Awesome! You’ve been thinking about it for years but now you’re going to take the plunge and become a fearless Bike to Work commuter! You’re now convinced that biking to work is great for your body (perhaps our first Blog helped convince you). Numerous medical studies confirm that riding a bike for three hours a week can cut your risk for heart disease by 50% and increase your mortality by years! Plus, biking to work for a year can help the average person lose 13 pounds.

You also like the idea of saving money by biking to work. The average annual operating expenses of a bike is over 7,500 less than the average cost of operating a car for a year. And your increased health can also lower your healthcare costs. Lastly, you’ve heard of the euphoric state riders find after biking to work. Biking to work can improve your psychological health along with your physical health. You know from painful experience that sitting in rush hour traffic does the exact opposite. If this is your first time as a fearless Bike to Work Commuter, we’ve got a couple of tips and recommendations that will help you get started and stay with it. Congratulations again for joining the group of fearless Bike to Work Commuters!

Equipment for the Fearless Commuter

Equipment is the obvious place to start–you can’t bike to work without a bike. It is important to point out that one size or configuration does NOT fit all. Bike to work commuters have unique likes, dislikes, and requirements, so we are avoiding a prescription for a specific gear combination.

1. Find a Dependable Bicycle. According to People for Bikes, over 100 million Americans ride bicycles annually and most adults own a bicycle. You don’t need an expensive, new, or fancy bike to get started. Just make sure your bike can handle the terrain and distance from home to work. For example, taking the beach cruiser 15 miles in heavy traffic is not a trip I’d want to make. But if the trip were 3 miles in light traffic or trails, that bike sounds ideal. We’ll discuss bike options in a future blog.

2. Choose Appropriate Storage. Some people hate having a backpack and love to transport their professional items on a rack, pannier, or even have a change of clothes staged at the office. Others hate the idea of adding anything to their bike frame that isn’t necessary and carry their workplace attire in a backpack. As in the bicycle, determine what your individual needs are and find the tools you need to successfully get from home to work and back again.

Do you prefer backpacks? Check out our Shellback Bike to Work backpack!

3. Don’t Sweat the Bike Attire (But keep it in mind). Not excited about purchasing and wearing spandex? Not many beginners are—so don’t do it! You need to feel comfortable on your bike and if that high-speed gear isn’t going to help or will get left in the drawer, defer that investment. Depending on your distance,  climate, and terrain, you could even bike in your work attire. Understand the equipment and consider slowly adding specialized bike gear as you need it. Sweat dripping in your eyes? Try a headband under your helmet. Hands and wrists fatigued after riding? Gloves are great for wrist support and comfort. Tired of a sweaty t-shirt? Might be time for some wicking material found in a bike jersey. Wind and bugs in your eyes? Put biking glasses on your birthday list. Please realize there is a reason the pros use this gear—it improves safety, comfort, and performance.

4. Secure your Investment with a Lock. Alas, the bike lock is an essential part of the biker routine. Of course this depends again on your requirements. Some employers offer covered and secure bicycle parking where others park on a public bike rack. A bike lock is a great investment regardless. If you ride regularly, you’ll find you need it and use it much more than you imagined.

5. Cover your Face with a Mask. Had I written this a month ago, I would not have added face mask. But COVID has changed everything, and biking in a face mask is now something to consider. Speaking for myself, I’ve started biking with a mask to make others around me feel secure as well as for my own protection. If you bike in a high pollution city, it may be advantageous to your health well after COVID has dissipated.

6. Consider Mud flaps and Fenders. I am one of the bikers who hates to add unnecessary items to the bike, but I am considering mud flaps. I live in Hanoi, which is wet and rainy most of the year. I’m growing weary of being constantly spattered with mud and road grime and have ordered some fenders for my road bike. Depending on your bike and climate, fenders might be a necessary accessory for you as well.

Safety when Biking to Work

Safety is its own category because riding a bicycle is still, unfortunately, a dangerous activity. Some forward-leaning cities have added miles of protected bike lanes or traffic calming measures making biking much safer. However, it is likely that you will be forced to share the road with vehicles during your commute to work.  While equipment recommendations above are what I’d consider “optional,” I recommend the three items below as “essential” for a safe biking.

7. ALWAYS Wear a Helmet. I believe the helmet is so important that I should probably have made this item #1 in the equipment list. As a life-long biker, I’ve observed or experienced several high and low-speed crashes. In almost all incidences, the rider’s head impacted the ground or a surrounding object. This is not the place to save money or cut corners. Again, you see serious bikers wearing helmets because they are necessary, and they work!

8. Wear Bright Clothes. Bikers need every advantage to be seen by vehicle drivers, particularly in low light. I start with feet and always try to wear bright socks. A car-driver’s eyes are attracted to movement, and the part of your body that is almost always in motion are your feet on the pedals. So wear the bright socks (and shoes) and get noticed!

9. Use Lights and Reflectors. If your commute has you starting before the sun rises or returning after sunset, you need front and rear lights. It’s a legal requirement in most states that you have a red rear light and white front light after dusk and before dawn. It is a good idea to use them at all times to improve your visibility. Also ensuring your front and rear reflectors are attached and unobstructed adds another layer of safety in lowlight conditions.

Preparation for your Bike to Work Commute

Biking to Work is a logistic, transportation, and planning event. It will take longer for you to prep your bicycle and gear than you think, so begin planning and preparation well in advance of your first ride.

10. Prepare your Equipment. Primarily I mean your bicycle. If your bike has been in the garage for a while, it would be best to have a bike mechanic check it out and ensure everything is functioning correctly. If you’re tuning up your bike at home, check for dry rot in the tires, leaking tubes, lubricate the chain, test the tension on brake and shifting cables. Review your other equipment—does your helmet fit snuggly and comfortably on your head? Can you carry all your work attire and accessories in your backpack or bike rack? My recommendation is to lay out and pack as much of your bike to work kit the night before. Scrambling around in darkness looking for work items is a recipe for either angering your spouse who is still trying to sleep or forgetting something.

11. Plan your route. Google maps is a good place to start in planning your bike to work route. Using the “Bicycle” function will help you find the most direct route appropriate for bicycles. Many larger cities have bike advocacy groups that have also created bike to work maps specific to that city. Other biking apps include: OFO, Mobike, Citymapper, and BikeMap.

12. Enlist a Friend. I’ve been there. Even though I prepared my gear the night before, when the alarm goes off it is HARD to get out of bed and get on a bike, especially if it is still dark out. Having a friend is critical to helping you make and keep your commitment. Also, there is safety in numbers, even if the number is 2. When it comes to starting a new habit, having a supporter on your team is invaluable.

13. Set Reasonable Goals. So you want to be a Bike to Work commuter? Depending on your fitness level and familiarity on a bike, going from vehicle to bicycle commute cold turkey might not be the smartest move. Expect soreness in muscles you haven’t used in a while as well the saddle sores of spending long periods of time on the bike seat. If you can arrange a ride home, consider biking to work and having a friend drive you home. When you’re recovered and ready, have your friend drive you in and bike home that evening. Or start with one bike to workday a week and expand from there. As in all things, moderation is key.

Execution:  Join the Bike to Work Movement

Now that your gear is prepared, you have a route, and you’ve made it out the door, I’ve enclosed my last piece of advice for actually riding to work. This is the fun part!

14. Ride with confidence. You have a right to the road, and you must ride with confidence. Riding on sidewalks or on the far right of the road along the curb is dangerous to you and other pedestrians. Ride on the right side of the road but give yourself space so you don’t potentially swerve onto the shoulder and ride on uneven terrain. Riding too close to the edge encourages motorists to pass even closer to you, so hold your ground and ride a comfortable margin from the edge of the road.

15. Pack Bike repair equipment. I’ll say this—you only forget bike repair equipment once. Once. Most bikers carry a small bag for a spare tube, patches, and repair tools in a small pouch under their bike seat. Others carry bike repair equipment in their backpacks or panniers. Carry a spare tube and bike pump as an absolute minimum. You can purchase a complete bike repair kit for around $20.

16. Carry a Cellphone. This one seems obvious, but it is awfully nice to have a cellphone to check your location or call for help if you’ve had double tube blowout. It also lets your loved ones know where you are and whether you arrived at work safely.

Shellback6 is GrüneStrasse’s regular blog contribution to the Bike to Work and Alternative Transportation Movement. Comments, suggestions, and dissenting points of view welcome!