A Beginners Guide To Bike Commuting | Five Things To Consider

It has been many, many years since I first rode my bike to work and joined the bike commuter community.  In fact, when I set out to write this particular post, it was a challenge. I had to really think hard about what it was like to make the decision to first ride a bike to work.  I’m Joe and you’ll find me here sharing everything I know about commuting by bike.

bike commuter with pannier
Hi, I’m Joe and I’ve been riding my bike to work for nearly 10 years.  Let me share a few things you might want to consider before you join the bike commuter community.

HOW I BEGAN TO RIDE TO WORK

My first commute was over 33km each way.  It was a long ride and not a typical commuter distance; because of that I only rode once a week – and only in good weather. That route was primarily on a packed gravel trail with a little urban/city riding near the end. Most days I arrived at work pretty sweaty, carrying a change of clothes and my work “stuff” in a backpack, while also stressing about how long it was taking me to arrive at work.  It wasn’t pretty. A few years later, I started a new job in another city and my ride became markedly shorter. I started riding more often and I learned a lot about how to make bike commuting easier on myself (and those around me by proxy). I’ve been bike commuting to work for nearly 10 years, so I’d like to think I’ve earned some cycle commuting street cred. to share with you. Here are five things you should consider when riding to work:

1. PLAN YOUR ROUTE

You may be tempted to choose the shortest route or navigate the same as you would in your car.  I’m here to tell you from experience that it may not be the best option. Take some time to explore your local cycling infrastructure  – this might be shared pathways, trails, or bike lanes. Using your local cycling infrastructure might mean a few additional km but in my experience, it will be easier and safer, which usually means a better experience overall.  One of the best ways to find out how to get from point A to point B is to ask other bike commuters at your workplace, look for recommendations on a local cycling advocate website (ie. Share the Road), ask for recommendations on social media, or look into Strava’s Global Heatmap.  I’m hoping you will find a great route and meet some new people who may also commute by bike.

Bike commuter with pannier
Planning your route may be difficult because you will want to consider the safest route, not necessarily the fastest or shortest.

2. PACK YOUR BAG

For the past several years I have had to drive to work one day a week because of a late night class I teach.  On that day, I would do a laundry swap and bring enough new, clean clothes to work for a week. This meant I didn’t need to carry my clothes on my bike as I rode each day.  If this isn’t an option, then invest in a good bag. There are lots of choices and price points to choose from. Think about how things will shift while you ride, how heavy the bag and contents will be and what you actually need to take with you. At first, you can use something as simple as a backpack but if you find yourself cycle commuting regularly you will want to consider a bike bag or pannier specially designed for bike commuters. Stay tuned for an upcoming post on the pros and cons of different types of bags.

Bike commuter gear
I always travel with an extra tube, lights plus all the stuff I need for work.  Fortunately, I don’t need to take work clothes every day.

 3. DO A TRIAL RIDE

I always suggest first trying out a new route on a day off, before you need to get to work. A Sunday morning or weekday evening after rush hour might be a good time. Hopefully, there will be a little less traffic so you can see how the route works for you and make any needed adjustments.  My first try I had to cut across 3 lanes of traffic to make a left-hand turn and as you can imagine, it wasn’t ideal. A test ride will also give you an idea of how long it will take you to get to work and how sweaty you will be when you arrive.

4. FIND A SAFE PLACE TO LEAVE YOUR BIKE

I strongly recommend investing in a good U-lock to keep your bike safe. Although these are typically heavier than other types of bike locks, from my experience, they will keep your bike safer. I would also suggest parking it in a highly visible area to help deter theft. If you can find a location that is covered, you won’t have to worry about rain (or snow) during the day. You may be lucky enough to work where you are able to bring your bike into your office. Some workplaces and city parking spaces offer secure storage, which is a great option too. Talk to your coworkers who already bike to work and see what they do. We’re all really happy to share what makes our commutes easier, so don’t hesitate to ask.

5. START WITH ONE DAY

To call yourself a bike commuter you don’t need to ride to work every day.  In fact, I would suggest committing to one or two days a week to begin.  Before you know it, you’ll really enjoy pedalling past everyone else who is stuck in traffic and you’ll find yourself on the bike more often. As I said at the beginning, I only rode two or three times a month at first.  I slowly got into the routine and now I really enjoy getting to work by bike almost every single day.

Bike Pannier
Finding a safe place to keep your bike while you’re working is also important.  If you ask around, I’m sure someone can help you find the best place.

 

Are you starting out?  Did I miss something that you really want to know about?  Ask any questions in the comments below. I’ll be addressing all of them in A Beginners Guide To Bike Commuting: Part 2.  Look for that in a couple weeks.

Have a good ride!

~ Joe

Instagram | @joe.meissner

5 thoughts on “A Beginners Guide To Bike Commuting | Five Things To Consider

  1. The test ride before the first “real deal” commute is so important! Thanks to Joe for reminding us that you can always start small and beat down the barriers one by one. Planning and Practice makes perfect! Ride safe everyone!

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    1. “Beat down the barriers, one by one” – Solid advice. There can be so many things stopping you from riding to work, but a little bravery can go a long way.

      Like

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