Preparing for your first bike commute

How can you save money, improve your health and protect the planet at the same time? Try bike commuting. Biking to work just once a week saves more than $1,000 in gas and car costs, burns 15 pounds’ worth of calories and prevents 75 pounds of carbon monoxide from entering the atmosphere in a year. And with Bike-to-Work Week right around the corner (May 12–16), now’s the perfect time to give it a try.

Here are a few tips to get you off to a smooth start:

Finding your way

A safe route is critical, and the best route by car is rarely the best by bike. Look for dedicated bike paths, lanes or at least streets with wide shoulders. Hennepin County has good maps (available in print or online) identifying the primary on and off-road paths, and the Twin Cities Bike Map (by Little Transport Press) offers more detail. Local bike shops have these resources and many others, as well as staff who can suggest routes. Don’t hesitate to ask them for advice since many are bike commuters themselves.

What to carry

Always carry a spare inner tube or two, a patch kit, pump and “mini-tool.” If you don’t know how to change a flat tire it’s quite easy to learn. Many shops offer a free crash course on basic maintenance, and those that don’t will likely teach you informally if you ask.

Bike commuters often need to lug clothes, a portfolio and perhaps even a laptop computer. The more you can leave at work the better. If you have a spot to hang a few outfits to change into, you’ll look less rumpled in your 8 a.m. meeting. Carry a cell phone in case you have a real emergency, and always have identification easily accessible in case you’re involved in an accident.

Finally, it’s essential to have lights (front and rear) if you’ll be traveling at dusk or dawn. You can find a simple kit for $30 or less. Remember, it’s just as important to be seen by motorists as to see the roadway.

How to carry it

I’ve always found a backpack works just fine, though it does make you warmer as the temperature rises. A rear rack and panniers (bags that hang over the rear wheel) work well, too. Some riders like single-strap commuter bags. Whatever is comfortable and stays firmly connected to you or your bike will do.

How to dress

Dressing in layers is smart. You can always remove them if you get too warm. More snugly fitting jackets and pants are good, both to minimize wind resistance and stay out of the drive train. Look for reflective clothing, bands, or striping on bags. ALWAYS wear a helmet, no matter how short the trip, and NEVER wear headphones. Finally, bike gloves are recommended not just for comfort but protection. Embedded gravel is no fun!

How to ride safely

Bikes always ride with traffic — that is, on the right side of the road. If the lane is narrow, it’s better to take the whole lane than to try to ride too close to the shoulder. If you don’t have much experience with on-road riding, practice riding in a steady, unwavering line.

Be wary of parked cars if you’ll be riding in the city. Drivers often throw open their doors without looking, and I have friends who have been “doored” — and seriously injured. Also watch for cars turning right, since they can cross your path while you’re in their blindspot. Always signal your turns to drivers and other cyclists, and stop at lights and stop signs.

At work

Many employers have showers, but if yours doesn’t, don’t be discouraged. Showering is rarely necessary as long as you pace yourself on your ride to work, when the weather is often cooler. You can always ride fast on the way home. Your employer might allow you to store your bike inside if you ask, though it’s still wise to lock it. Keep an extra maintenance kit at the office and check on your bike an hour or two before your commute home. It’s a real bummer to notice a flat tire just when you need to get on the road.

Your first commute

Set out your clothing and gear the night before, pump up your tires and give the bike a quick look over. Make sure to let someone else know you’ll be commuting by bike, and give them your basic route. Call them when you arrive safely at work.

Have fun!
Above all, enjoy yourself! Commuting by bike can be exhilarating. It can provide you with more energy throughout the day and great stress relief on your way home.

Good luck, and feel free to post a message on my blog (www.shiftyguy.blogspot.com) to let me know about your
experience!


Fred Mayer
lives in Linden Hills.