’t stop, get it to a mechanic. Your safety, and the safety of others on the road, is surely worth the price of a tune-up. This seems like a good place to point out that, having been in the business of selling and repairing bicycles for a quarter of a century (yes, I’m that old), I can tell you that if I had a buck for every time someone tells me their bike is “in really good shape”, but whose bike — in fact — failed a basic safety inspection performed by an experienced mechanic, I would be happily retiring in Sedona not having to run a bicycle shop. So, it bears repeating that your bike should be in good repair. It’s perfectly understandable that you may not know what to look for, and that’s what we (or your local bike store) are here for. We'll go over it with you, and recommend needed repairs.

But, to continue, don't let lack of fancy equipment be an obstacle. You can always upgrade later if you get more into it (Pro Tip: Winter is a great time to upgrade your biking equipment, often at a great price. It will also make you extremely popular at your seasonally slow local bike shop!) If your needs grow, you may want to move up to a lighter, faster bike. A good quality hybrid bike is a great choice that, at $500-600 won’t break the bank, and will easily handle almost any riding in and around Chicago.

Contrary to what you may have been told, you don't need tons special equipment or garments. While seasoned riders can get quite picky and vocal about their favorite bike brands and gear, chances are you already own almost everything you need to begin enjoying your bike today, and even using it for transportation. With a decent pair of shoes, comfortable pants, light sweatshirt, windbreaker and a backpack, you can ride to and from work, head over to the coffee shop, bookstore, or post office, and pick up a few groceries on the way back most of the way through autumn.

While you really don't need to rush out and spend a bundle on expensive bicycle gear, a few well-chosen, reasonably priced items will make your commute more efficient, comfortable and safe.

  • Protect your head. Bicycle helmets are not required by law in Chicago, but that does not mean you should leave things to chance. We strongly encourage you to wear a well-fitting helmet, and forgo the use of headphones while cycling.

  • If you need to leave your bike unattended, invest in a good lock, and learn to use it properly.

  • Basic front and rear lights are required if you ride after dark.

  • A bike must have working brakes to be street-legal in Chicago.

  • Good quality street tires will reduce rolling resistance, provide better handling in inclement weather, and protect against punctures. If you are considering new tires, Cosmic Bikes offers a complete Flat Prevention Package that will protect you against flats for ONE FULL YEAR!

  • Rear carrying rack and bags will take the load of your back and ensure a more stable ride.

  • Fenders will protect your face, clothing and bike from excessive splatter.

  • Your butt will thank you for a comfortable seat.

Yes, you can ride safely on the streets of Chicago. For the traffic averse, the best advice I can offer is follow your gut. The safety of your ride rests largely within your control, and there is absolutely no reason to push yourself into situations that don’t feel safe to you. And most of all, enjoy — enjoy the still-warm days and crisp evenings, explore your city, and relish the ride.

You will not regret it.,

How to Carry Stuff on Your Bike

Reposted from Chicago Bike Blog

Grocery panniers in action

Grocery panniers in action

OK, so maybe you don't want to ride your bike to work. Maybe it's too far, too early, too dressy, too fussy, whatever. That doesn't mean that, in addition to being a fabulous recreational vehicle, your bike can't be a super utilitarian machine for getting around the city when you are not going to work.

I love to use my bike for grocery shopping. There are several enticing grocery options within 3 miles of my house, as well as several Farmers Markets on weekends. If I forego the car, I can get a nice morning ride in, and I can carry quite a bit with well-chosen equipment.

The number-one, most useful item is a rear carrying rack -- an aluminum platform which sits over the rear wheel of you bike. It provides a good place to carry your u-lock, and, with a couple of bungee cords, it will allow you to carry an unanticipated load in an emergency. Best of all, bicycle racks are designed to fit a variety of standard bicycle bags (or panniers) made specifically for carrying tons of stuff on your bike.

A versatile option is a large open-top pannier known as a grocery pannier (see photo above). It's a collapsible carrier shaped to fit a paper grocery sack. Such panniers are available from a variety of brands, and range in price from about $45 to $90. Another option we like is Ortlieb Backroller, a pair of large, waterproof bags without dividers or organizational distractions. These will carry your groceries securely even in inclement weather.

Regardless of brand or type, panniers attach to the bike rack with a combination of hooks and/or straps. Unlike heavier metal baskets, these bags can be taken off in seconds or folded flat when not in use. You can use them to carry your "regular" bag of briefcase (no need to move stuff back and forth between bags when you are cycling). Panniers can be carried singly or in pairs, and are great for carrying take-out, six-packs, library books, packages to be mailed, groceries (of course!), and many other things you can think of.

Burly Nomad Trailer ($339) with grocery pannier.

Burly Nomad Trailer ($339) with grocery pannier.

The most affordable way to add serious capacity to your bike.

The most affordable way to add serious capacity to your bike.

If you are serious about carrying loads with your bike, but don't need to carry cargo all the time, you may be a candidate for a cargo trailer. We don't currently stock cargo trailers at Cosmic Bikes, but they are always available by special order. For most trips, I am partial to two-wheeled trailers, such as the Burley Nomad. It's basically like having a trunk of a small car attached to your bike, and is a great choice if you're getting groceries for a family, and even for Costco expeditions. Unlike single-wheel trailers, this one offers terrific stability while it's being loaded, or maneuvered around a full parking lot with a load in it.

Quickly gaining popularity among load-carrying cyclists are various types of cargo bikes with heavy-duty carrying racks or platforms integrated into the frame of the bike. These bikes will accommodate several kids or large and loads up to 400lbs (charcoal bags, potting soil and kitty litter, large musical instruments, etc), while the sides of the rack can be used to mount extra large carrying bags. At Cosmic Bikes, we stock cargo bikes from Yuba, and it's an option that makes a lot of sense if you shuttle passengers or carry significant loads on a regular basis.

Hauling kids with Yuba Sweet Curry ($2199)

Hauling kids with Yuba Sweet Curry ($2199)

Shlepping cargo on a Yuba Mundo Classic ($999)

Shlepping cargo on a Yuba Mundo Classic ($999)

Don't forget, that you may be able to use what you already have. An afore-mentioned rear rack makes a great base for an ordinary milk crate, which -- if you can find one -- makes a fabulous bicycle "trunk". If you have a child trailer that your kids are not using or have outgrown, use that for shopping expeditions. Urban commuting doesn't have to be about spending money on more bike stuff. It's about using your resources creatively. So have fun with it, and stop by Cosmic Bikes for gear, or for free advice.