Whether you’re an experienced cyclist or a novice, commuting by bike is one of the best decisions you can make. You’ll save money, squeeze in more rides during the workweek, lower your stress, increase productivity at your job and help promote a positive cycling culture in your city.
While it won’t be easy at first, once you establish a routine, it isn’t as difficult as you might think. From planning a route to using hand signals in traffic, here’s everything you need to know before you head out for your first commute.
1. DETERMINE YOUR LEVEL OF FITNESS
The excitement of making a healthy lifestyle choice can sometimes cause you to set unrealistic goals. Before you begin commuting, it’s a good idea to be honest about your level of fitness and how far you are able to cycle comfortably. Staying within your limits will help you make commuting a reasonable alternative to driving and make repeating the activity on a daily or weekly basis more likely.
Once you’ve determined how far you can ride, here are some things you’ll need to think about:
- Are you fit enough to ride to and from work? If not, you’ll need to get a ride to work so you can bike home, or vice versa.
- If you live far from home and aren’t yet able to ride all the way to your job, consider using a combination of public transportation and cycling until you build your fitness.
- How many days can you ride? Avoid doing too much, too soon. Start with a few days and slowly increase the number of days you ride once you get your routine down.
2. FIND THE BEST ROUTE
The shortest route to work isn’t always the best route. While you do need to keep your level of fitness in mind when planning a route, it shouldn’t be your only consideration.
When planning a good route, here’s what you should think about:
- Does the route have bike lanes? Even if it increases the distance, finding a route with dedicated bike lanes will make your ride safer and more enjoyable.
- How is traffic on the route during the time you’ll be riding? If you’re riding during rush hour, riding a route that’s crammed with cars can be more dangerous than taking side streets.
- Does the route have a lot of stop signs or traffic lights? This could affect the amount of time it will take you to get to work.
- Have you driven several different routes to see which one is the best for cycling? Using MapMyRide to locate popular cycling routes in your area can help you find alternate routes that may be better than the one you usually use.
READ MORE > A CYCLIST’S LOVE LETTER TO BIKE COMMUTING
3. GET THE RIGHT GEAR
To begin commuting by bike, you don’t need the coolest or most expensive gear. Since commuting is all about saving money and being healthy, try to use what you have and make do. Below are a few basics every dedicated commuter should have:
- Dedicated shorts. Depending on how long your ride is, wearing cycling shorts can do wonders for your comfort on the bike.
- Backpack or rack? Even though you should try to keep as much gear at work as possible, chances are there are things you’ll need to carry with you. If your commute is short and you don’t have much to carry, a backpack might be your best option. If you’ve got a lot to carry and your ride is more than 10 miles, a dedicated bike rack you can strap your work gear to can make your ride much more comfortable.
- Do you have the right safety gear? A reflective vest, bike lights and helmet are musts to protect yourself and be visible to motorists.
- Rain and cold weather gear. If commuting is going to become part of your life, you’re going to have days when the weather isn’t perfect. Investing rain and cold weather gear make it much more likely that you’ll continue to ride even when it’s not spring or summer.
4. PLAN AHEAD
To make your life as easy as possible, it’s important to plan. Give yourself extra time just in case something happens, such as a flat tire or unforeseen detour. On the days you aren’t riding to the office, bring as much as you can to limit what you’ll need to carry on the days you do ride. Keep shoes, food, shower gear, a change of clothes and other supplies in the office.
If there are obstacles to your commute, try to figure those out beforehand as well. If there isn’t a shower, determine if you can get by with alternatives (like baby wipes) or if you’re going to need to find showering facilities somewhere nearby. Having things worked out in advance will keep your stress level to a minimum when you’re rushed for time.
5. GET A TUNE UP
There’s nothing worse than waiting until you’re out on the road to find out your bike isn’t working as it should be. If you haven’t used your bike in a while (or even if you have), it’s a good idea to get a tune up at your local bike shop before you start a commuting routine. Make sure your brakes are working properly, your bike shifts as it should and that your tires and wheels are in good working order.
When something does go wrong, make sure you know how to complete basic roadside repairs like changing a flat tire so you don’t end up stranded and late for work.
6. LEARN BASIC HAND SIGNALS
When you ride a bike on the road, you need to abide by the same traffic laws as other motorists. This means stopping for traffic signals, yielding the right of way to pedestrians and making your intentions known to those around you.
To be safe, it’s a good idea to know cycling hand signals. This guide provides a breakdown of the basics, whether you’re riding solo on the road or with another group of cyclists.