I’m not training for the Tour de France-or looking to appear in a fashion-show equivalent. I’m focused more on getting to work on time. This post won’t help you win any awards. Instead, it’s about adjusting to and improving to a new lifestyle. For those who’ve thought about cycling to work, or may have just started, this post is for you. For more seasoned commuters, I hope you’ll also find value in sharing some of my experiences.
Getting ready to ride
If you haven’t cycled in quite some time, there are a few things to think through before jumping into the saddle. Commuting by bike is different than leisure riding. For one, the weather can shift between the time you arrive at work and the time you leave. You also won’t win any praise from co-workers if you’re late due to a flat tire. So how do we get started?
1. Get a bike
You don’t need a high-end road bike, or even a new bike, to ride to work. What you do need is something that is safe, comfortable and suits your circumstances. Feel free to dust off your old mountain bike in garage, or hunt around some online classifieds. But, if you find something old or used, it might be worth having a bike mechanic give it a quick tune. It doesn’t take much to get a bike in working order-and you can always invest more later on.
I bought my bike a few years ago. It’s a flat-bar hybrid with lots of gears. I didn’t bother investing in a superlight frame, as my daily lunch and clothes-plus fenders, lights, paniers, etc.-weighs me down anyway. The result is a hearty bike that’s comfortable, carries all my gear and rides well on almost any city road.
With any type of bike, it’s worth planning proper security. At home, I park in a secure underground area-making sure to lock my frame and both wheels to a solid bike rack. At work, I bring my bike into the office where there’s very little risk for theft. The only time I leave it unattended in a public space is in front of a grocery store-where I’m careful to lock it securely and remove all components.
2. Dress for weather
I’ll admit to being a bit of a fair-weather rider. I haven’t spent much time cycling in the rain or in the dark, and I’ve rarely ridden during the coldest winter months. My first bike commute this year took place March 1. It was early for me. Temperatures were just above freezing, and the shift in Daylight Savings the following week left me cycling in the dark each morning.
I learned quickly to dress for warmth. The first part of my ride is mostly downhill, which means I don’t have the opportunity to warm up. When it’s cold, a pair of long underwear under some light pants make for better temperature control, and a shirt with a high neck helps protect vulnerable skin from sharp winds. A light hood also fits beneath my helmet when it’s cold and tucks into my collar when it’s warm. Gloves are a great addition all-year round-although, especially when it’s freezing or wet outside; good blood circulation and grip are important for competent braking and shifting between gears. I also keep a light rain jacket handy at home, and make sure to pack it when the forecast calls for wet weather. It’s light and breathable and doesn’t keep me completely dry-but it’s much better than being soaked to the bone.
I always assume I’ll arrive to work either doused in mud or bogged down in sweat. To avoid a hypothermic and soggy day at work, I bring a full change of clothes and a towel. I also keep a spare set of shoes and all my hygiene supplies at my work desk. To make sure my clothes, lunch and anything else I bring to work doesn’t get wet, I also ride with waterproof paniers. They’re a bit more pricy, but if you live in a place where it rains a lot, well worth the money.
3. See and be seen
Being (or not being) visible is my biggest concern on the road. I always pack at least two lights-one front, one rear-in my bag for riding in the dark. When I first bought them, the guy at the shop asked me, “Do you need to see or be seen?” At the time, it was obvious: I needed both. In hindsight, seeing has not been an issue when it’s dark. I typically ride on city streets, where there is plenty of illumination from streetlights, vehicle headlights, storefronts and other public lighting. The illumination from my headlamp is hardly noticeable. It’s a much different situation when riding dark trails or rural roads at night-and if this is the case, I recommend using several lights for a wider field of vision. Where I really value having lights is in being more visible to traffic. I always ride with both lights, front and back, set to a quick, attention-grabbing strobe.
Eye protection was also something I never considered when I first started biking to work. I’ve since come to value wearing glasses in the city and especially during dry dusty summers. They’re a huge help in keeping dust and dirt particles out of the eyes-and avoiding red itchiness that can last for days. Eye protection can also keep the rain from flying in your eyes when it’s wet. Most of the time I ride with just a set of prescription glasses, but I’ve considered buying some wrap-around glasses or goggles.
4. Embrace discovery
There’s something liberating about pedalling two wheels that you don’t get as a motorist or a pedestrian. You can go places cars can’t, and you can get around much quicker than on two feet. When riding to work for the first time, it can be fun exploring new routes.
The first few days, maybe even weeks of cycling are a time for discovery. Main roads can be the fastest, but they often require dodging heavy traffic. City pathways and side streets (especially those dedicated to cyclists) are much safer-but while they can be more scenic, they may also involve significant detouring and/or unsteady grades. When riding pathways, it’s also important to be aware of nearby pedestrians. Riding with pedestrians may be fine (in some urban areas), but you should be prepared to travel at a much slower pace.
When finding a route, Google maps is a great resource for sussing out dedicated bike paths and lanes, but it’s not perfect. A route that looks good on screen may be anything but in real life. Routes that appear disconnected may have convenient connectors hidden from Google’s sentry vehicles. Also, keep in mind, not all bike lanes are created equal. Some are narrow and/or lay next to parking lanes where a door could open blindly without notice. Other lanes may be in poor condition, riddled with heavy cracks and potholes, which can make for an uncomfortable ride. The best way to find the best routes? Test them out yourself! Being prepared to explore some new neighborhoods-maybe risking a dead end or two-can be a great way to find the best roads.
Improve your experience
For me, after a couple of weeks riding, it became more routine to wake up in the morning and prepare for my ride to work. The laziness factor slowly gave way to ambition and excitement for the road. Prepping my gear each day became less a chore and more second nature. I found myself wanting to ride on my days off-and whether it was a riding day or not, I felt more energized and refreshed.
5. Learn to cycle with traffic
I ride alongside traffic during my commute, mostly in a bike lane but also on single-lane roads. Spend any amount of time online reading about cycling in traffic and you’ll come across loads of horror stories involving traffic law infractions, verbal (maybe even physical) tiffs and all-around awful tidings. Personally, I haven’t encountered any major incidents. While I don’t doubt there are many poor drivers out there-and the stakes are definitely high when riding with massive, high-velocity vehicles-I think there’s much to be said for careful, diligent cycling and avoiding precarious road situations. I believe one should have a driver’s licence to cycle with traffic. When cycling with vehicles, you should be fully prepared to obey all of the same traffic laws and be able to anticipate the behavior of the drivers around you. Understanding vehicle behavior makes it easier for you to cycle more predictably for drivers.
A huge help in recent weeks was the addition of a small mirror on the side of my handlebars. I’ve always been a copious shoulder-checker, but it’s easy for a fast-moving vehicle to approach without you knowing-especially when climbing hills at a slow pace. I also rely on being able to hear vehicles approach from behind, but this is a more reactive way of observing. Once you hear a vehicle, all you can do is move out of the way. When riding with traffic, a key strategy for cyclists is to “claim the lane”-that is, to occupy as much road-space as possible. This discourages drivers from making risky or unsafe passing maneuvers and prevents cyclists from having to ride in gutters where there may be hazardous debris or other obstacles to deal with. Claiming the lane is a great strategy for riding, but so is knowing when to move aside to let vehicles pass. Riding with a mirror is a great tool for knowing when to take the space and when to move aside.
6. Maintain your bike
If you ride enough, you’ll need to invest in some basic maintenance. When I first started cycling regularly, I caught a sliver of glass in one of my tire treads-nearly invisible to inspection. It was so difficult to see and barely penetrated the tread that it took several weeks of riding and many punctured tubes until I finally found it. In that short time, I got really good at changing a tire. Aside from the general advice to carry the proper equipment, I find extra tubes more useful than a patch kit. Tubes are more bulky, but I’ve never been able to find a leak and apply a patch without a sink full of water. Patches can also be awkward to apply in certain road situations-say, on the side of a busy highway in the rain.
Aside from changing the odd tire, it can be valuable and rewarding to learn a few other basic maintenance tasks. Proper chain maintenance-cleaning and lubricating-is a quick and easy exercise that will keep your bike in working order for longer. At a minimum, keep your tires full of air. A good foot pump with a gauge (in addition to the hand pump you ride with) is the best way to keep them filled. Hard tires may be less cushiony over road bumps, but they reduce rolling resistance and increase the efficiency of each pedal stroke. You may also consider learning how to adjust your brake tension and/or align your derailleurs-although, if you have any reservations, there’s nothing wrong with having your local bike mechanic do this for you. A light tune can be as cheap as $50.
7. Work on fitness
A bit of a confession here. I don’t cycle every day-and when I do, I ride only part way. For context, I have a fairly long commute. It would take me about 90 minutes to cycle each way to and from work (part of which would involve a narrow bridge with low railings and heavy traffic). As such, I take the train for part of my commute and cycle the remainder-about 70 minutes per day, 140 minutes per week-nearly satisfying the 150 minutes of physical activity recommended by the American Heart Association and the United States President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition. This gives me time to rest between cycling days while I get my body back into shape-and it doesn’t dominate my weekday schedule. That said, it’s been five weeks, and I’m about ready to add another day (and someday, maybe I’ll overcome my fear of bridges).
Cycling, for me, is all about fitting exercise into my day-and less about saving money. Because I still rely heavily on public transit, I still purchase a monthly pass-and because I’m not a motorist, my carbon footprint is already minimal. Working in an office doesn’t give me much opportunity to move around, and the sedentary lifestyle has never been a great fit for me. It leaves me stiff and generally unpleasant. I’m also a new dad, so it’s difficult finding time during evenings and weekends to maintain any degree of fitness by other means.
Something I was very quick to learn after even just a few weeks of cycling was that it gets easier with time. Consistency, eating well and getting rest when you need it are all key to getting stronger and more efficient at cycling-making it easier to tackle a morning/afternoon commute. When I can, I try to do some leg and core exercises on the weekend to add more oomph to my pedalling and to help with daily posture.
Be a part of your community
After only a few weeks cycling my new route, I’ve come to value small road improvements, which can have huge impacts on my riding experience. I’ve already mentioned the fact that some bike lanes are better than others, but connections between bike routes is another issue. Some streets feature intermittent bike lanes that appear and disappear randomly. A quick scan of bike-friendly roads via Google maps shows a mess of disconnected and haphazard routes interwoven into the fabric of buildings and conventional roads. But why can’t this be the other way around? Why can’t more effective bike routes be integrated into existing infrastructure?
8. Support changes in your city
The other day I got stopped at a traffic light in the rain. A car across the intersection triggered the light to switch, but the driver was in the left-hand turn lane. The light changed to let a few oncoming vehicles through but then changed back without giving me a turn to cross. I know now I need to hop up onto the sidewalk to activate the pedestrian signal, but why not have a bike button-especially since the intersection marks the beginning of a bike route? A quick tweet to the city had my suggestion forwarded to the traffic team for consideration. I’m not overly hopeful that anything will change, but I like to believe that if enough people make these suggestions, something might change in the future.
9. Encourage others
Each year, the American League of Bicyclists hosts its Bike to Work Week as part of its annual Bike Month campaign. The event features nationwide support for cycling and advocacy-encouraging thousands to take up biking and to make it a more visible activity in communities across North America. In support of the event, Reliance Foundry is hosting its Pedals 4 Professionals contest to encourage cycling year-round-and to get people to share their experiences. We hope that as more people explore biking as regular transportation, more people will see it as a viable option. With more people cycling, there will be greater opportunities to improve our communities and promote greater awareness among both cyclists and motorists-not to mention reap the benefits for individual health and the environment.
Reliance Foundry has been a trusted supplier of cast metal products since 1925. Specialists in bollard design, production and installation, Reliance Foundry’s innovative catalogue also features cutting-edge bike racks and industrial-grade, steel wheels.
Learn more about the Pedals 4 Professionals contest and how you could win $5,000 in new cycling gear.
Article Source: Brad_Done