You have the bicycle. You’ve been tooling around the neighborhood and regularly take long, leisurely rides with other cyclists. You like the breeze in your face and the way that the worries of the day fall away when you ride. You realize there are significant health benefits.
Cycling commuters had a 46% lower risk of developing heart disease and a 45% lower risk of cancer, according to a recent study.
And so you decide to take it to the next level. You will commute to work on your bike.
“Rush hour becomes stress-relieving instead of stress-inducing when you are on a bike,” says Chandlee Caldwell, founder of I Bike Cha, a Chattanooga-based organization that encourages bicycle commuting. “Anyone can do it. They just have to have confidence while riding on the road alongside cars.”
With each trip, the new cycling commuter will feel surer of their ability to navigate their route safely. They’ll figure out their own little tricks for making the ride more pleasant or for making their transition to the workplace easier. In many ways, the commute will be as individual as the rider making it.
Still, a few tips from a veteran can shorten the learning process for rookies:
Take a trial run
Go to Google maps, check for directions between your home and office and choose the bike icon to find a bike-friendly route — it probably won’t be the same way you’ve been going by car. You’ll usually see a few options, and each displays a thumbnail graph showing the hilly spots on the ride. Try the different routes out to see which suits you and how much time you’ll need to allot for the commute.
Stay off the sidewalks
It may seem like the safe move when a lot of cars zoom past you, but it’s not.
“The sidewalk is one of the most dangerous places to ride,” says Caldwell.
“Almost all of my negative encounters on a bike happened on a sidewalk.”
Car drivers don’t anticipate cyclists entering the road from the sidewalk, even in a crosswalk. Passengers in parked cars open their doors out onto the sidewalk. You have to dodge pedestrians. The road is safer.
Good lights are worth spending money on and it’s the law
Get front lights that are least 100 watts (200 watts is even better) so that you will have good visibility for your ride before sunrise, after sunset and in rainy weather. Stay under 500 watts, as a courtesy to the cars you share the road with. Daytime flashers increase your visibility to cars. And keep a charged backup light, just in case.
Also, Tennessee traffic laws require cyclists to equip their bicycles with both front and rear lights that are visible from at least 500 feet.
Though you’ll hear debates among cyclists about the merits of mirrors, most commuters consider them a vital safety feature for riding in traffic.
Fenders are your friend
They will keep you from getting soaked from the splashback of water, mud, dirt and oil that your back tire kicks up. They can be difficult to install, so Caldwell suggests using simple mountain bike fenders or saddle fenders.
Roadside assistance is here for you
First and foremost, you want to have a tire patch kit or extra tube on hand in case of emergency. But if you’re in a jam and you have a membership with a roadside assistance service like AAA, you are in luck: The group has recently added bicycle roadside assistance to its services.
How to be presentable
Keep an easy pace and you shouldn’t be a sweat-drenched mess when you arrive at work. In fact, you’re probably better off than a four-wheel driver with broken air conditioning. (Well, if your route includes a lot of big hills, you may get a bit damp.) If you do sweat a lot when biking and your office has a shower, consider leaving a little earlier and getting ready at work.
For those who can’t shower but feel they need to freshen up before starting their workday, veteran commuters have some recommendations.
Bring these supplies with you or store them at work:
- Cleaning wipes or a clean washcloth (for a quick sink bath)
- Dry shampoo
- Change of clothes if necessary
Some commuters keep outfits for every day of the week at the office; some tote the day’s workwear with them on the ride in.
People choose to commute to work by bike for many reasons:
- They want to improve their health.
- They want to save money on gas and car maintenance.
- They want to reduce their carbon footprint.
Ultimately, though, every bike commuter agrees on one big benefit of riding to work.
“It’s fun to ride a bicycle,” says Caldwell.