It’s currently dumping snow at our offices in Colorado, so now seems like a weird time to write about bike commuting, but maybe some of you like riding in the snow! And even if you don’t, plenty of you live in warmer climates or are thinking about taking up bike commuting this spring and summer, so you might as well get off on the right foot. Here’s some advice to get you pedaling the right way.
Pick a schedule that works for you
Bike commuting can be great. It saves money, it’s better for the environment, it’s great for your health, and it’ll make your calves look awesome come swimsuit season. But it’s also more time-consuming, you can’t carry as much, and it’s tiring. If you want to stop by the grocery store after work, or drop off the kids in the morning, bike commuting isn’t going to work. But that’s ok! It’s not an all-or-nothing proposition. You can commute one day a week, or every other week, or only when it’s nice out. And if you’re not riding every day, you can plan ahead! Bring in two days worth of lunch, so you don’t have to carry it. Leave a change of clothes at the office. Leave your laptop at your desk overnight. Everyone’s job, life, and schedule is different, so make your commute work around you, not the other way around.
Once you’ve picked a schedule, the next step is to find your route. Although you’re technically riding on roads a lot of the time, not all roads are bike-friendly. Use Strava, Google Maps, and maybe a good old-fashioned practice run on the weekend to figure out exactly where you want to go. It’s up to you what balance you want to strike between bike paths, bike lanes, sidewalks, and hard shoulders, and you’ll have to keep in mind the laws on your area, but either way it pays to plan ahead. The last thing you want is to accidentally end up on a shoulder-less road with cars whizzing by at 65 miles an hour, or to get lost on your way to work.
Ok, so you know where you’re going. Now the most important thing is to get there in one piece. Having recently had a nasty crash with a car myself, I can promise you that you want no part of it. Cars are big and asphalt is not soft. Here’s what you’ll need to keep all your bits where they belong.
This is the number one thing. At Planet Cyclery, we’re of the firm belief that you should wear a helmet any time you’re on a bike. Others disagree, but if you hit your head on the pavement or a windshield, you may not get a second chance to rethink that policy. Most helmets are adjustable enough to accommodate a hat, if need be, so there’s no excuse not to protect your noggin.
There are two reasons to have lights on you: to see and to be seen. Depending on the roads you ride and the time of day or year you ride, seeing might not be an issue. Sunlight and streetlights might have you covered. But there’s nothing to lose with being seen. A flashing red taillight will make sure drivers give you space on the shoulder, or other riders notice you on the path. A small white light in front will help keep cars from pulling out in front of you, or pedestrians from cutting you off. And reflectors on your clothes, pedals, and wheels may not look the prettiest, but the more visible you are, the better.
In general, it’s a good idea to assume that no one else on the road — especially in cars — can see you. Don’t assume that they’ll wait for you, or that they’ll check their passenger mirror before turning right across the bike lane. You may have the right of way, but you’re going to have to look out for yourself.
Bring a multi-tool, a patch kit (maybe a whole spare tube), and a set of tire levers. Mine live in a saddlebag on the back of the seat, so I don’t have to remember to put them in whatever backpack or jersey I’m wearing. Make sure your phone is charged, too. Commuting usually means riding where cars are, and that means broken glass and other detritus on the road that can cause flats, and changing a flat on the shoulder of a busy road is no fun. Walk your bike away from the main thoroughfare, get your repairs made, and get moving again. Having the right gear with you makes sure you’re not stranded any longer than you need to be.
On that note, pay attention to wear on your tires and chain. The miles can really add up when you’re commuting, and a broken chain or blown sidewall can really mess with your day. Lube your chain frequently, and have a spare chain on hand at home. If you have a separate bike just for commuting, it probably makes sense to fit it with tires designed to really eat up the miles. Something like a Continental Gatorskin or, if you’re expecting a lot of gravel or mud, Schwalbe Marathon is perfect.
You’ve heard the saying: there’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes. That’s true, in that no matter the conditions, you can stay warm and dry, but remember what we said earlier? This isn’t an all-or-nothing thing. If you don’t want to ride when it’s six degrees and snowing, don’t! Take the car that day. No one’s forcing you do ride in the rain and snow, and nothing breaks a bike commuting habit faster than hating it due to nasty weather.
However, if you’ve decided to emulate the post office and ride through snow, rain, heat, and gloom of night, you’ll want to keep a few things in mind:
Other than that, it’s pretty much just about layering. You know better than we do what kind of body temperatures you prefer to maintain, so we’ll leave the details up to you.
Think of the stink
Last but not least, you’re going to be sweating. Whether you’re sweating under your winter clothes or just dripping in the summer heat, you’ll be working up some unpleasant smells, and for your own sake and the sake of your coworkers, you’ll want to do something about it. Sitting in sweaty clothes is bad for your skin and just feels generally icky, so bring a change of clothes. If you have a shower at the office, great! Use that. Leave a towel at work or bring a chamois cloth — that’s right, the kind for cleaning cars — in your bag and let it dry during the day.
If you don’t have a shower at work, wet wipes are your friend! The kind for removing makeup are especially effective at getting sweat and road dirt off your face. Change in the bathroom, take a wet paper towel and some deodorant to your armpits and some wipes to the face and neck, and you’ll be fresh as a daisy — well, close enough — for the workday ahead.
Do we have any other road commuters out there? Any tips of your own? Let us know in the comments below.