Bike Commuting: What you need to know to make it a success

So you've been reading our blog, getting our tweets, liking our Facebook page, getting your ride on, and now you are considering the next big thing - you want to ride your bike to work. We know you are nervous about the idea of riding to work because you have all these practical concerns. You are thinking do I wear my work clothes on the ride, or should I change once I get there? Do I need a backpack? How about showing? And what do I do about my morning cup of coffee and breakfast? Do not worry. We have all the answers to your questions to make your ride to work a success!

Lets talk about the gear you will need for your commute to work. Before you start riding to work, take your bike to your local bike shop and have it tuned up. The last thing you want to happen to you when you are biking to work is some kind of mechanical failure when time is precious and you need to get to the job. We also recommend that you have your local bike shop install some urban tires that are capable of tire pressures of 90psi or higher. The reason for this recommendation is that tire capable of reaching such high pressures roll faster and are easier for you to push, requiring less pedal effort on your part to maintain a higher rate of speed. Remember, the pressure can always be reduced if you want greater comfort on the bike provided by a lower pressure tire. We also suggest that you get tires that have high puncture resistance, because who likes a flat. If you do happen to ride in snowy condition during the winter months, we recommend you change out your tires and fit your bike with winter tires that have metal spikes on them to keep you from sliding on ice. If you happen to ride a road bike as your commuter, you might need to invest in a cyclocross, hybrid, or mountain bike as your winter bike since a road bike will not have the tire clearance for these wider winter tires. 

Clothing is one of the most important elements when you bike to work, because it will determine your comfort given the weather conditions you might be riding in on a given day. The uttermost deciding factor you should consider as to what you will wear during your commute is how comfortable are you in it. If this be standard shorts and a t-shirt or a full on cycling jersey and shorts, go with it. Our founder wears urban cycling shorts, which are shorts that are reinforced in areas that see a lot of abrasion during rides, have a bit of stretch to them, and usually fall just below the knee. Along with these urban cycling shorts, he normally wears a comfortable t-shirt. This clothing combination is his usual go to garbs during the late spring, summer, and early fall months. When the weather turns chilly to cold, our founder starts wearing winter specific cycling gear and gloves to keep him warm during those late fall to early spring rides.

If the weather happens to call for rain or snow, then a nice cycling rain jacket will do you right, since it will repel water keeping you dry. If you already have a rain/snow jacket you like, by all means use that. Just note however, a cycling specific jacket is constructed in a way that keeps your lower back from getting wet as you lean over reaching for the handle bars and uses materials that still transfer sweat from your skin to the surface of the jacket keeping you dry. Cyclist rain pants are another good addition to your foul weather wardrobe. Cycling rain pants just like the jacket will keep you dry from the rain and breath so that you do not become a total sweaty mess on the way to work. Cycling specific rain pants are also designed in a way that the leg tapers at the ankle so that your pants do not get caught in the chain rings. 

                 Cyclist Jersey from Road Holland

                Cyclist Jersey from Road Holland

Sticking with the theme of rain and snow, how should you protect yourself from wheel spray as you ride through wet conditions? Fenders will do the job. Some bikes already come with fenders, especially chic urban city bikes, but most bikes do not. That said, adding fenders is not a very difficult thing to do. There are many types of fenders out there, and just as many methods they use to attach to your bike. Some fenders will bolt on behind the break caliper and to specific holes situated on your bike, others will utilize clips and other securing devices. Depending on the type of bike you have and its frame material, I recommend you speak with your local bike shop to determine which style of fender is right for you. 

Now lets talk about the method you should use to carry your belonging to work. Our founder and some of our members use a backpack, others use a messenger bag to transport their work clothes, lunch, and other whatnots. You could also equip your bicycle with a bike rack and panniers, these items will allow you to carry a load while riding, but not on your person. There are advantages to each one of these methods of carrying stuff while you ride.

Lets first start with the backpack. According to our founder, when he is carrying a load on his bike, he likes to use a backpack. He likes the fact the backpack distributes the load more evenly across his back and shoulders allowing him to carry greater loads with less stress on his body. A standard backpack will do for your bike commute, but cycling specific backpacks come with things like reflective details, are water resistant or proof, and have straps and shoulder padding conducive to a cycling position and for stabilizing a load against your body to keep the pack from shifting around when you take corners. 

Messenger bags are an alternative to backpacks, but theres not a whole lot of difference in our opinion. Just like the backpack, the messenger bag will be carried on your back - The main difference between the two is the messenger bag only has one strap carrying the load and is slung over one shoulder. This one strap being slug over the shoulder might be a little uncomfortable for some, since one shoulder is carrying the brunt of the bags load. That said, the messenger bag does provide for easier access to your bags contents. Unlike the backpack, the messenger bag can be slid around from back to front without having to take the bag off to access what is inside - a backpack will require you to take the pack off to enter the bags compartments. Just as in the case with the backpack, a cycling specific messenger bag comes with reflective details, is water resistant or proof, and has features like stabilization straps on the bag to help keep the bag from shifting when you take a turn. 

Messenger Bag on the left. Cyclist specific backpack on the right. Both bags are produced by Chrome Ind. 

Now lets talk about bike racks and panniers. A bike rack is a simple device that attaches to you bike via bolts positioned on the bike designed to have a bike rack attached to them. You can utilize a bike rack to carry many types of things, but will require some type of bungee cord or rope to hold the load in place. An alternative to a bungee cord or rope to secure a load to your bike rack, is to attach pannier bags to them. Panniers are a style of bag designed specifically to be used on a bike rack. Panniers allow you to carry a larger load than you could in a backpack or messenger bag since the bike is bearing the weight of the load you are carrying. Since the bike is bearing the weight of what you are carrying in your panniers, a common mistake made by many cyclist is that they overload their pannier bags making their bikes needlessly heavier and this should be avoided. 

Bicycle with a back bike rack with panniers attached 

Now lets discuss the big question everyone usually has before they start biking to work, and that is what do I do about showering. For some folks this is not a big issue, they just shower the night before or the morning of their ride to work and have no issues. For others, just like our founder, he does not like to arrive to work sweaty. We recommend locating a gym near your workplace and join up so that you have access to their locker room and showers. Maybe you could even negotiate a reduced rate to only use the shower and locker room facilities. Our founder works in Downtown Brockton and has a membership to the Old Colony YMCA. AT the Y he has a locker he stores his cycling gear in along with his toiletries and showers to use. If there are no local gyms near your work, check around to see if you workplace has showers on site. You might be surprised to find out in fact you company does have showers, but you have never heard about them because you have never needed them. If you happen to work at a manufacturing job, there is a good chance your company might have showers on site. 

Now what to do about caring breakfast and lunch. For some folks eating before the ride is the best option in the morning , for others, they like to eat after the ride since a ride can build quite the appetite. If you do not want to carry food in your pack, we suggest that you store food at your workplace. If you would rather carry food every day, then we suggest a few ways to carry your breakfast and lunch. If you plan to carry hot coffee or tea, we recommend a vacuum bottle to keep your hot liquid warm until you reach your destination. Make sure this bottle has two caps, both screw on, one closing off the bottle opening and the other going over the first top screwing closed. This type of vacuum bottle will make sure you have a nice warm beverage once you get to work, which will be especially appreciated during those winter months, and the dual cap system will keep the liquid in the bottle rather than spilling out into your bag. Plastic containers are your friends. We recommend some type of plastic container to store you food in for the ride and prefer the kind that screws closed or fastens to keep the contents from spilling. Then bagging you food container in a plastic bag or freezer storage bag will provide further protection against spillage. 

     Vacuum Bottle  

Now for our last topic and one of the most important, where and how to store your bicycle while you are at work. We suggest that you first engage your employer and see if they are willing to let you store your bicycle indoors. If you employer is willing to allow you to store you bicycle indoors,  then determine with the help of your employer a safe and suitable place to store you bicycle during the work day. If you employer does not allow you to store you bicycle indoors, or simply does not have the room, we recommend you pick a location that has a lot of foot traffic and can easily be view by many people. If a bike rack is available outside that you can lock your bike to, and is visible to a lot of people, then we recommend you lock your bike there. If the bike rack is not visible to a lot of people or there is no bike rack located near your workplace, then we suggest you lock your bike to a sturdy non-moveable object that will not be in the way of pedestrians or likely to get hit by a car. 

                         How to lock up. Courtesy: Los Angeles Police Department

Lets talk about the type of lock you will need to keep your bicycle secure. There are many different types of locks out there in the market. Lets first start with cable locks. Cable locks come in many different variations. Some cable locks have no lock on them and require you have some type of pad lock or other locking device with you, others have a locking system built in. Cable locks are usually the cheapest type of locking device out there, but they are also one of the easiest types of lock for bike thieves to over come. Our recommendation is that you only use a cable lock in conjunction with another type of locking devices that is harder to break. 

U-locks are a great lock to have due to their sturdy construction and difficulty to break. The issue with U-locks is their inflexibility and the limited space within the lock to wrap it around your bike and the non-movable object you are locking to. One should be mindful and never lock your bike with a U-lock and have the lock touching or laying on the ground. Having a U-lock touching or laying on the ground leaves it open to hammering attacks. Also, you should fill as much of the interior space of the U-lock as possible, that way there will be very little room for a thieve to insert a bar of some sort allowing him/her to leverage attack your U-Lock. We recommend that you use a U-lock in combination with a cable lock. Having these two different locks working together gives you the added security and is a big deterrent to would be thieves since they will have to overcome two locks. 

Kryptonite New York Fahgettaboudit Chain Lock

Chain locks are our favorite type of locks, especially those large and heavy types of chain locks like the Kryptonite New York Fahgettaboudit pictured above. These locks give you the flexible features of a cable lock, but are far harder to break and they are just as tough if not stronger than a U-Lock. The issue with chain locks is their weight - Chain locks can be very heavy. That said, if Velo Urbano had to recommend any type of lock, we would recommend a heavy chain lock. 

Now that we have given you the run down on what you need to know to make your bike to work a success, get out there and ride. Start out slow, one day a week and then add a day as you feel more confident. Do not feel pressured to ride to work everyday or every week because you have decided to do it and bought all the gear needed to do it. Biking to work should be fun, not a chore. We look forward to seeing you on the road and riding with you if given the chance.