Category: How To

Bike commuting is a great way to stay active, save money, and help the environment at the same time. With your route planned out, and the proper mindset, you can set yourself up for a great experience. But without a little thought and the wrong setup, you could be setting yourself up for disaster.

Pick the right bike for the job

A lot of riders ride simple bikes to work every morning, and some ride the Ferraris of the bike industry to work. An expensive bike is fine but you don’t need it. The idea of commuting to work is to save you money. If your morning commute is mostly flat, there is no reason for a carbon fiber road bike with 30 gears. A simple bike that fits you comfortably, meets your budget, and has around 5 to 10 gears will suffice.

If you plan to commute at night or early enough in the morning that lights on a car would be required, you may want to also look into front and rear bike lights, as many states are now requiring them.

Protective gear
Not every state requires an adult to wear a helmet. Any seasoned rider can tell you there is no shame in wearing a bike helmet. In 2009, 91% of all bike fatalities were due to not wearing a helmet. These can and most likely will save your life. Although your commute might not be long, you will still be surrounded by other bikers and cars. Anything can happen, but know this. There are all kinds of helmets in all kinds of styles and shapes. Some of them are pretty amazing and comfortable.

As you will also be commuting near roads and highways, you may want to invest in some protective glasses or goggles to protect your eyes. Like helmets, these come in all forms of shapes and sizes and can even be made to prescription as needed. You’ll want to be sure these protect you from the sun’s UV radiation and are sturdy enough with polycarbonate lenses, as regular lenses offer less protection from small rocks and other debris flung from cars passing by.

Keep it simple
Take the time to get on your bike and ride to work on your days off. Take different routes and time yourself to see which one will save you more time. Also keep in mind the type of traffic and obstacles you may encounter during the morning work rush. You may also want to keep a backup route in mind in the case that there is an accident or road construction.

Carry only what you need
If your daily commute is only a few blocks, there is no reason to pack for a huge journey. Carry what you need for your day in a back pack or a messenger bag. If you normally carry a brief case, find a bike rack that will best accommodate it.
Make sure that in your pack to carry an emergency kit, emergency contact info, and possibly a rain kit just in case. The emergency kit should consist of at least an extra tube, tire levers, and a tire pump. Tire pumps come in many forms and sizes, so be sure to find one that fits your tube style and will not weigh you down too much. For rain gear, a simple poncho and rain pant will suffice, and usually only weigh a small amount.

If you are worried about carrying your dress clothes with you, or wearing them on your commute, you may want to stash a couple shirts, jacket, and a pair of shoes for work , in you cubicle or office. It might also be a good idea to keep a towel and clean up kit in your office just in case.

Bike security
Unless your office allows you to bring your bike inside, you may have to store it in a bike rack, or attach it to a sign post, or some other immovable object near your work. In most cases a u-lock will do the job by simply running it through your rear tire and frame. If you are worried this will not work, you may want to invest in a longer cable style lock. With a cable lock you can run it through you rear tire, frame, front tire, and then around the object you would like to attach your bike to. If you bike seat is attached to a quick release, you may want to take that and any other item that would be easily stolen with you.

It seems like just yesterday we were extolling the virtues of the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia, and its rise to the top of the bike commuting cities in the U.S.

All that growth and increased cycling interest has come at a steep price, however:

Philly has been ranked the number one major city for bike commuting; we’ve landed on the Top Bike-Friendly Cities in America list; new bike lanes are turning up everywhere. But with this increase in bikes has come a historic high for bike theft. The thefts have been on the rise for some time, according to data provided by the police department, climbing from 1,849 in 2011 to 2,122 in 2013. We’re on track to top that this year … and that’s just with the number of bike thefts that are reported.

“The actual number is three to four times higher,” says statistical analyst Tyler Dahlberg, who completed a study on the topic for the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia last year.

Read more at http://www.phillymag.com/news/2014/09/29/philadelphia-americas-worst-city-bike-thefts/#TTGCiW2VVHA6HmwG.99

Now’s a good time to brush up on your anti-theft methods. Take a look at the following articles from our extensive archives:

Choosing a good lock

Bolts or skewers to prevent wheel theft?

If you’ve got a bike that uses V-brakes and it’s making some noise here’s a quick tip you can do to get rid of that annoying sound.

So what you do is grab one of these green scouring pads, cut off a small section that’s wide enough to fit on the rim.
bike commuters tips

Then make sure you do a better job in placing it behind the pad than I did. Just to let you know, I did re-position the pad so it would be just right. Now press the v-brake arm in so you are essentially pushing the brake pad into the rim. Then rotate the wheel a few times.
bikecommuters.com v brake

Now check out the green pad. See all that muck…well that’s a combination of grease/oils and other contaminants that are getting in between your pads and your rims. If you have all that muck, it’s basically preventing your pads from making a solid contact patch, which causes vibration/noise.
bikecommuters.com tech tips

So the next time your brakes are making noises, try this!

Or in other words, groupset. Often times people may not realize that various groupsets come with grades or levels of quality. All this can be confusing as manufacturers keep adding more and more names to their lists. I found this cheat sheet of sorts at a local bike shop to help educate people of the different levels of groupsets.

bicycle groupset bikecommuters.com gruppo

A buddy of mine once told me that the only way to get better at any craft is not just practice but perfect practice. He was and remains one of the most technically superb surgeons with whom I have thus far had the privilege of operating, and his advice is applicable to so many aspects of life, including cycling.

I have personally suffered from this situation, and to the reader, please mentally acknowledge if this has not happened to you already:

I am riding a new route that is longer than what I am used to, and by the end of the ride, I am feeling fatigued. However, over the next week the ride gets easier and easier….until the 8th or 9th day and I feel like I have hit a plateau. From there on out, it feels like the same ride every day, some days feeling stronger, and other days feeling weaker. This continues until I switch up the route again, and the whole process repeats itself.

So what do my buddy’s aphorism and this situation have to do with each other? It’s the notion that commuting to work, while an excellent form of exercise, is not necessarily a consistent form of training. Sam Shaw wrote a good piece on this topic, “Riding your bike and training are two different things.” The title of the article pretty much says it all, and Sam goes on to describe his thoughts on riding with a “specific focus” of training in mind and sticking to that plan unwavering.

I do acknowledge that not all bike commuters are trying to train. But I have yet to meet a bike commuter who didn’t want the commute to get easier, faster, and stronger feeling. While I am a big proponent of technology, I feel that as a society, we have become ever more reliant on technology to improve our lives… I suppose rightly so, given that were it not for our advancements, we might never have made it out of the Stone Age. But the spark of these advancements was our desire to improve, an energy that came from within, a will for self improvement.

So how can we improve ourselves in the bike commuting department?

1. As the scenario (italicized) above illustrates, something as simple as switching up your route every so often not only freshens up things mentally, it can also freshen the activity of the muscle groups firing during your commute. Granted, depending on where you commute, changing the route might make zero difference in terms of the number of hills you encounter, the number of traffic stops etc. etc.

2. Interval training has become a popular concept, and its use is illustrated in the “Cross Fit” craze. Interval training can be incorporated into your daily commute, as long as it is safe!!! Part of the difficulty in training during your bike commute is that often the tempo and rhythm of the ride is punctuated by the fickleness of traffic lights. But if you have the luxury of a stretch of safe road and have warmed up, you can try an “on” “off” interval scheme, e.g. 90 second high intensity sprint, 30 seconds low intensity pedaling, for 4 sets, or as long and as safe as the stretch of road will allow. Bicycling magazine has some suggestions about incorporating interval training in your ride. Adjust the intervals based on your own level of comfort, but as a general rule, start with something doable. 

3. Personally, I keep my bike commute a bike commute and focus on getting to my destination quickly, efficiently, and above all, safely. However, I do train off the bicycle in the form of circuit training using free-weights. Here is my routine most recently.

a. Monday and Thursday (total training time 30 minutes each of those days)
i. Squats, 10 reps, low weight
ii. 10 crunches, 10 leg lifts
iii. Bent over rows, 8 reps
iv. Powerclean and standing military press, 4 reps

v. Squats, 5 reps, higher weight
vi. Same
vii. Same
viii. Same

ix. Squats, 2 reps, max weight
x. Same
xi. Same
xii. Same

xiii. Squat jumps (6 reps, 4 sets, low weight, 30 second rest in between sets)
xiv. Same
xv. Same
xvi. Same

b. Tuesday and Friday (total exercise time 30 minutes)
i. Bench press, 10 reps
ii. 10 crunches, 10 leg lifts
iii. Weighted, pronated pull ups, 20 reps, low weight

iv. Bench press, 6 reps
v. Same
vi. Weighted, pronated pull ups, 8 reps, high weight

vii. Bench press, 2 reps
viii. Same
ix. Weighted, pronated pull ups, 8 reps, high weight

x. Bench press, 10-12 reps
xi. Same
xii. Non weighted, pronated pull ups, about 10 reps.

A few notes: I choose to lift alone without a spotter (saves me time). Therefore, the weight and rep count I choose is such that I go to failure threshold; that is, my last rep of any given set is the one such that any other rep done after that would probably not be possible for me to lift. I have developed this sense of my limits and currently “max out” my bench press and squat weight each at 215lbs (For reference, I currently weigh 165lbs)

You might ask what military press, pull ups, and bench press have anything to do with cycling, a very valid question. First of all, my routine incorporates the standard “power lifts,” namely squat, bench, and dead lift (powerclean includes a dead lift). The addition of pull ups and military press helps activate some of the antagonistic muscle groups. The end focus: core. A strong core means an all-in-all stronger more resilient person. Added benefits with core strengthening pertinent to cyclists include balance and stability, among other benefits, and the geeks at Harvard agree.

The key is that whatever strength training, interval training etc. that you do, KEEP IT CONSISTENT, BUT DON’T KEEP IT THE SAME. Overall, with this supplemental training for the past 6 months, I have definitely noticed that my commute has become even easier than before. But I feel that I may be due for a change…

As with any physical activity, consult your personal physician before embarking on a new routine.

Please post with your own training routines, or if you feel that training is bogus and a waste of time, let us know your opinion as to why.

Do good and ride well.