Tools for Normalizing the Bike Commute

Come on now. I know that you think of yourself as a bike commuter. But all too often something gets in the way. As a small business owner who also likes calling himself a bike commuter, I’ve become quite familiar with all of the reasons (excuses) that it often seems much easier to take the car instead.

  • “I was going to ride my bike but I was running late.”
  • “I wanted to ride into work, but I had a flat tire.”
  • “I wanted to ride but the weather was terrible out today.”
  • “I wanted to ride my bike today, but I had too many things I needed to schlep into work.”

I believe that a way to describe the solution to these sorts of obstacles is figuring out how to normalize the experience of bike commuting. By this, I mean finding simple reliable solutions for overcoming the simple obstacles to commuting by bike.

Josh LiptonTo begin normalizing the bike commuting experience, I recommend first looking towards acquiring a basic level of reliable bike commuting equipment. High quality bike touring tires (or commuter-specific tires) is the best place to start. Other moves towards reliable, sturdy commuting equipment include installing a rear bike rack, a kickstand and lights. If the opportunity to choose or upgrade your drive train comes along, going with an internal geared hub would be a very positive step in this direction.

Normalizing the bike commuting route in relationship to weather can be very challenging. For cycling in winter months, my number one recommendation is the combination of studded snow tires and fenders. Put these on your bicycle and you’ll wonder why you ever stopped riding in the winter. When it comes to clothes, investing in a breathable waterproof set of rain pants and a jacket will be one more step towards considering your bicycle as reliable consistent transportation. Buy a quality set and store them in your bike panniers so they are ready when you need them. I’m a big fan of Showers Pass rain gear.

When it comes to being able to deal with all the stuff that life throws at you, keeping a bike cargo trailer around is certainly worth considering. Or if transporting loads is a nearly constant part of your routine, a longtail bike is an even better way to go. What comes up in your life that makes you consider taking the car instead of driving. Here are a few of my recent potential bike commuting deal breakers from the past couple of weeks:

  • “I’ve got to bring in brownies and that set of accounting books.”
  • “I should stop off to pick up those cleaning supplies along the way.”
  • “I should bring home my dirty dishes and extra clothes piling up on the shelf next to my desk.”
  • “I need to bring in my power drill and tool set.”

When you hit these stumbling blocks can you say “Good thing I’ve got a bike cargo trailer to pile it all in.. Or instead, “Umm I think I’ll just drive.”

If you haven’t made the leap already, maybe now is the time to help normalize your bike commuting routine by investing in a bike trailer or longtail bike. My favorite new bike commuter trailer is the new Burley Travoy, based on its multi-use aspect and very clever design. From the bike commuting perspective, I also recommend the Carry Freedom City for it’s convenient fold-ability and the Wandertec BONGO for it’s open-platform, large-load multi usability.

Despite my own recent effort towards normalizing my bike commuting routine, the demands of running a small business have caught up with me and I’ve been compelled to commute with my pickup. My current excuse? Well we have recently moved our business from behind my house to about four miles away. With this move, I’ve been shuffling all sorts of stuff back and forth from our old location to our new location.. For example, the other day, I had to bring in some rakes, shovels, a ladder and some plywood. I suppose I could get a Bikes-at-Work trailer. Even the combination of a longtail bike and a bike cargo trailer might do the trick for quite a few of the recent loads I’ve had to deal with. I’ll admit it though, more often than not, I took the easy way out and went with the pickup. These experiences make me appreciate the dilemma of moms with kids and all their stuff, tradesmen with their tools and materials, all types of business owners, and everybody else that has to shuffle around stuff on a daily basis.

So, how can those of us with the best intention to bike commute, normalize bike commuting when there is always a significant amount of bulk that needs to be transported to and fro. Part of my normalization is accepting the fact that I’ll probably drive once or twice a week and beginning to plan around it. I attempt to maximize my driving time by condensing as many of my large loads into my weekly pickup trips as possible.

Lately, I’ve been considering an additional attempt to further normalize my ability to consistently bike commute, by adding in an electric bike hub motor into the equation. I’ve been considering electric assist from several angles, mainly speed, consistency and increased cargo capacity:

  • The electric assist will likely help normalize my commute by speeding it up a bit. I often deal with a very strong headwind on the way to work that can add up to 10 minutes to my commute time.
  • Electric assist will help compensate with an additional power boost. Personally, arriving to work slightly disheveled or sweaty from a hard commute is not a personal concern of mine, but it certainly is to many bike commuters
  • By setting my bicycle up with an electric assist, it becomes more feasible to consider always bringing a bike cargo trailer with me (the trunk of my bike) whether I need it or not. The electric assist will normalize my bike commute by eliminating having to decide whether I bring my bike trailer or not. I will just always have it.

My other thought was to switch my main commuter over to a longtail bike like the Surly Big Dummy setup with an electric bike kit like the Bionx system or the Stoke Monkey. This would also have the normalizing effect in that I would always have plenty of capacity for cargo or even a passenger. I could use my bike cargo trailer when I really have a lot to carry as well, increasing my standard bike commuting payload as well.

Adding electric and cargo capacity to the bike commuting equation while offering some great benefits does complicate the system–taking away from some of the brilliant simplicity that makes it the tool of choice for many bike commuters. Electricity and cargo capacity add cost, maintenance requirements, size and complexity to your transportation solution. The comparison of these factors to a basic bicycle makes them daunting. But comparing them to the complexity of an automobile makes them seem quite appealing. And if the goal is to eliminate those nagging excuses that come up to “drive instead” they become quite intelligent and accessible solutions.

Normalizing the bike routine doesn’t have to be as complicated as buying lots of gear and switching to an electric bike. These solutions will certainly have a return on investment if implemented thoughtfully. But I suggest that before making major purchases and changes, perhaps try some basic and very simple adjustments to the daily routine.

  • Wake up 20 minutes earlier.
  • Do some maintenance checks on your bike when you arrive home from work so that your bike is ready for work.
  • Make sure that your commuting gear is organized and ready to go.
  • Always remember to enjoy the ride.

Josh Lipton is founder and President of a network of online specialty cycling shops as well as the editor of

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