Some basic commuter tips

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.


  1. Raiyn

    There’s only two things I’d add.
    First: a good pair of bike gloves. I tore up my hands (mainly the palm area) in a bike crash when I was twelve or thirteen and ever since I’ve insisted on wearing gloves at a minimum while riding. (Helmets are much more recent thing for me)

    Second: I’d suggest my buddy’s locking strategy page for some pointers on locking up. It’s at

  2. plh

    I’ve been commuting by bike for 9 years now. Next to quitting smoking it’s the best thing I ever did for myself. I commute in all kinds of weather.
    One thing that is important is making flat tires as rare as possible. They will make you late for work! There are two important aspects to this:
    1) Very narrow tires such as those found on high end road bikes are more prone to flats.
    2) Quality counts.
    I am now using Schwalbe Flatless, specifically, the Marathon Plus 35C. There are other models in the series:
    There are other fine brands such as Bontrager Hard Case, which I have used. My route is brutal on tires. Since I changed to the Schwalbe, I haven’t had a single flat (knocks on wood).

  3. Chris G

    Just because 91% (A suspect number. Trends show the percentage dropping dramatically from the early 90s) of cyclists killed were not wearing helmets doesn’t mean that not wearing a helmet caused their deaths. That’s correlation not causation. What causes cycclists’ deaths? Being hit from behind. the LAB estimates that 40% of all cyclist fatalites were caused be being hit from behind by a motor vehicle. A helmet will do nothing more that protect from superficial damage when struck by a 30+ mph motor vehicle. Lack of proper facilities on major arterials are responsible for as much as 56% of all cyclists’ deaths.

  4. Dave Hylton

    While I do agree that the statistics sited about bicycle deaths and helmets is a bit suspect, if you are out there commuting everyday, where a helmet. I have worked rehab for the last 25 years, and a helmet is a small inconvenience. The best way to stay safe is to ride smart, and be seen! If you are new to riding in traffic, John Forester’s Effective Cycling is a good place to start.

  5. Raiyn

    I know I might catch some flak for this, but I’m still going to say it.
    It has been my practice and my suggestion that people should avoid “major arterials” as much as practicable and use what I call “parallel routes”. In many cities (particularly, but not limited to “grid” style setups) there’s a lesser traveled street a block or two off the main road that will take you in the same general direction you’re going. These “parallel routes” usually have lower speed limits and many (at least in my case) are residential streets. While bike lanes etc are helpful, sometimes it’s not about “proper facilities” as much as proper planning.

  6. Dave Hylton

    Rainy, I agree with you. I take a different route home from work than I do to work simply because of traffic patterns. The morning route has bike lanes, but in the afternoon it is busy with people arriving and leaving doctors offices. The back roads through the neighborhoods are safer, and a good way to get a couple of extra, less stressful miles in.

  7. Raiyn

    @ Dave
    I appreciate the fact that you didn’t take umbrage with my statement. I’ve had some folks rake me over the coals for daring suggest that bike lanes or the ideology of the Forrester-ites isn’t sufficient to ensure one’s safety on the main drag.

  8. Kagi

    Just wanted to agree with Chris G.: correlation is DEFINITELY not causation. A helmet certainly won’t hurt you, but it can’t protect you against most of the truly lethal threats on the road. To avoid those serious threats, you need to learn about lane control — which I notice At didn’t mention AT ALL in his advice to new commuters. If you’re thinking about riding your bike on the road regularly, you need to learn how to take the lane. If you don’t know what that means, you should find out. The League of American Bicyclists and CycleSavvy both teach good courses that will help you keep yourself out of dangerous situations and enjoy a stress-free commute. Take one!

  9. Raiyn

    @ Kagi
    I tend to agree more with the CycleSavvy approach as detailed here:
    than I do with “Effective Cycling”. My reasons are my own, but have certainly been negatively shaped in my dealings with certain VC acolytes and their leader over the last couple of decades.

  10. Kagi

    @Raiyn: word.

  11. Idaho Spud

    In close to 29 years of near-everyday bicycle transportation, putting on a helmet was a total waste of time and effort… except for TWO times. And on those two occasions, I didn’t have time to put it on as my head catapulted toward the pavement, so I was happy to be wearing it. My advice on helmets (for both bicycle and motorcycle)… “If you use your brain, wear a helmet. If you don’t use your brain… well, it probably isn’t so important.”

    Additional advice I would give a newbie:
    1) Be legal. (Know the laws, and follow them.)
    2) Be predictable. (Don’t ride “squirrely”!)
    3) Be defensive. (Be ready to respond to unexpected situations – your life might depend on it.)
    4) BE VISIBLE! (99.9% of motorists won’t deliberately run into you… if they see you. If they don’t see you, all bets are off.)

  12. Raiyn

    @ Idaho
    Good stuff.

    One more thing I’d add that ties well in with what you’ve said: Ride WITH traffic, not against it. Not only is it the law, but from a physics standpoint it may save your life.

  13. DanD

    On helmets: I have fallen off my my bike at speed three times. Twice due to dodging traffic that pulled out in front of me, and once due to a patch of sand I didn’t see going in to the turn. Of those times, twice my head did not come into contact with the pavement. The other time, I ended up with a half inch deep, two inch long gash in my helmet right over my temple.

    Anyone care to guess what would have happened without the helmet? It may not help all the time, but once is all it takes.

  14. milieuvriendelijk fietsen

    Thanks for sharing!

  15. Ken Sturrock

    Great article with wonderful tips! Thanks for the effort. I’d love to see it stickied somewhere.

    I too, however, don’t buy the causality 91% statistic. Safety involves many items and a single technical intervention, like a helmet, is important component but not miraculous. System-wide improvements are the slow and unexciting answer.

  16. Michael

    Here’s where I need help. I was riding to work at 5:15 am one morning when this happened:

    Three inches was all that saved my life. I haven’t taken my bicycle out of the garage since. It’s no longer enjoyable to ride to and from work. My thought was to ride on lesser traveled roads because the chances of getting hit were less than that of well traveled roads. Now, I’m rethinking that strategy.

    Even with two red flashing lights and reflectors on my backpack, this lady just “didn’t see me.” On a well traveled road, she may have seen other cars moving over out of the right lane, thereby seeing me.

    What are your thoughts?

  17. Raiyn

    First rule: NEVER say “I’m fine” ESPECIALLY when recording (then posting to YouTube)! Adrenaline is a funny thing and can mask the extent of injuries.
    I’m sure the folks here will pepper you with legal advice, but the one thing that sticks out is the “I’m fine” thing, because you’re not.

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