Pedaling to Work

Reposted from Just Another Pedaler.

It seems like most of the getting started bike commuting information comes out in the Spring. But it seems to me that in some places this time of year is when the weather is cool enough to ride without sweating. In other cases people are thinking and planning for next year. So I thought I would put something out now.
So what are the things you need to get started bike commuting? There are a lot of things you could have but to me the minimum is a route, a bike and a plan.
The Route
The first mistake people make when planning a route is to chose the same way they would drive. This can be a big mistake unless you see a bike lane on the roads you normally drive. You might think that avoiding the highway (which is a good idea) and just going through town on the same busy road you would drive is your best choice. But there are probably better ways. Sometimes just getting a block or two over you can find a neighborhood road that parallels the main road. That would be a slow way to drive a car but a 25 MPH speed limit that is frustrating in a car is your friend on a bike. You may have to piece together several of these roads but they can make a more enjoyable ride. Ask around your local bike shops to see if there is a bike map for your area. There might be greenways, bike lanes, signed bike routes or other things that help make a good route. Also there is not just one route. I have adjusted mine over time by experimenting with different roads. Now I have alternatives that allow me to run various errands on the way home: bike shop, post office, library or shipping store.
If you are looking at a long commute, a good way to start riding is to mix driving and riding. Drive closer to work and ride from there. As you get used to riding you can drive a shorter distance and ride more until you are riding the whole way.
A Bike
Example Bike From Craig’s List
You can get a lot of stuff and even a lot of bike for commuting but it definitely is not necessary. You can find a bike like this one on Craig’s list for $75 to $150. What you want is sturdy and trouble free. A chromoly steel frame is a good start. You don’t need suspension. It is just something else to maintain. Plenty of gears will keep you moving even on hills. Solid brakes are a must. For starters you don’t need a rack or fenders, but this kind of bike can handle them when you are ready. The things you really need to add to this bike are a bell, some lights (try this set for $35), and a flat kit (extra tube, patches, pump or CO2 system).
A Nice BellLight SetCO2 Tire Repair Kit

On the other end of the spectrum, at the 2010 North American Handmade Bike Show I saw a bike that would be perfect for my commute. It was titanium so it wouldn’t corrode. It had disc brakes for good stopping power, a Gates belt drive and Alfine internally geared hub for low maintenance. It even had a built in rack. The main draw back is that it was $8600. I would need to win the lottery to afford it and then I wouldn’t need it to commute to work. Here is a photo. It was made by Black Sheep Cycles. I still want it. Maybe if I just won a couple $100,000 in the lottery?


A Plan
You need to figure out when you are going to ride, what to do about a shower and how you are doing to carry stuff. When to ride means what days and what time of day. Assuming you work Monday to Friday, it might be easiest to start by riding on just Tuesday and Thursdays. This can help with clothes too as you will see in a moment. I find going earlier in the morning avoids lots of traffic. Since I get up and ride first and then shower, it is easier to be on the road earlier than if I shower and then drive.
Action Wipes

Depending on the weather, the distance you are riding, the terrain and how fast you are going, you may need to shower when you finish your ride. You could be fortunate like me and have showers at work. That is the optimum setup. Other people join a gym near work and shower there. Then you can ride the slowly from the gym to work. Some people just use some wipes and a bathroom sink to get cleaned up. That could work if you are not too sweaty.

To figure out how to carry your things, you have to figure out what you need to carry. Typical things to consider are clothes, work papers and maybe a laptop. There is even some chance you don’t need to carry clothes. If you are only riding some days, take extra clothes to work on the days you don’t ride. Situations differ but a backpack is the simplest solution. You may already have one that can hold some office papers, a change of clothes and even a laptop. As you ride more you can decide if panniers could make for a more comfortable ride.So try out commuting a few times this fall. Or at least start planning for the spring. I think you will like it – unless you love it.