Outside of sharing some tips on finding a commuter bike, I want to give a few tips on how to do the commuting itself so that your biking to work or anywhere else is not only safer, but more enjoyable. I’ve been bike commuting for 5 years now in an urban environment (without major incident, thankfully) and I’ve picked up on a few things (a few of wish I had learned earlier in my commuting years than later) in the process. So, I’ll share what I know, with the goal of encouragement and subsiding fears – and hope other experienced bike commuters do the same.
Please don’t be overwhelmed or intimidated by this list, and please ask any questions you have. Commuting by bike is one of the most fun and rewarding healthy habits I’ve taken up over the years. When I am not able to do it, due to weather, I get anxious and irritable! The following commuter bike gear and tips will allow you to bike more often and enjoy it more when you do. Consider the safety ones mandatory, while many of the gear ones are related to personal preference.
1. Wear a Bike Helmet Properly
Look – if I don’t list this first, the bike helmet police are going to come out in full force. I know they look dorky, they aren’t the most comfortable, and they can mess up your hair. But, they can also save your life. Here’s a great helmet that will work for both road and trail riding.
Head injury is by far the greatest risk posed to bicyclists, comprising one-third of emergency department visits, two-thirds of hospital admissions, and three-fourths of deaths.
Here’s a visual guide on how to properly fit and wear a bike helmet:
2. Improve your Road Visibility
Make sure you are blatantly visible to all drivers. Here’s why:
- Most drivers are on auto-pilot: You know how after driving to a destination enough times, you start looking back on the trip and realize you don’t remember any of it? Kind of scary isn’t it?
- Many drivers are focused on things other than driving like smartphones, turning the radio station, watching and daydreaming.
- Many drivers have poor visibility/eyesight.
So here’s what bikers can do to improve their visibility:
- Wear bright colored clothing. You want to stand out, not blend in to your surroundings, especially when it gets dark.
- Make eye contact when you can. Critically important at stop signs as many drivers look for other cars and don’t notice bikers. Don’t assume a driver sees you unless they look you in the eye and acknowledge you.
- Use flashing bike lights (I recommend this quality US combo pack for the front and rear) when it gets dark. Reflectors are not good enough. And if you can light up your path to avoid potholes or other roadblocks, while improving your visibility, you also improve your commuting experience.
- Get these reflective leg bands. One-size-fits-all. Cheap. They can keep your pants out of your chain (and prevent annoying grease stains). And they improve your visibility through color and reflection.
- You can even get reflective bike stickers for your frame and wheels.
3. Learn how to Give Proper Biking Hand Signals
Some drivers don’t know biker lane change signal from a right turn signal. Some do.
You’re not going to know who does and doesn’t though. So ALWAYS signal.
More than anything else, your signal sends a message of “SLOW THE F DOWN AND PAY ATTENTION. I’M GOING TO DO SOMETHING.”
There are really only three hand signals you need to know: right turn, left turn, and stop. Here they are:
4. Follow The Rules of the Road
When you bike, you are not a pedestrian. You treat yourself as a car, and should follow the rules of the road. This means:
- you stop at stop signs, and wait your turn
- you stop at stop lights
- you stay in the road
- be patient and maintain your composure
5. Wear Clothing to Make your Ride Comfortable
Outside of visibility, the clothing you wear serves another key purpose: comfort.
Wearing jeans on a 5 mile bike commute on a humid, 90-degree day or shorts and a cotton t-shirt on a windy, rainy, 50-degree day will quickly lead to you never wanting to bike commute again.
So here are some tips:
- don’t overdress: if you are warm when you get on your bike, you’re going to be hot and sweaty by the time you get off.
- don’t underdress: shorts in freezing rain is not only uncomfortable, it can be extremely dangerous. It doesn’t take much for hypothermia to kick in with wind resistance, cold, and rain.
- synthetic materials are great if precipitation is likely: cotton/wool + rain = no fun.
- tight clothing is better than loose: tight clothing tends to breath better and will offer less resistance against wind.
- layering: for longer rides in cooler weather, layering clothing is a good way to go. If you do this, you will need a pannier, basket, or a rear bike rack and rear pannier to haul your clothing/laptop/accessories. You don’t want to tie around your waste.
- when below freezing: wear ear protection (I prefer a thin balaclava to cover my face and ears) and warm gloves and socks. Eye protection (sun or other glasses) is also helpful for your eyeballs literally don’t freeze and tear up.
6. Map Out your Bike Route
One of the most essential components to successfully bike commuting is to find a route that you love (or don’t hate, at least).
To that end, Google Maps has put together bike routes on top of their regular maps functionality. It gives turn-by-turn bike directions, in addition to bike path overlays. Just put in a starting and destination address, and Maps does the rest.
I switched up my route a year ago to a longer route through a park and bike path versus all street, and it has made the ride even more enjoyable.
7. The Bike to Work Hygiene Thing
One of the most common objections I hear about bike commuting is that people don’t want to be sweaty on the way in to work or get their clothes dirty.
I get the concern. But it’s a very low hurdle to jump over.
I pack my work clothes in a backpack, which solves the dirty clothes thing. However, I do get a bit sweaty with the backpack. To avoid that, you can get a rear bike rack and rear rear pannier, or side panniers.
I’m lucky enough that my employer has showers at work. If they didn’t, the extra set of clothes and a deodorant stick would go a long ways.
If your employer doesn’t have showers, try bringing it up with your facility staff as an employee perk idea.
If a shower isn’t an option, pack a towel, wet it down, cool yourself off, apply some deodorant and fresh clothing, and you should be good to go.
And if you have body odor issues, pack some disinfectant hand gel to use as a cleanser.
8. Bike Fenders!
There are few things worse than a bike ride in rainy conditions, in my opinion.
If you bike commute enough times, you’re going to get wet.
Bike fenders make for a less wet and less messy experience.
9. Know your Basic Bike Maintenance
Tomorrow’s post is going to cover bike maintenance 101.
You will find that learning a handful of skills and having the right tools on the road with you will accomplish 99% of everything you will ever need to know about bicycle maintenance.
Being able to repair a flat tire, while out on the road on your own is an essential bike commuting skill – for your sanity and safety.
10. Protect your Investment!
Why spend all that money for a bike and gear and leave it up to chance whether it’s there when you get back. Get a bike lock.
Bike Commuter Gear & Tips Discussion:
- Outside of bike maintenance gear (covered tomorrow) – what commuter bike gear do you recommend?
- Are there any other commuter safety tips you can’t stress enough?
- How do you handle hygiene when biking to work, if a shower is not an option for you?