Vienna Pedaler: Want To Become A Bike Commuter? Here's How
Getting to work on two wheels isn't just for Bike To Work Day
Well, after a very successful Bike to Work Day with very good turnout and gorgeous weather, I thought I’d follow up with a bit more advice about commuting by bike.
First and foremost, there’s the question of attitude. To start with, you don’t have to instantly change your entire life overnight. Begin modestly, ease into it, and see how it goes. It’s probably best not to dive right in and resolve to do all of your commuting by bike, every day, in all conditions and situations.
One of the great things about Bike to Work Day is that it gives you a chance to try it on for size, with lots of support. Now perhaps you should simply try to blend a bike-to-work-day of your own into your routine once a week, or even just once a month. Start small and you’re less likely to get discouraged, and you might find it easy to expand it into a bigger part of your life.
Now, let’s address your equipment. What sort of special gear do you need to get to and from work by bike? Honestly, you can use whatever bike you have right now, but there are some things that might make your commute more pleasant and safer. Unless you’re absolutely certain you’ll never be caught out in the dark, you should have lights on your bike. Not only does the law require it, but it’s a crucial safety issue. There’s a wide variety of options, but at the very least you should have a front and rear light that allow other folks to see you at night.
You’ll also want some way to carry things on your bike, since you’ll probably have to bring some items to and from work. While you can always toss on a small backpack, they’re not really ideal for cycling. A bit better would be a cycling specific messenger bag, which typically have a shoulder strap and a cross strap to stabilize it. These are generally reasonably comfortable and convenient, and might be your best bet if you have a racing-type road bike, but I generally prefer to have the weight on my bike and not my body. One good option is to mount a rack on the rear of your bike. This opens up a variety of options, from simply tying on a duffle or other bag to mounting a set of “panniers”, bike specific bags that hang on either side of a rack.
I’m also a big fan of fenders on a commuting bike. In fact, of the rather large collection of bikes I own, I’d say the majority have fenders, even if I don’t plan to ride in the rain. I find it just saves me the worry about getting caught out in the rain, and it helps keep me and my bike clean and dry. You’d be surprised how much a good set of fenders can cut down on wear and tear on your bike, and add to your own comfort.
Speaking of fenders, what about weather? Well, the truly dedicated cycle commuters ride in all weather, day and night, but you don’t have to. To start with, there’s no shame in being a fair weather commuter. As much as I’ve ridden in the rain (six years of car-free living), I can’t truly say it’s fun to ride in heavy rain. So if you get up in the morning and it’s pouring down, give yourself permission to take a day off the bike. It’s trickier if you are already at work when the rain comes, but that’s where those fenders come in handy.
And that leads me to one more consideration when it comes to cycle commuting: you don’t have to make a choice between cycling or not cycling on a given day. You can combine your riding with some other form of transportation. I know folks who drive part of way to work, then ride the rest of the way, or vice versa. Or you can bike to a Metro station and take the Metro to your job. One thing to bear in mind, though, is that Metro stations are not the safest place to lock up a bike, unless you rent one of their bike lockers (approx. $200 a year, last I heard). Of course, you could simply bring your bike on the train with you, but a conventional bike is not allowed on Metro during rush hour. Here’s where a folding bike can come in quite handy, and it’s one of the reasons I own one... Metro allows folding bikes on trains at ALL times, as long as they are covered in some manner, which can be as simple as a fabric “slipcover” of sorts. You’d be amazed how much flexibility a folding bike can give you when combined with other forms of transportation.
One last item is clothing. Depending on your circumstances, you might be able to simply ride in your work clothes. This works best in mild weather, and for folks whose jobs don’t have a very formal dress code. It’s also best if your commute is relatively short, so you don’t get too sweaty riding. For most people, it’s probably best to change into your work clothes after you arrive at work. You can either bring your clothes with you, or you can arrange to keep a change of clothes at your workplace. Ideally you’d have a shower available, but not all of us are that lucky. A simple “sponge bath” with a face cloth and some soap or rubbing alcohol should allow you to freshen up sufficiently most days.
Riding to and from work can be a great experience. It saves you money, gives you a chance for exercise and fresh air, and can help relieve stress. As long as you prepare yourself and give yourself reasonable expectations, you should find it a very positive aspect of your life.
See you out there!