Bike commuting has become more popular over recent years and its converts love to boast about the benefits. It builds exercise into your day, it’s environmentally friendly, it’s a great way to unwind, and it can cut down transportation costs.
For the average person who last rode a bike at age 12, however, those perks aren’t always convincing. If you’re curious about bike commuting but need more information before deciding if it’s for you, here’s the lowdown on the basic considerations before you commit.
The first thing to address is our mindset surrounding bike commuting. In North America, bicycling is primarily about sport. In those model bike commuting regions of Northern Europe, bicycling is oriented around practicality and utility. They don’t wear spandex, they don’t all have the most expensive bikes and they’re not all athletes. You don’t have to be, either. Shed your assumptions about what a cyclist is supposed to look and act like, because it is a great option for people of many different abilities and fitness levels.
Just like there is variety among cyclists, there is variety among bikes. For the average 30-minute commute, any bike can do. Road bikes make for a speedy and efficient ride, but aren’t the most comfortable. Mountain and hybrid bikes offer greater control on bumpy roads and off-road. City and cruiser bikes are likely similar to the ones you rode as a kid, and similar to those popular in Northern Europe. They are stable, sturdy and provide an upright riding position for maximum comfort and ease of visibility. E-bikes make for a less intense commute and are helpful on challenging terrain.
Speaking of challenging terrain, it is important to think about your route. Are you close enough to commute? Are there bike-friendly streets you can use to navigate to work? Are there particularly pleasant routes or trails you can incorporate? These all influence your route. Drive or walk the various ways you could get to work and think about what would be safest and most enjoyable on a bike. Do a test run or two before the first commute. Try the route on a weekend or low-traffic hour, then try it again during the type of traffic you would expect during your work hours.
Don’t get too caught up on what to wear. Any comfortable clothes will do. Keep a packable rain jacket for unpredictable weather. You can pack a change of clothes for work, or store them at the office. Avoid wearing shoes that will easily slip and slide on the pedals.
Lastly, the most contentious issue – safety. Get your bike inspected and fitted before riding. Check your local laws regarding helmet requirements. Be as visible as possible and carry at least a blinking red light for the back of the bike. A white light on the front of the bike is crucial for riding in the dark and important for cloudy, rainy or foggy days. Reflective clothing is also great. You will need a quality lock to park the bike outside. Most important, learn the bicycle laws before heading out. Visit wsdot.wa.gov/travel/commute-choices/bike or itd.idaho.gov/bike_ped for comprehensive bicycle laws as well as safety tips and maps of local bicycle paths.
The learning curve is steep, but once you feel the breeze in your face one your morning commute to work, you just might be sold. Start with just riding for fun and see what you think. If you want to bike commute, work your way into it riding here and there.
You will quickly realize how fun, relaxing and deeply satisfying it can be. The commute that was once about getting from Point A to Point B becomes time to enjoy your ride.
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