Seven tips for riding a bike to work

I ride a bike to work almost every morning.   Occasionally my wife or a coworker will give me a ride, but this is actually a hassle because then I don’t have my bike when I go home.  On two days a week, I ride across town to a class.  I’ve discovered that getting there by car takes 25-40 minutes depending on traffic, and I have to pay at least $6 for parking (in Atlanta, even shopping malls and doctors offices have paid parking).  It takes me 15-20 minutes by bike regardless of traffic, and the parking is free.  Not everyone can bike to work, but I think bicycles are under-appreciated in the USA as a means of transport.

There are tons of lists online for why you should bike, so I won’t try to rehash the reasons here.   Here are seven ways I make my bike commute easier:

  • Live near the office:  I know this is obvious, but I want to stress that a short commute can justify paying much higher rent.  I save about $800/month by not having a car just to drive to work, including the cost of the car, gas, insurance, repairs & parking pass.  Paying more for an apartment in an upscale area close to my office lets me live in a much better apartment.   Just as crucially, I can be a lot more productive by avoiding a long commute to and from work.   Furthermore, I enjoy my ride: some studies claim that avoiding a commute is equivalent a $40,000 raise!
  • Get a light bike: you can commute on any bike, but a lightweight road bike is a lot more efficient than a heavy mountain bike.   Decent road bikes start around $250- mine cost about $860 from a bike shop.
  • Don’t get stranded:  see the infographic below for the gear I keep on my bike.  You should either know how to change a flat tire, or have someone who can pick you up when you have mechanical trouble.
  • Know when to cheat:  I keep a poncho at the office so I can get home in the rain, but if there is heavy rain in the morning, I either wait or get a ride – it’s not worth biking in a downpour.   Also, mud guards are awesome.
  • Be safe in traffic:  I don’t wear a helmet on my very short commute to work.  I only mention so you realize that I’m serious about this: if you ride at night, you must get a solid front light and rear lights.
    • It is required by law in most cities, and you will get a ticket
    • Cars don’t expect cyclists at night, and a light will save your butt
    • I do wear a helmet if my ride will be more than 10 minutes
    • Know when to claim the lane.  In most cases, you want to ride in the middle of a lane – not on the sidewalk and not to the extreme right.
  • Adapt to hot weather:  Atlanta stays between 90 and 100 all summer, but it’s not unusual for me to wear a suit to the office.   A few suggestions:
    • I used an office shower at my last job, but I’ve had to make do with a desk fan this year.  It works pretty well.
    • Keep a change of clothes at the office.   I haven’t tried this so yet, but on extra hot days, I change shirts and I don’t put on my tie until I get to the office.
    • You can reduce how much you sweat during your ride by either optimizing your intensity or efficiency.  You can lower intensity by using your bike’s gears correctly, getting a more efficient bike, or a more gentle route. Keep in mind that the harder your ride, the faster your body will adapt!
  • Take the scenic route:  Do not simply follow the path that you would normally take in your car.
    • Use Google Maps to see bike paths and experiment with different ways to get from A to B.
    • Experiment with routes that have fewer (or more, if that’s your thing) hills in the summer.
    • Don’t forget to enjoy your ride!  When it’s not too hot, I take the Atlanta Beltline part of the way (a nice path down a forest is great to relax before work), then take another detour when I want to avoid a steep hill.  It took me over a dozen variations and several months to find the ideal route – one that combines a park, quiet neighborhood streets, bike trails for part of the way, minimal hills, and the fewest stoplights.

Here’s the gear I carry on my bike: