by Chris Jensen
Let me start by saying you’re making a fantastic decision. Across the US and the world, commuting by bicycle is gaining popularity. Starting the habit of riding your bike to work and errands can be daunting, however. I’m here to help you overcome the most common obstacles to taking up bike commuting.
Why commute by bike?
When you use a bike for everyday travel, the benefits are myriad: you save money on fuel and upkeep for your car; your fitness increases; you get the sun in your face and the wind in your hair. But on top of the obvious reasons, when you commute by bike, you become more alert and your work productivity increases (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-29175088). Bike commuters are healthier, happier and more productive than the average.
The most important aspects of staying safe while commuting is to be visible and be predictable. Drivers are by and large conscientious of the safety of others, and being present in their minds will go a long way to prevent you from a crash.
A good set of blinking lights is your best defense against going unseen, even in the daytime. State law requires a red rear reflector and a white front light at night, but a flashing white (front) and red (rear) draws attention to you. Most modern lights are USB-rechargeable (like the Serfas E-Lume 850, $85) so you can make sure the battery is topped off at the office and overnight. If you want to go whole hog, you can get a dynamo-powered light that works from a generator in your front hub. These lights don’t require charging since they run off the energy you’re putting into pedaling.
If your commuting route takes you down dark streets, consider a blinking AND solid front light. Michigan is famous for it’s potholes, and nothing will ruin your day like a pinch flat from a sharp edge you didn’t see.
When we talk about being predictable, we mean maintaining a consistent path and using hand signals to make your intentions clear. Michigan law requests bicycle riders stay as far to the right as is practical, which means you can and should avoid debris and dangerous surfaces. Making sure you let drivers know that you’re going to change your position on the road is critical. The driver’s ed technique of signaling a right turn with your left hand in the air is a throwback to the driver-side window being there. It’s ok to point to the right with your right hand to signal. Motorcyclists like to “point” to where they are going to be, and cyclists should absolutely do this as well.
It’s important to respect the rules of the road and other road users. Don’t run red lights and stop at stop signs. Michigan doesn’t have an “Idaho Stop” rule yet, so slowing down enough that you demonstrate you’re respecting the rules goes a long way to encourage drivers to also respect your right to be on the road.
The Commuter Bike
What make a bike a commuter bike? It only takes you commuting on it. People commute on mountain, road, comfort, fat, any kind of bike.
If you’re looking for an option that isn’t your carbon fiber race rocket, consider a “hybrid” bike such as the Cannondale Quick (starting at $440).
A bicycle like this will be upright for a comfortable ride, and being upright allows you to look around you with ease. These bicycles also accommodate fenders and racks.
Fenders are what I consider to be “must-have” items like lights. They will both keep you and your bike clean when the conditions turn wet or snowy. The peace of mind that you won’t have to change your pants or hose down your bike after getting home from a long day at work will make it easier to make that decision to ride.
Carrying The Load
A lot of people take their work with them when they go in and leave the workplace, and there are plenty of ways to haul a laptop, notebooks, personal items and clothing. The sportier among us may opt for a backpack like the Thule Pack n Pedal. Contoured shoulder straps and back make it easy to maneuver while keeping your stuff secure. The downside to a backpack is that your back will almost certainly sweat. A change of tops at the very least is usually essential for the backpack commuter.
People usually associate commuting with panniers/saddle bags, and for good reason. Keeping your cargo off your body means you’re more likely to arrive at your destination without the telltale signs of the effort you’re putting into the commute. These bags attach to a rack, either front or rear. Rear racks are the most common, as they keep unfamiliar weight off your front wheel. Most commuter panniers have a quick-release handle to make the transition from riding to walking simple and easy.
Front racks or baskets are handy for miscellaneous baggage that might not fit on a rear rack, but the extra weight on your front wheel will affect your steering. Some people (myself included) prefer the front rack because of the flexibility they offer.
Getting sweaty right before going into an office is likely the biggest objection people have to commuting by bicycle. With a bit of planning and some practice, you can travel miles to your destination without being a mess when you arrive.
Perhaps one of the best things people can do to mitigate the sweat is to simply not ride as hard as they think they may need to. Often, the time you might gain by pedaling harder is negated by stoplights and other things that you’d have to slow for anyway. As your fitness increases, you’ll be able to increase your speed or reduce your effort to suit your needs.
When choosing clothing in the summer, the more breathable the better. Being able to ventilate your body will keep your cool and improve your performance. With winter comes different challenges. Dressing for temperatures higher than what the thermometer reads will allow you to warm up to a comfortable temp after you start the ride.
If you’re looking to save money, be kind to the environment or simply pursue a more active, healthy lifestyle, commuting by bicycle is a fantastic choice. Come by Alger Bikes to get outfitted and get advice on how to achieve your goals and realize all the benefits from going by bike!