A Beginners Guide To Bike Commuting | Ask Me Anything

A few weeks ago I blogged about “A Beginners Guide to Bike Commuting: Five Things to Consider”.  Being curious about other commuters varied experiences, I put out a poll on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook asking both regular and new (or soon to be) bike commuters if I missed anything they believe to be crucial commuter know-how.  I also encouraged comments on the blog, because I like hearing what everyone has to say. I really want the blogs to be a forum where you can feel free to ask me anything and I’ll answer as best as I can.  So let’s see what’s on your minds:

Comments and Questions from Experienced Bike Commuters

The number one response I received from seasoned bike commuters was that they wish they had started earlier.

I heard from Matt who has been commuting for a couple of years and now is riding at least twice a week.  He started as a fair weather commuter and wishes he had started sooner. @Trailstrim also expressed the same sentiment:  “The only question I have is why didn’t I start sooner?”

Jason (@mrjasonli) felt he could do something better than driving his SUV all the time. His ride is about 50 minutes so he had to plan out his route with the help of two seasoned cyclists in his region.  He did a trial run one day and then just went for it. Likewise, David (@DavidTrueman) said that he realized the barriers were all psychological.  Dress for the weather and just get started. Afterall there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing choices (more on that in an upcoming blog post).

Seasoned commuters often wish they started sooner but for those contemplating losing the car for a day or two a week, the “starting” is likely the hardest part.  Changing habits is far from easy, even daunting at times. If you are starting out, remember that riding to work does not need to be an everyday commitment – start slowly and see how it goes. Every seasoned commuter will let you know it does get easier and more enjoyable.

 

Bike Commuter in traffic
The more you ride, the more you’ll get comfortable with the route, roads and traffic.

Graham from Berlin Bicycle Cafe (@berlinbicyclecafe) commented that he wish he knew “how not to become an advocate”.  He didn’t intend to fight for cyclists, but when you’re out riding a lot (and during peak traffic times) you start to see the missing links and deficiencies of cycling infrastructure.  You feel it in your body when you hear of an accident or injury involving a cyclist and you want to make it better. Plus for me, at least, riding to work has made such a change in my mood and life that I want to make it a safe option for more people. It’s hard to not become an advocate.

Questions From The Rookies

A few people who are interested in riding to work or have just started also had some questions…let’s get those answered:

Question from Fred – “Do you pack for possible weather issues or do you just take a chance?” The easy answer to this question is that I do not plan very well.  I often put my trust in the weather forecast and it is not as accurate as I would always like.   If the forecast is calling for rain in the afternoon I will pack an extra rain jacket. Truthfully, since I know I am heading home to a warm shower and plenty of dry clothes I usually am not all that concerned about getting wet on the way home.  In addition, the morning is typically the coldest part of the day so I will usually have enough layers to stay warm in any afternoon storm. During the winter months this might be a bit different so in this case, I will always check what the temperature forecast looks like at quitting time and make sure I have enough cold weather clothing with me to get me home that evening. Riding to work in the rain (or terrible weather) is another story altogether and my next blog post will cover this topic.

Rochelle commented that the best thing for her was a trial ride which made her week smooth.  When we spoke, she had already ridden two days. Welcome to your new obsession, Rochelle!

 

We also had many questions regarding safety and navigating roadways when bike lanes or trails weren’t available.

Safety is most people’s number one concern and typically the reason many will not even consider bike commuting.  I agree, the roads (in North America) are no longer designed or built with bicycles in mind. I like to remind everyone that we are all people; we are all road users trying to get from one point to the next as efficiently and safely as we can.

The easiest thing that can be done to improve cycling safety is to get more more people on bike out on the roads – safety in numbers!

Bike Commuter colourful shirts
I either wear a bright coloured shirt or high visibility vest to help drivers see me.

There are several simple things that I do that make me feel a bit safer riding on the roads. Firstly, I do everything I can to be seen.  I wear bright colours, always run a rear blinking light, and usually a small front light. (I use something bigger and brighter when riding at night). Secondly, don’t be afraid to take the lane if you need it.  Like I said we are all road users and if you need the entire lane to be safe (or be seen) – use it. At some point you may get an angry car driver sharing their {ahem} opinion about your use of the full lane, but you will start to get used to ignoring such behaviour.  Finally, it is always in your best interest to ride predictably and to obey the rules of the road. Don’t swerve in and out of traffic or roll through stop signs, and please shoulder check before moving over. Using arm/hand signals gives fellow road users a heads up about where you want to go.

Bike Commuter Signal
A simple hand signal will let car drivers know where you need to go.

If you have any further questions about starting to ride to work or even bike commuting in general, leave a comment below.

Have a good ride!

~ Joe

Instagram | @joe.meissner

7 thoughts on “A Beginners Guide To Bike Commuting | Ask Me Anything

  1. Great read Joe!!
    I should have read that blog earlier and commented … I do have some advice for beginners. A little history for your readers… I’ve been riding to work most days for the last 9 years. I have been a fair weather rider (avoid the rain/thunder and didn’t have bike for snow/icy conditions) but I ride most days of the good weather …. averaging over 4000 km/yr just in commuting. My commutes are 20+ kms in one direction… so I get over 40 km/day on my bike. Unfortunately, I have no way to get to work via trails or other bike infrastructure, the entire route is on roads. However, I can take back country roads for 3/4 of the ride… which makes the commutes very enjoyable…. and as you know, allows you to be focused at work in the morning and de-stressed by the time you get home. It is the best part of my days. 🙂
    – Tip #1: Be prepared for the weather… be your own forecaster and learn what to expect. One extra layer can make the difference between a comfy ride and a miserable ride. I err on the over-dressed side, because it’s easier to deal with sweat than frost bite.
    – Tip #2: Hi visibility wear… bright colours make you stand out… don’t under estimate the inattentiveness of the average driver.
    – Tip #3: LIGHTS!!!! Purchase the best lights you can afford. Li-ion rechargeable batteries with strong LED’s. ALWAYS ride with the rear flasher running, and if at all possible a good flashing light on the front during the day as well. Night riding is a different animal, but with good lighting, it’s no worse than driving a car.
    – Tip #4: Ride DEFENSIVELY and PREDICTABLY. DEFENSIVELY meaning, take the lane whenever you feel unsafe. You may think that’s counter-intuitive, but it makes ALL the difference. If you’re in the lane, drivers behind you see you and are not tempted to squeeze past you in an unsafe manner at the last minute (hopefully?!?!?). Drivers approaching you are also more likely to notice you and will be less likely to turn into a driveway or side street in front of you. PREDICTABLE meaning, ride a straight line (don’t weave in and out of parked cars or around pot holes/debris at side of road – again take the lane and ride straight), signal your intentions, stop at ALL lights and stop signs, shoulder check before changing lanes, etc. In other words, drive your bike like you would a car.
    – Tip #5: When starting out on your commuter journey, don’t expect that you have to ride every day… or even have to ride BOTH directions in one day. When I first started I would drive to work one day, with the bike in the car. Then I would bike home that night, leaving the car at work over night. In the morning I would bike back to work and drive home that night. This way you break up the commutes into manageable chunks and give the body opportunity to recover. I did this a couple times a week over a month, building up my stamina. Then I would ride to/from work in one day – 1 or 2 times a week. I did that for another month until I was able to ride to work every other day and slowly built up until I could do it every day – if I wished (remember though, my commutes are longer than most and do take some semblance of fitness to complete regularly).
    Cycle commuting is amazing, fun, and challenging… but it does make you live longer and feel stronger. Enjoy the journey everyone!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well said Kev! Love all your additional tips and especially re-iterating #5! You don’t have to start as the most die-hard commuter on the road. That is probably the quickest way to hanging up the bike before you even really get started! It’s a progression!

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  2. The “how not to become an advocate” is very interesting. It’s something I’ve become without really realizing it. I bike most days, about 150 days last year, and it’s just something you seem to turn into. I’m not sure if it’s just because you’re out there experiencing the way cycling works or if it’s an extension of self preservation to get involved and to try to affect change. I look forward to the next installment.

    Liked by 1 person

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