When I moved, I decided that instead of buying a car, I’d rather commute by bike. The place I moved to isn’t that big and all the buses have bike racks so this wasn’t a difficult decision. I can rent a car when I need one. For others, the decision is based upon different reasons, such as health, the environment or saving money.
No matter your reason for choosing to commute by bike or even looking into the idea, I’m going to share what I’ve learned so far in my quest to be a biker.
- Research, research, research. I think I benefited a lot from looking up tons of info before I actually went out and bought a bike and made the solid decision to commute by bike. I went on websites, went to bike shops and talked to people who biked to get as much info as I could on different types of bikes, different places to ride, what it is like to be a commuter, how many thefts of bikes occurred, different accessories that are necessary or just fun to have, what the different specifications meant for bikes, how to use the gears on a multi-speed bike, etc. I probably spent five or six months looking up information. When I went in to make my purchase, I made an informed decision. When I am choosing my paths to school or the store or the library, etc, I am making informed decisions about which routes are best.
- Decide where to ride. This can be tricky. I live off campus but a lot of my routes run me through campus because I’ve found that the streets going to where I want to go might have bike lanes but are rather intimidating or riddled with potholes. The sidewalks, unless wide, can be dangerous because walkers pretend like they can’t hear you say “to your left” or don’t understand which direction to move. I’m not a prolific biker by any means. This is actually my first bike and the first time I was on it was maybe the sixth time in my life I’d ridden one. Scary right? As I get better, I move a little more to the road – bikes are considered vehicles. It’s safer for pedestrians and sometimes safer for you, but check out your local conditions to be sure. I am currently thinking of changing my route to my local bike shop (or LBS in biker terms) because I got cut off quite a few times last week when I was coming back from there. Another good idea is to know the local laws and get a map of local bike paths and lanes.
- Proper gear. If you’re going to be on a bike, please wear a helmet. The concrete is not going to greet your head nicely if you should fall or get hit. They aren’t cheap (mine was about $50 from REI), but they are cheaper than your bike. If you’re going to be riding, especially at night or at dusk, a good pair of lights is necessary. There are lots of different kinds. Front AND rear lights. Tighter clothing (especially pants) are recommended whether you are a commuter or an enthusiast. I learned my lesson pretty quickly – I was trying to cross an intersection rather quickly and almost gave myself a wedgie because my baggy sweatpants got caught on the seat front. Ouch!
- Nice extras. I just got my back rack and grocery baskets put on my bike. They were definitely the most expensive part of my accessories but worth it – I can go to the store or carry more items to the library than I can carry on my back now. They fold in and out and are so worth the effort and cash. Other people use a regular milk crate on top of a back rack or panniers (bags that hook to racks). All of these things are pretty neat.
- Storage. If you spend a ton on a bike, you need to treat it right. I store my bike indoors because I can. If you live somewhere that this isn’t possible, find a good place to lock it up (well lit, etc) or try a single bike rack that can be sunk into the ground. When I ride onto campus, I lock up at one of the campus bike racks; when I ride downtown, I lock up at a rack there. I use a U-lock and a cable lock because I have quick-release wheels. Typically a really good U-lock will do the trick. Don’t say “Oh it’ll be here when I come back” because it might not be. And there goes cash wasted. The biggest tip for me was not to leave your bike out in the open without at least moving it a couple times for hours on end. It might make it more of a target for thieves.
- Trek 2009 820 series bike (16″)
- Front and rear blinking lights
- Rear rack + grocery baskets
- Water bottle rack
- Bell Citi Helmet
- Total cost (so far): $500
Links I recommend:
- Paul Dorn’s Commuting Bike Tips
- How to Use Bicycle Gears
- Essential Bike Commuter Gear
- Commute By Bike
- Bike Commuters
What questions or experiences do you all have? Happy Riding!
HarriMac enjoys a well lived life with a large serving of soul. Her special feature, Welcome to Soulville, appears every Thursday.