New to bike commuting? Here are a few tips

Charlotte Watson left the following comment:

Hey guys.
I’m new to cycling and have just bought a 1970’s schwinn Free Spirit touring bike and will be riding my bike in excruciating heat this summer commuting to work and back (about 3+ miles each way)

What advice could you give to a new cyclist? I’ve been riding almost everyday and am still having a hard time keeping up.

I believe that preparation and planning is the key to a smooth bike commute. Here’s my bike commuting ritual

The Night before my morning commute:

1. Check the weather forecast
2. Prepare my clothes for work and for my commute.
3. Check my bicycle for any punctures or loose spokes

The morning of my commute:

1. Check the weather
2. Check my bike again
3. Make sure I have water

Riding back from work:
1. Check the bike
2. Make sure I have water

As far as riding in the heat, drink plenty of water and carry sunblock. Riding will become easier as you keep riding, don’t give up!!!

22 Comments

  1. Noah March 27, 2008 9:08 am 

    As Moe mentioned, planning and logistics are probably the most tedious things even for established bike commuters. What do you need to carry for the weather conditions? Is everything packed? Is the bike in good shape?

    I recommend a few tips:

    * Learn to do basic fixes and adjustments like fixing flats, tightening brakes, adjusting shifters and keeping your drivetrain clean and lubricated. This will save you time and money at the bike shop, where you can sometimes lose your bike for days at a time.

    * Get a few tools to do the said basic fixes. Having a portable bike tool like the Park MTB-3 (my fave) helps a lot.

    * Find a good, safe bike route. The main roads you’d think to use for driving might not be bike-friendly.

    * Take the lane when riding on the road. Sidewalks are dangerous, and riding in the gutter is a good way to make sure motorists pass you too closely. Make them CHANGE LANES to get around you, and if they cut too close you have lots of room to move right.

    * BE SEEN with lights, reflective stuff and high-contrast clothing.

    * Learn all the shops near your home and work destinations as well as stuff along the way. You can probably use your bike for lots of short, close errands once you know where some independent-operated shops are. This often saves you from going to a larger, further-away place like Wal-Mart.

    * Find a friend to ride with or set goals to keep yourself motivated.

  2. Michael March 27, 2008 9:10 am 

    Don’t bother with the weather report except to check for hazardous weather warnings–If you pay attention to the weather report then you will miss way to many good commuting days.

    For oppressive heat make sure you have a sweatband or headsweat to keep sweat out of your eyes. Nothing stings more than sweat in the eyes while your going downhill at 30 MPH except the road rash when you lose control ’cause you can’t see. Also, lots of water, both for in the body and on the body. If your ride is short (<15 miles) then two 24 oz water bottles should work well–1.5 for drinking and 0.5 for squirting in the helmet vents. For the three mile ride desribed above then one bottle is plenty.

  3. Ghost Rider March 27, 2008 9:10 am 

    Another tip might be to do a couple “test runs” before you embark on your commuting future — carry what you expect to carry and try to find a decent route. You may discover better techniques during these shakedowns: better routes, better load-hauling methods, etc.

    The best tip of all, of course, is to HAVE FUN!!!

  4. aidan March 27, 2008 9:14 am 

    Use bikely.com to map out your routes. Use the satellite feature to spot shortcuts. Go online to find any municpal cycling maps for your area. Bear in mind that you can do 150% of distance on park paths that you can in the same time on regular roads, because of fewer stops and far less stress.

  5. Moe March 27, 2008 9:29 am 

    I usually check the weather report so I can dress accordingly. Nothing sucks more than to be under/over dressed for your commute.

  6. Noah March 27, 2008 9:48 am 

    Weather isn’t just so you can decide to drive. Like Moe, I always check the weather, but I never missed the bel0w zero (Fahrenheit) or blizzard days. I was just prepared for them.

  7. Smudgemo March 27, 2008 9:57 am 

    Good luck, Charlotte. Keep asking questions to avoid making the same mistakes many of us have already made. And don’t feel bad about not riding if you sometimes don’t feel like it. This isn’t supposed to be like taking medicine.

  8. Ben C March 27, 2008 10:40 am 

    Here is another tip: When you first start out commuting, double the time then driving. Once you are consistent, you may find that you become faster and more efficient.

    I went from 50min, to 45min, to 30-35min on my 9 mile commute, one-way. Depending on lights, also.

    Have fun and try to avoid ‘Bike Rage.’ I get that at times. It’s just like road rage. It’s not good.

  9. Jamis_Bater March 27, 2008 10:43 am 

    Double check that you packed underwear. I’m going “commando” today because I didn’t. Eeeuuuu!!

    Too personal?

  10. Matt March 27, 2008 10:44 am 

    Just in case it you are not familier with fitting your bicycle to your body(seat post height, saddle fore/aft) check with your LBS or a friend who rides for proper adjustment.

    The mechanical knowledge several posters have mentioned is a great idea. You may have a brake rubbing a rim making it difficult to keep up. A minor adjustment will remedy the rub and you’ll ride faster.

  11. Evan March 27, 2008 10:47 am 

    I don’t bother to check the weather. I just step outside in the morning to assess the conditions (then again I live in San Diego so it’s not a big deal).

    I’ve been doing the bike commute for over half a year now. The biggest tip I’ve learned is to be prepared!

    Take lights and blinkies with you even if you think you’ll be home well before dark because you never know.

    Carry a lock even if you don’t think you’ll be stopping anywhere.

    Make sure you have tools and spare tubes because flats can and will happen!

  12. Val March 27, 2008 11:22 am 

    My two favorite tips:
    – Never be in a hurry. When you are rushed, you are more likely to take unnecessary risks and make mistakes. Having to rush and always ride your fastest aslo keeps you from enjoying the view or taking advantage of interesting opportunities along the way. Allowing extra time lets you relax, and keeps flats or mechanical problems from being disasters.
    – Don’t let the weather be the boss of you. As the proverb goes, there is no bad weather, only bad clothing. It’s possible to adapt to almost anything, if you give yyourself a chance.
    And, of course, as Ghost Rider says, have fun!

  13. lady clay March 27, 2008 1:10 pm 

    Don’t be afraid to take a break if it gets too hot – I don’t know where you live, but I’m originally from Texas where it can get actually dangerous. Still, you can ride easily and comfortably pretty far up the mercury. Wicking fabric and plenty of water are key.
    Also, it gets a lot easier, don’t worry. If you’re persistently sore, you may need to change up your kit a little – get the LBS to make sure your bike fits you right, change saddles, get different bike shorts. None of this stuff has to be super expensive, either. There are different options at a variety of price points.
    Finally, it made a HUGE difference for me when I got my commuting gear off my back. A cheap pair of panniers, if you don’t have any, will make all the difference – especially in the heat.

  14. Gabriel March 27, 2008 2:47 pm 

    Lady clay beat me to my favorite tip — commuting in the summer in Florida, I LOVE my panniers.

    That, and 1) give yourself extra time to get to work and 2) remember to have fun!

  15. Jamis_Bater March 27, 2008 2:58 pm 

    My tip would be don’t fall into the trap of thinking that just because you rode in to work you can eat the donuts your coworkers bring in. I’m currently the laughing stock of the office because I bike to work and also doing Weight Watchers.

  16. KingSlug March 27, 2008 8:10 pm 

    As silly as it may sound keep emergency quarters or bus pass. Some days are rough, you might work late, have a bad day or break a chain. It kind of a relief to just load the bike on the bus and ride a few miles, when you have a crappy day sometimes.

  17. Gavin March 28, 2008 6:59 am 

    At the start of the week, bring all your stuff into work. Clothes, food etc.

    Buy puncture proof tyres and good tubes.

    Then just cycle into work with nothing but a phone in case of emergencies. Maybe a bottle of water on the bike if it’s really hot.

    There’s no need for all this planning, logistics, weather forecasts crap. It’s a far more enjoyable way of cycling.

  18. Moe March 28, 2008 7:41 am 

    Hey Gavin, how would you propose for Charlotte to transport a weeks worth of clothing and food (probably more since she may have to take stuff for cold and hot days)?

    You may enjoy ‘roughing’ it while riding to work, but for a new commuter, that would be discouraging.

  19. Gavin March 28, 2008 9:03 am 

    Yo Moe, just like I said,
    I’d say load up clothes for the first day and bring it all, leaving it in work during the week.

    Two sets of clothes will cover a week. Particularly as one is only wearing them during work hours. Food can be purchased in shops !

    I suspect a new commuter would in fact be deterred by the over the top preparations advised here.

    With decent tyres & tubes punctures are extremely rare. No need for a pump/levers/spare tube. No need for tools. Leave lights on the bike if needs be and bring them into work.

    Also, the commute is three miles, if anything happens Charlotte is at least 1.5 miles from home/work. That’s approximately 30 minutes walk for the average woman. Hardly a problem.

    There’s no need to make the process so complicated. It’s offputting for people.

  20. Moe March 28, 2008 9:15 am 

    Wouldn’t you still have to plan and prepare the clothes for the week? I used drive on Mondays with all my clothing for the week and frankly, it is easier to bring my stuff on my panniers.

  21. Ghost Rider March 28, 2008 9:23 am 

    I’m gonna have to disagree with you there, Gavin — there are lots of considerations for the new commuter! Think of these tips as “food for thought” …in practice, bicycle commuting can be incredibly easy with little or no preparation, especially for shortish rides. However, it is extremely important for a commuter to be prepared for breakdowns, heat and other weather considerations, etc. Better to know too much and not have to use that information than to go out totally unprepared, right?

  22. Matth March 29, 2008 5:44 pm 

    Oh yeah and note that there’s no way of avoid the fact that one of the ways will usually be harder than the other as prevailing winds will usually be in your back on one of the two ways and in your face the other way around.

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