Commuting 101: Ten Quick Tips

This year alone, I’ve run into a few new commuters that are using a bicycle for at least part of their trip. One of them is a long-time friend of mine in Washington, D.C. In discussing bike commuting with these people, it’s apparent that at first “riding a bike to work” seems straightforward, but becomes a little daunting when you set out to try it for the first time — especially for those who haven’t even owned a bike in quite a while.

Here are ten quick tips I’ve been giving people.

10: Learn basic bicycle maintenance. Park Tool and Sheldon Brown both have excellent instructions for bicycle repair. Start with the basics: Cleaning and lubricating your chain, fixing a flat tire, or maybe adjusting your brakes and shifters. In the busy season, it can take almost a week to get your bike looked at by a shop, and you’ll save money doing simple adjustments on your own.

9: Get some tools. This goes with #10, but you should have enough tools to do minor adjustments to your bike. Honestly, I got by for almost six months needing no more tools than what came on the Park MTB-3 multi-tool. I keep it with me while commuting for road-side repairs.

8: Learn how to pick a good route. Don’t think like a driver. Instead, think of lesser-known roads that may be a block or two away from the big roads you normally drive on. Think of little alleyways or sidewalks between cul-de-sacs, and how you can utilize multi-use paths. Find other cyclists in your area to help you brainstorm some routes if you’re having trouble.

7: Logistics. Figure out how you’re going to get yourself, your stuff, and your bike to and from your destination and stored safely. Securing your bike, cleaning up if you get dirty or sweaty, and transporting your clothes are things to think about.

6: Take The Lane! Tim put together an excellent article outlining five reasons to claim the lane with your bike. I can’t convey it any better than he did. If you’re not commuting on a bike path, you should probably be commuting out in the middle of the road where you can be seen.

5: Be visible. Bright colors. Reflective materials on you and your bike. Good lighting. Always, always have DOT-legal reflectors on your bike. It doesn’t matter how “cool” you think you look on your bike. To drivers, cyclists on the road all look dorky. You might as well go all out dork mode, right?

4: Don’t skimp on the bike. Bikes you find at sporting goods stores, toy aisles of big-box stores and the like are sold and marketed as toys that 100-pound 13-year-olds will ride for a summer and forget about. You wouldn’t buy a Power Wheels to get you around town, would you? If you already have an old bike, there’s not much harm in getting it fixed up and checked out at a bike shop. If you are buying a new bike, remember that you’re shopping for a replacement vehicle, not a toy. Browse the new Commuter Bikes Database for bike ideas.

3: Get to know the shops and destinations near you and along your route. Knowing all those little shops near you and your destinations (such as home, work, parks, etc) and along the way is a great way to find stuff that’s easily reachable on a bike. You might be surprised by what is nearby. After looking around, I found that there are few places I need to go that are more than 2 miles from my home or office.

2: Give yourself some time to adjust. It took me a few weeks to get my routine figured out and for my body to get used to riding a bike again. While you’re adjusting, it’s easy to get discouraged by bad planning or sore muscles.

1: Stay motivated. Come up with fun goals or get a riding buddy to keep yourself motivated for the first few months. This makes tip #2 easier to deal with. Soon enough, you’ll be hooked!

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