Advanced Commuter Tips

A Handy Cargo Trick

Reader Tom Hewitt sent in the following handy tip that we’d like to share with you:

basketball net

“Some of us bike commuters prefer backpacks to panniers for a variety of reasons (multiple shopping stops require leaving your bike outside, bike handling is adversely affected by heavy weight in the panniers, etc.). But sometimes a backpack just won’t haul everything you’ve purchased. My solution to this problem is a cheap basketball goal net, about $2 at a discount store, with a carabiner on each end to close it up. While there are many ways this can be attached to the bike or rack, I prefer to fasten it to the backpack itself. It is particularly handy for carrying light bulky things (paper towels) or fragile items that might be damaged by being crammed in the pack (potato chips, tomatoes). Most modern packs have many spots where the carabiners can be attached so it’s no problem fastening the load. And the net is easily carried in a pocket of the pack so it’s available whenever needed.”

Here’s a picture of the net in action:

net in action

Great trick — thanks for sending it in, Tom!

Does anyone else have a handy, unorthodox bicycle commuting tip or trick they’d like to share? If so, let us know about ’em!

New Tool: State by State Bicycle laws

Check out our new tool! A web application that will give you the laws that are applicable to bicycles for your state. You can find our new tool on top of our sidebar or on our Commuter Tools Page.

An important note to our readers: while we at have made every effort to ensure the completeness and applicability of the bicycle-related laws for individual states, the information provided in this
‘State By State Bicycle Laws’ area may not reflect current legal developments or statutory changes in the various jurisdictions and therefore should not be relied upon or interpreted as legal advice. The information provided on this public web site is provided solely for the general reference of the visitors to this web site. We suggest that you seek proper legal counsel if you have additional questions about the material presented here.

Winter Warriors

A couple of our faithful readers sent in some pictures to share of their winter bicycle commutes. Let me just say right at the beginning here that anyone who commutes by bicycle in harsh winter conditions has my undying respect and admiration — you truly ARE winter warriors!

First is Ter from the frozen tundra of Canada:

Snow in Canada

He included the following information:
“Hello from the Prairies of Canada.

Love the site. Just thought I might send something from Canada. I took the bike today, it was 5 degrees Fahrenheit at 6:30 am. Not as cold as I would like but it was cold enough. Check out the picture. That is real snow.

Anyways, I commute everyday 2 miles to work and back. A rule for myself is not to ride my bike in HEAVY RAIN, I’ll run those days. It doesn’t getter any better than 4 seasons of riding. I made the mistake of taking the bike the day after a heavy snowfall. Bad idea, I ran into a snow covered curb and bent the right side of my handlebar. Learned my lesson from that day. Well, hope everybody has a happy New Year.”

The second photo is from our pal up in the Windy City, Elizabeth. Here she is rolling out for a brisk commute in snow…fully outfitted to conquer the cold:

Rollin' Chicago style

I had my first brush with real cold here in Florida last night on my way home…perhaps the coldest ride I’ve taken in 15 years — it was 28 degrees with 15MPH+ gusts. That probably doesn’t seem like much to you winter warriors out there, but for me it was brutal. I guess my blood is really thin or something! A t-shirt, lightweight wool sweater and a windproof Fox Racing jacket were all I needed to keep my body warm, and I had winter gloves and a balaclava under my helmet to keep the rest warm. Flannel dress pants, though, were not enough to keep my “boys” toasty. I imagine if I had to ride in conditions like this more often (instead of once or twice a winter), I’d invest in some windproof pants to keep the chilly breeze away from my junk!!! Ha ha…I had to throw that in there to make sure y’all were paying attention!

Anyway, I wish you all safe, happy and warm riding this winter — keep on rolling, you winter warriors!

Just Ask Jack — The Need for Speed?

Ben C. sent in the following question:

“I have a 2003 Giant Boulder SE I converted to a commuter bike by slapping on some 26 x 1.6 slick continentals. I have also made a rear bike rack for my luggage.

Anyhow, my problem is that I would like to get more speed out of it. When I leave for work, I go down the hill and coast around 25mph. If I really try, I hit 36mph but I run out of gears and am pedaling very fast. I have to climb the same hill on the way home. My bike is a 21 speed. 3 rings on the crank and 7 on the cassette. I do have a granny gear. I used to mountain bike with RL.

What can I do to increase my speed without sacrificing my ability to ride uphill? I ride 9 miles one way and takes me about 35-40minutes. If I get lots of green light, then it takes me about 30 to 35 minutes. My goal is to be able to shorten my ride to 25 to 30 minutes.”

Here is the bike in question:
Check out that rack!

This bike was featured on our site a while back, and is also featured on PVC Plans.

Anyhow, there are a few things you could do to wring out more speed from your commuter bike. There are some fairly cheap methods, and others that may require a bit more money.

First, the cheap method: find some narrower tires. 26″ x 1.6″ tires are nice and cushy, but they’re just too porky for road use. If you can, find some 1″ or 1.25″ tires and decrease your rolling resistance. An additional benefit of narrower tires is that they tend to be able to hold a higher pressure, allowing you to really pump those tires until they’re hard — thus reducing rolling resistance even more (with the sacrifice of a little comfort).

Second, let’s play with the gearing: after talking with Ben, I learned that he is running a 14-34 7 speed cassette with a triple mountain crank (46T-34T-23T). He also indicated that the cassette’s freehub is slipping — a PERFECT time for an upgrade! I asked Ben about his gearing uses, and he mentioned that he rarely uses the little ring up front. There are several methods to changing up the gearing on this bike. The first could be as simple as finding a bigger big ring…perhaps a 49 or 50 tooth ring for the outermost position. Alternatively, since the little inner ring isn’t used so much, switching to a double like a compact road crankset might make sense. Traditionally, compact road doubles come with a 50T outer and a 36T inner. This kills two birds with one stone — a bigger gear for mashing at high speed, and a smaller ring for hillclimbing.

compact road double

Now, there are also several methods to tinkering with the gearing in back. Since the freehub has gone bad, might as well buy an 8-speed model…it will bolt right onto that existing hub with no other modification. Then, you can choose from a wide variety of pre-made cassettes with 11 or 12 tooth first-position cogs going up to 32 or 34 tooth 8th-position cogs. This will also give a bit more speed on the low end and still leave plenty of ratios for climbing hills. My favorite is to create a “custom” cassette by grinding/punching out the rivets that hold a cassette together and rearranging the stack with cogs of my own choosing…you might even be able to salvage a couple used cassettes from your LBS so that you’ve got plenty of cogs to select from.

The only drawback to upping the cog count in back is that you’ll also have to find another shifter. In this case, Ben is using a 7-speed thumb shifter. I’m not sure if it can be switched to friction-mode…if so, a 7 speed thumb shifter should be able to handle 8 cogs in back. If not, an alternative shift controller might be needed — and there are plenty available like twist shifters, trigger shifters and others.

Playing with your gearing can be fun — there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to get some more speed out of your rig and still have gear ratios available for climbing. If you’re interested in tackling something like this, visualizing the gearing choices and ratios on paper can be a good start. Sheldon Brown has an easy-to-use calculator on his site — just plug in the tooth counts front and rear and hit the “calculate” button! Ben, thanks for sending in your question…good luck and have fun out there!

Have a cycling-related question? Just Ask Jack! Click on the link in the right-hand column to send me your questions.

The Laughing Hyena Boy of Self-Conciousness

I was laughed at on my ride home yesterday evening. Part of my commuting route takes me past a local inner-city high school. On most days I avoid the school during peak traffic hours, and yesterday was no exception. I was riding beyond the “school zone” when I approached a group of upstanding young lads (sarcasm). The shortest and pudgiest of this group (anyone who has ever gone through high school knows one of these kids) stops in the middle of the street as I maneuver around the group, giving them plenty of room since half of them were not paying attention to what was going on in their immediate environment. This kid who stopped points at me and gives this heinous, hyena-esque laugh. As soon as I pass them, he turns and continues on his way.

Now, having the benefit of being an intuitive fellow, I was able to recognize this laugh for what it was: nothingness. But my other cycling brethren may not be so lucky. While I was able to discern that this is simply the standard, malicious sort of behavior exhibited by most males in the 12-15 age range (not to say it doesn’t get better after), and that this sub-sect of the human species is very well capable of getting inside someone’s head with such actions, it did not get to me.

Young boys have the distinct ability to act in such a way that one’s greatest doubts of self-consciousness will come out. I am confident that this kid had no reason for laughing AT me (I wasn’t even wearing my neon yellow windbreaker), but he was simply all “hopped up on pixie sticks” and goofing around like young lads do. Still, this sort of behavior has the tendency to slip inside someone’s head and cause them to seriously doubt every facet of their existence.

OR, maybe he did, in fact, have a reason for laughing so violently at me and now I need to go buy all new cycling gear to make myself look cool. Uh oh…here we go.