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zen habits: 6 Tips for Commuting to Work by Bike

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

6 Tips for Commuting to Work by Bike

This morning, I rode my bike in to work (a distance of about 10 miles), and it felt great. It was the second time I've done that now -- I also did it last week -- and I hope to make it a more frequent thing.

My goal is to get some exercise (I'm training for a triathlon) while also helping the environment and saving money on gas. With the gas prices rising so much in the last few years, it's frustrating to not be able to do anything about it -- but now I am.

Although it's a bit scary riding a bike in the middle of traffic, I have to say it was a great experience. Not only did I feel really good to get the exercise, but I had a great view of nature as I headed to work, and it was a lot more peaceful and relaxing than the regular commute by car. I hope to eventually build up my stamina so that I can ride my bike to and from work at least three or four times a week, or even five days a week, but for now I'm starting out slowly, as I'm new to cycling.

Tips for Commuting by Bike

  • Plan ahead. One of the reasons people don't commute by bike, even if they have a bike, is that they don't want to be sweaty. I'm lucky, as my work just installed a new shower, but before that I planned to use the shower of an office next door, or use the shower at a nearby gym (even becoming a member at a gym is cheaper than gas). You'll also need soap and deodorant and a towel and other toiletries. Then there's the issue of how to get your clothes to work, which is my next tip.
  • Drop your clothes to work ahead of time. You could pack them in a backpack, to wear on your back, but it gets your back sweaty. You could also put it in a pannier and carry it on a rack, which is a good option, but you might not want your clothes wrinkly for some reason. The solution I've been using (and it's not an original idea) is to bring my clothes to work the day before. This also saves some extra pounds that I have to carry on my bike, which is an issue for a beginner like me. You could even bring in clothes for the rest of the week. Eventually, if I ride to work five days a week, I might have to drop a week's worth of clothes sometime in the weekend.
  • Any ol' bike will do. You don't need a fancy racing bike or touring bike or anything to commute. If you've got an old mountain bike, which I do, that's good enough. You don't need to spend a lot of money on a bike and gear to get started. Later, you can always spend more, a little at a time, but whatever you've got is good enough for now.
  • Have a spare tube and tools, and know how to change a tire. You never know if you'll get a flat, and you don't want to be stuck walking your bike for several miles. A patch kit is good, but it's even easier if you just have a spare tube, a pump, and the right tools so that you can quickly change the punctured tube for a new one, and patch the old one later at home.
  • Be safe. This is a no brainer, but it is good to read up on tips on cycling safety (see links below) before heading out into dangerous traffic.
  • It's a blast! Cycling is a lot of fun, as I've discovered in recent weeks, and riding to work is much, much better than driving. Try it. You'll love it.
As always, I've pulled a few links on commuting bike for y'all:


Anonymous said...

Very inspiring! You've given me something to think about. Now I have to dust off my old bike and see if it still works! :)

Anonymous said...

Stick with it. The decision to commute by bike was one of the turning points of my life. Soon 10 miles will seem like a walk in the park to you.

Anonymous said...


I've been a bicycle commuter in the Boston area for the past 8 years, and this year I'm even riding in the winter. I can't think of a more pleasant way of getting around.

Leo said...

Thanks, guys, for the comments and encouragement.

@paul and othemts ... I'd be interested in hearing your tips for bike commuting, as more experienced riders than I.

Anonymous said...

I also faced the clothing issue when I started riding a motorcycle to work. The solution that ended up best for me was to switch to wearing suits (I keep three at work) and to bring in an ironed shirt every morning. If I fold it correctly just before departure and place it carefully in my bag, then I don't have any wrinkle problems. I can also sort dry cleaning near where I work so I never need to cart more than a single shirt to and from the office.

Leo said...

Hi Mitch ... great tips. Thanks for sharing. I don't wear suits to work (jeans usually), so I'm not sure if this kind of solution could work for me later, when I start commuting more frequently.

Right now I've only been doing it 1-2 times a week to start with. But it's a great experience so far.

Anonymous said...

I'll just pile on the love ... you are on the right track with your commuting plans, the only thing I would stress more is safety. I too live in the Boston area and a few times each spring and summer there're stories in the news about bike commuters getting killed or seriously injured. The reason almost always seems to be cars or trucks taking sudden turns into the path of the bicyclist. I am not trying to scare, just to be sensible about wearing helmets, using a bell, riding slowly even if the road looks open, etc.

Leo said...

Hi Bike Worker, thanks for the comment and great tips! I agree with you about the safety issues. A couple of riders have been hit in my area in the last two months. The problem, I think, is that they were riding in the dark ... it's important that you either ride during daylight hours or have a headlight, tail light and a reflective vest or something. Be visible!

And yes, do be very careful, and don't assume that drivers see you. I also always wear a helmet.

Thanks again! Any tips you have are always welcome!

Anonymous said...

Cycling to work is a blast. I did it for many years (I now work at home) and was amazed at how great I felt at the very start of the day when all the other workers were stumbling in bleary eyed, and again at the end of the day when I would race home, leaving me stress-free and a whole evening of free time because my exercise for the day was already finished.

One thing that I used to do so that inclement weather wouldn't bog me down too much was to set a goal of cycling to work three times a week. That's three out of five days. If I made Monday, then I only had to cycle half of the remaining four days. If I skipped Monday, then I had to do cycle three of four days. And if I skipped Monday and Tuesday, I would grit my teeth and cycle through whatever weather was blowing through (while repeating over and over “this is making me tougher” and “this is heightening my appreciate of the nice-weather days”). Motivation was high to hit the road on Monday, and this always started the week on a good and healthy note.

In then end, I averaged about four cycling days per week. Plus, longer weekend rides were a bonus fun time.

I used to carry ironed shirts and slacks with me, but kept a pair of shoes under my desk plus a backup pair of slacks, shirt, tie, belt, undershirt, a towel, etc., so I wouldn't be caught without, say, my pants.

I also used to arrive about 30 minutes early for cool down time, especially in summer.

Happy Trails

Leo said...

Great comment. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences. It's great to hear from someone who has actually done it on a regular basis over time. And you sound very goal-oriented yourself ... congrats on working at home!