The Realities of Biking to Work

There are lots of reasons to trade in your car and make the switch to biking to work every day. The most basic benefits of the switch are outlined in this post from last March. Of course, knowing why you should bike into work is a lot different than knowing how to bike into work every day. The reality is much different than most new cyclists imagine. Here are the biggest obstacles that most cyclists face with their morning (and evening) commute and how to handle them.


The relationship you have to the drivers on the road around you is going to depend as much on where you live as much as it does on how you operate your new engine-less vehicle.

The best thing you can do (because even in cycle friendly cities like Portland, the relationship with other drivers can be tense and irritating) is to follow the rules of the road. Remember that a bicycle is considered a vehicle and, as such, you need to ride like you’re driving a car, not like you’re walking. Stay in your lane, keep up with the flow of traffic, follow your local traffic laws.


While most drivers know to keep an eye out for cyclists, making sure you are visible is important. Don’t just pop on your helmet and head out to work expecting that you are automatically visible. The special reflective gear that is sold to cyclists is not a racket. You’ll want to make sure that your bike is equipped with the right lights and reflectors. You’ll also want to make sure that your clothing is easily visible. This could mean sewing reflectors on to your coat or buying special coats, pants and shoes that have reflective and glow in the dark capability built into them. You might feel a little goofy at first, but the last thing you need is to blend into your surroundings!

The Bodily Challenges

Riding a bike is great for your health and, yes, it can reduce your dependence on the gym. At the same time, the repetitive motion of pedaling, the posture your bike requires, etc. can lead to some new aches and pains in your muscles, especially when you are first starting out. You can also expect chafing to be a constant threat and worry.

To deal with these changes, treat each ride as the workout that it is. Warm up and stretch first. Make sure that you are outfitted correctly. Therafirm recommends wearing compression shorts to help wick moisture and prevent chafing during the ride.


Bad weather is a real problem for people who commute by bicycle. Rain and snow and extreme temperatures can all make your commute difficult.

The best way to deal with this is to wear weather appropriate gear while you are on your bicycle and pack your nicer clothing into your bag so that you can change when you get to work. This way you can stay warm (or cool) and dry on the commute and don’t have to worry about showing up for an important meeting looking bedraggled. Remember to adjust your commute for the time you’ll need to change clothes!


Most of us don’t travel to work with just our bodies. We have wallets, laptops, phones and other gear that must be accommodated. Fitting these things into a simple front bicycle basket isn’t always possible (or very good for the items you’re transporting). According to the BTA, Some things can be carried in a backpack that you wear during the commute. Another option is to fix a rear basket or fixtures that will accommodate saddle bags or panniers.

Remember to be patient! Adjusting to cycling life will take time. You won’t get everything perfect on that first ride. Take your time, do your research, talk to the pros at your local bike shop of send us your questions: when you need help. You’ll get there!


  1. Linda Coburn

    Good tips! I would like to add that some of the “workout” aspect of bike commuting can be alleviated with an electric bike. I was able to turn my commute into a pleasant, and faster, ride with an e- bike. If I do feel the need for more exercise, I can do that on the ride home. No more worrying about arriving at meetings all sweaty! Ride on!

  2. Dan

    Art, thanks for the informative article.

    I’m not sure what you mean by ‘keep up with the flow of traffic’. In most situations a cyclist following the rules will be the slowest vehicle on the street, and is not able to keep up with the motorized folks.

  3. IdahoSpud

    …keep up with the flow of traffic…

    I had the same reaction as Dan, above. Way to discourage the newbie right off the bat! (“Keep up with traffic? I have a 35-mph road between me and the office… guess I can forget about riding to work…”)

    It’s nice when you can keep up with the flow of traffic, but that won’t always be the reality, unless your circumstances are pretty awesome. Far too many MOTORISTS seem to think bikes don’t belong if they can’t keep up, and that is NOT the case! As long as you are traveling in the same direction as prevailing traffic, and in the right lane and “as far to the right as practicable” (usually the terminology in the statute), you are legal, and if you’re doing it right, safe.

    Doing it right? That’s mostly learned by experience, and getting a feel for it. AND BEING VISIBLE!!

    If the lane is plenty wide, I just keep to the right and motor traffic can breeze on by. If the lane isn’t wide enough to safely accommodate me and a passing vehicle, I “take the lane” and people coming up behind me just have to wait until it’s safe to pass. The vast majority of motorists understand what’s going on… and the few who don’t – typically punk kids or pickup-driving rednecks who think they own the road – might rev the motor or even honk, but they won’t run you down. (He says confidently… at least it hasn’t happened to me yet!) If they harass you or endanger you with their driving, do your best to get a description and a license number, and call the cops.

    In my jurisdiction, I’m fortunate because there are specific laws discouraging harassment of cyclists, and passing with less than 3 feet of clearance. But even if you don’t have such laws on YOUR books, usually if you make the effort to call it in, they’ll give it some attention, at least to the point of contacting the offender with a wake-up call.


    Bike commuting realities for newbies getting started in a new season, new commute, new city, or first time ride since high school – get a bike buddy! A bike commuting buddy will help you navigate asphalt, bike lanes, bike boxes, and bike corridors and trails. Build your confidence by gearing up on the weekend with a friend and execute a trial run of your route. It’s totally worth it! And, if you don’t have a bike buddy, you can be like lonely ole me, when I first arrived in Somerville, I snagged a bike map from REI to map out my routes and compare it against Google maps. After several different trial runs, I have finally nailed my commute. And, re:storage – all hail the single water proof Ortlieb pannier! I am a rack and pannier
    Convert. However, chances are – you’ve got gear in your possession that will “make do” for your maiden bike commuting voyage. No special commuting winter weather gear? Just dress like you’re taking off for a snow day and throw on a backpack! You’ll soon figure out what works for your commute!

  5. Dan, trial runs also help the rider not get lost on the way to work and end up late! (Yes, it happened to me when trying to follow a “marked” bike route through town)

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