The next piece of the bicycle commuting puzzle is logistical. How are you going to get to where ever it is you plan to go? What will you do with your bike when you get there? These questions are liable to arise when you start to seriously consider the possibility of bicycle commuting. But do not fear, once you have sorted through these questions a handful of times, they will become second-nature. So don’t let the logistics scare you away from bicycle commuting; embrace them! Bicycle commuting is a pleasant and rewarding way to get around.
Finding a good route is important, and it may take more than one ride to figure out what the best route is in a given situation. Although I have two “traditional” commute routes, sometimes I like to mix-it-up a bit depending on my mood, the weather, the traffic, errands, and so-on. Some commutes are more complicated than others depending on where you live, where you work, the things in between (like the topography, weather, road/ trail network, etc.), the amount of time you have, and to some degree, on the type of bike(s) at your disposal. For example, if there is a trail network between your house and workplace, and if you have an off-road worthy bike available for commuting, you might decide to take the roads one way and trails the other. In most urban environments, there are usually multiple route possibilities to choose from, which can actually make things a bit confusing for the first-time bike commuter.
In some cases, the commute route might be totally obvious, with one logical route to use. However, some routes are a bit more complicated, so as you are in the process of selecting a bike route, there are a few key features that I recommend you look for:
Keep It Legal
Don’t select a route that utilizes major interstates, freeways, expressways, parkways and the like, which may not have shoulders or bike lanes, and which may be illegal to ride on. In some cases, if a road of this sort has a wide shoulder (5 – 10 feet) and you are constrained to use it, then go ahead and do so, but stay alert and only use it for as long as you absolutely have to. Even if you have to ride a bit out of the way, it is usually worth it to avoid these sorts of roads.
How heavily trafficked are the potential roads on your route? As I mentioned, I have two bicycle commute routes that I choose from on a regular basis. Both of them go to the same place and are approximately the same distance (though one is a few tenths of a mile longer than the other). The morning route is the shorter of the two (since I tend to run a bit late), and when I leave home, it is usually pretty quiet traffic-wise. However, in the afternoon, it’s a bit more congested, so I opt for the longer route, which is a bit more peaceful. Nonetheless, both routes avoid the large, main road – which runs between my two routes – since the larger road is quite busy and doesn’t have a consistent bike lane. So you may want to alter your route a bit once you learn more about the traffic patterns on it and on any alternative routes.
Bike Lanes and Shoulders
Every road has a shoulder, but what kind of condition is it in? Are there potholes, debris, and other potential crash-inducing or tire-biting nightmares? If you use an online mapping tool to find a route, I suggest doing a test-ride on the route to make sure the road is in decent condition. Ideally, find a route with consistent and well-marked bike lanes or at least a decent shoulder.
During your test ride, try to note whether or not you see other cyclists (be they bike commuters, recreational riders, racers, etc). Power in numbers certainly applies to cycling, so the more cyclists on a given route, the more likely that motorists will be on the lookout for cyclists.
If you will be riding at night, it might be helpful to examine the lighting along your potential routes. Even with a good light, it is usually easier to ride on a route that is well-lit. It is also easier to be seen in lighted areas.
In addition to good bike lanes and shoulders, routes with nice cycling infrastructure (such as signage indicating a bike route or to watch for bikes, traffic signals to help cyclists at busy intersections, or even separated bike lanes) are often more pleasant to ride on. Also, look for traffic calming devices (such as speed bumps, chicanes, round-a-bouts, medians, etc.), as motorists may be more alert (though I can’t guarantee they will be calm) when driving on roads with this type of infrastructure.
There are also great opportunities to use online mapping tools to select a route. I highly recommend utilizing one of these tools, but don’t neglect to take a test ride on the route, as it allows you to find some of the intricacies of the route and better prepare for your commute.
The next thing you should scope out is where you are going to park your bike. Depending on the bike you select for your commute, you may be comfortable locking it up outside at a standard bike rack (if there are any available), or you might want to take more precaution by finding a bike locker, bike parking facility, safe niche somewhere at your workplace to leave it for the day, or you might decide to utilize a more creative solution for parking.
If you are going to be locking your bike up at a rack outside, then I suggest that you select the “appropriate” bike and spend the money to buy a good lock. Now what I mean by this is don’t purchase a bike that is way out of your price range, lock it up improperly, and then throw a fit when it gets stolen. You want to make it difficult for someone to steal your bike by locking it up securely in a public place, which most thieves are likely to avoid. Most bike thieves usually aren’t all that clever, but there are some that are, and you certainly don’t want the clever ones or the overly brave ones to catch wind of your nice ride locked up somewhere they can easily take it from with the snip of a bolt cutter. Not to mention, the idea of bike theft leaves me
with an empty, hollow feeling inside, so it best be avoided. If you plan to lock your bike up outside, the “appropriate” bike (in my opinion) is one that isn’t too overwhelming to replace. But unfortunately, even if you do everything right, sometimes your bike can still get stolen The other thing to take into consideration when lock your bike up outside is the risk of damage, since other cyclists are liable to bang it, bruise it, and otherwise blemish it in the process of locking up their own rides.
I am actually a proponent of using outside bike racks, and I have been a consistent bike commuter for more than 6 years and nearly always lock up my bike outside. In fact, the sight of crowded bike racks is usually uncommon in the US, and therefore, can be a pleasant surprise. But if my commuter bike were to get stolen, it might break my heart more than my pocketbook. As for blemishes, I think they contribute to the bike’s character, but nonetheless, give some consideration to where you are going to leave your bike during the day. As for parking your bike at night, again, I suggest a well-lighted, public place as opposed to a dark alley.
Many institutions, such as universities and local government, workplaces, and transit hubs, such as train and bus stations, have started to purchase bike lockers, which can be rented for bike parking. Lockers are really useful if you have a more expensive commuter bike that you prefer not be locked up at an outside rack. They are also very useful for multimodal commuters who may ride to a train or bus station and take public transit for the rest of the commute. The fees to rent lockers are usually reasonable, and they tend to be relatively safe. Lockers are also very private, as there is usually only one bike per locker.
All photos in this post compliments of Chloe Forsman.
Bike Parking Facilities
Historically, most workplaces have not provided bike parking facilities, which are large secured areas in which hundreds of bikes might be parked at a given time, and many buildings won’t let you bring a bike inside, because it is considered a fire hazard. Sometimes there are fines and strict punishment associated with bringing a bike into certain buildings. As a freshman at my university, I was nearly given the boot from the dormitory for having my bike inside!
However, this issue is slowly changing, and more and more commuter cycling facilities are appearing both at workplaces and at independently operated facilities. Some bicycle parking facilities are relatively simple cages with standard bike racks inside, some are accessible by key-code or key, while others are simply designated spaces for bike parking. Other facilities are much more advanced with parking, showers, repair stations, rentals, and more. Facilities like these are able to serve large numbers of commuters and are especially useful in cities that also have public transit options, because the facility can serve as a central hub for bicycle commuters coming from outside the city or from the edges of the city. I hope to see more of these facilities in the future, and I hope that they are put to good use!
Next up at Utility Cycling, we are going to take a break from the category of bicycle transportation and examine the category of bicycle delivery. Join us next time for a peek at all the different types of bicycle delivery services we could find.