Are you sick of draining your wallet just to fill up your gas tank to get to work? Do you dread sitting in your car during your commute, only to sit at your desk for the better part of the next eight hours? Interested in reducing your carbon footprint? If you answered yes to any of these questions, bike commuting to work may help you tackle some of these.
What are some of the best tips for beginner bike commuters?
For a first-time bike commuter, carefully consider the following before you start whizzing to work on two wheels:
- Timing: Give yourself enough time (and then some to freshen up)
- Safety: Learn the cyclist’s rules of the road
- Comfort: Purchase practical cycling gear
- Setbacks: Formulate a backup plan to deal with unforeseen mishaps
If you’ve never done it before, biking to work may seem intimidating or like an unrealistic goal. To ease some of the anxiety that may steer potential cyclists away from giving it a spin, we’ve formulated some of the best tips for beginner bike commuters.
First Time Commuters: Prepare And Research
The purpose of this guide is to help you avoid falling into the vicious cycle of trying new things. You know- conjuring up a new hobby or project, gaining excitement over it, jumping into it without much preparation, having little to no success, quitting and never revisiting it again. We’ve all been there, it is human nature. This vicious cycle can be avoided by taking the time to research and prepare before diving right in like a kid in a ball pen.
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Try A Spin Class
If you’re brand new to cycling, your first plan of action should be to try a spin class. Gyms and fitness studios usually require memberships, but most offer your first class free. If you can’t find one that does, keep looking.
Taking a spin class will be one way to determine if cycling is for you. It takes place in a controlled environment (indoors) with a certified instructor. The bike will be stationary, but it has a seat and handlebars that mimic the dimensions of a real bike.
Here you will learn to adjust a bike to the proper seat height and reach angle with guidance from the instructor. Remember, not all instructors will know you are a first-timer, so it is up to you to speak up. Maybe show up a few minutes early in order to guarantee yourself some one-on-one time with the instructor to set up your bike.
Maintaining the correct bike seat height is fundamental to ensuring a comfortable ride. If your saddle is positioned too low for your height, you may experience knee pain from a lack of extending your knees while peddling. At a correct bike seat height, the knee is only slightly bent at the bottom of the pedal stroke.
Tip: If your bike seat is positioned too high, you may not be able to reach the ground with your feet, which you’ll need to be able to do at red lights and intersections.
The second ergonomic tip to keep in mind for smooth cycling is mastering the reach angle, which is the angle your torso makes when you are seated with your hands on the handlebars. For optimum comfort, your torso should make about a 45-degree angle when you are in this position to prevent wear-and-tear on the lower back.
In a spin class your instructor will have you cycling in various positions for sweating and toning purposes, but keep the 45 degrees in mind for when you are commuting.
Try The Ride On Your Day Off
If you happen to fall in love with spin class, that’ great. But before you go buying an expensive bike with all the bells and whistles, make sure you are ready to commit to your commute (at least a few days out of the week).
Give Yourself Plenty Of Time
I know nobody wants to go to work on their days off, but doing a dry run of your bike commute will allow you to determine how long the trip will actually take you. Take your time on this ride, so that if you needed to shave some time off your commute in a pinch, you could speed up a tad and still make it on time.
Take whatever belongings with you that you would normally take to the office in the morning to really mimic what your travel will feel like.
Tip: If you are planning to bike to work on a certain day, do what you can in the days before to lighten your load.
If you are only planning to take your bike a few days a week, pack heavier on the days that you are not cycling and leave what you can at the office. For example, bring a small towel and a change of clothes to work the day before you plan to bike commute, this way they are already in the office and you don’t need to carry them on your bike.
I think we can all agree that starting your morning off in a rush is a sure fire way to start your day on the wrong foot. Note however long your practice run takes you and add about 10 to 15 minutes when planning your travel time. This way you are less likely to be late to work if unforeseen obstacles arise and you’ll have some time to freshen up before the workday commences.
Know Where You Belong (Hint: It’s not on sidewalks)
When cycling, make sure to always ride with traffic to avoid head-on collisions (ride on the side of the road where cars are traveling in the same direction as you, rather than traveling against the traffic in the opposite direction). Bikes lanes are becoming increasingly popular across the U.S, so be sure to ride in them whenever they are available.
If no bike lane is available, lane positioning laws state that it is perfectly legal in all 50 states to ride your bike in the automobile lane. If the lane is wide enough to share, ride in it while allowing 3- feet of width between yourself and automobile traffic. If a lane is not wide enough for this, ride in the center of the lane as a car would.
Lane positioning laws are in place for cyclist and pedestrian safety. Cycling on the sidewalk puts both parties in increased danger and should be avoided at all times.
Watch Out For Car Doors
Most bike lanes are located in-between a row of parked cars and a lane of moving traffic. The idea of riding alongside vehicles that are much heavier and are likely moving a lot faster than you may seem daunting, but the row of parked cars is actually where you need to focus your attention.
Remember, you are completely visible to automobile drivers, and most will be extra attentive to their driving when they are alongside a cyclist. To drivers in parked vehicles, you may be approaching them from behind. It is not uncommon for a car door to swing open rapidly without the person checking their rearview mirror.
If you happen to notice a car that has just parked, or see a silhouette of someone sitting in an idle vehicle, proceed with caution. Of course, accidents happen, but keeping an attentive eye on small things such as this can save you a lot of pain, time, and money in the long run.
Purchasing Your Commuter Bike
When it comes down to buying yourself a bike, you want to find one that suits your purpose and your wallet alike. As with any large purchase, doing your own research beforehand will leave you less likely to get swindled by a salesperson. Read ahead to learn the general difference between different bike types.
The type of bike you want to buy depends on the type of riding you want to pursue. If your commute is short and will take place mostly on pavement, you don’t need to buy an elaborate mountain bike that is built for climbing rugged terrain.
The two most common types are road bikes and mountain bikes, but there is also a hybrid type which combines the most convenient features from the two. Just because you decide to buy a bike for commuting purposes, which happens to be strictly pavement riding, doesn’t mean you won’t want to try out some mild trails in the near future, right? Right.
Road bikes are built for pavement riding, whether it is leisurely inner city riding or competitive cycling.
For the purpose of speed, racing bikes are often equipped with horizontal top tubes and drop-bar handlebars which causes the weight from your body to transfer energy to the front of the bike to help it move forward. This style of bike is optimal for speed-seekers, but it can cause a greater strain on the back as it forces the rider to be predominantly bent at the waist.
For those who prefer a more vertical back position while cycling, endurance bikes are another type of road bike which is predominantly meant for pavement riding. The central difference between a racing bike and an endurance bike lies in the geometry of the frame.
Endurance bikes are built with a taller head tube, which is intended to reduce stress on the back and neck. This allows for the handlebar to be positioned higher than the saddle of the bike, which in turn allows for a more upright riding position.
The frame geometry of racing bikes also allows cyclists to take sharp and fast turns without losing speed or control. To be able to do this, the bike must have very narrow tires. With an endurance bike style, you have a little more freedom if you are interested in wider tires. Racing tires are really only beneficial when it comes to speed. Wider tires have more versatility.
As the person riding on two wheels as opposed to four, you are the one that is more vulnerable and prone to injury.
To avoid serious accidents, you want to make sure you are as visible and protected as you possibly can be. Do we suggest you wear knee pads, elbow pads, shin guards, etc. (probably not unless you are known to be more accident prone)? However, you definitely want to protect your head with a helmet and wear some sort of reflective garb to make sure you are visible.
Even if you are sure your commute will only take place during daylight hours, wearing bright and reflective outer clothing is never a bad idea. It becomes much easier for an automobile driver to spot you in your highlighter yellow riding coat than in your army green hoodie. Having reflective gear on you as well as your bike is strongly recommended for anyone riding during dusk or dawn.
Invest In A Few Pieces Of Athletic Clothing
If you are worried that your work attire will not double as comfortable riding gear, consider cycling shorts and an athletic top to wear on the bike. If the weather gets too cold you can always layer up.
Cycling shorts are specially designed without inseams to prevent irritation from seams interacting with body contact. By the athletic top, we’re referring to something that is designed to maintain ambient body temperature while also absorbing sweat, such as Nike’s Dri-fit line or Under Armour’s HeatGear or ColdGear.
Feeling warm sunshine on your face and crisp oxygen breeze by you on a September morning is a lot different than braving the elements on a wet, gray morning in April. In addition to preparing yourself by wearing weather appropriate apparel, you can also prepare your bike.
Installing fenders on your bike is an affordable pro-tip to significantly reduce the amount of rain, mud, and dirt that rebounds from your tires. Standard fenders go for about ~$15-$30 and will last a while if your bike is stored properly.
Of course, there are various sizes of fenders available depending on wheel size and a wider fender will offer more protection from rain and debris. For example, SKS brand on Amazon offers 26-inch wide mudguard fenders and comes in black or white for the price of a movie ticket.
Bags and baskets
A handlebar bag or pannier is also a good investment for bike commuters, even if you tend to travel light. Cycling with a backpack or messenger bag on your back can be uncomfortable and it’s one of the biggest ergonomic risk factors for cyclists. Over time, carrying extra weight on your back can cause wear-and-tear on not only your back but your knees, neck, and arms as well.
If you do choose to wear a backpack, it will rest high on your upper back and shoulders as you will need to tighten the straps to avoid movement of the bag during your ride. This placement increases the likelihood of the backpack interfering with your helmet position, as your neck will be flexed in order for you to keep your eyes on the road. Also, messenger bags are more likely to interfere with your legs as you pedal.
Items such as this black Roswheel bag are handlebar bags that are for carrying the basics- your phone, keys, wallet, etc. It carries up to 5 liters and tightly fastens onto your front handlebars with Velcro straps. It even has a reflective logo and doubles as a shoulder bag.
You could even choose to go old school with a modern twist and install a basket on the front handlebars of your bike. If the weather permits, a basket could be a quick solution for someone who just wants to toss their few items in and get going. This black, EVO Brooklyn Handle Bar with/bicycle basket is a good example of a deep, sturdy basket that can easily be mounted to the bike’s stem.
Bells Whistles, And Lights
Having some sort of auditory signaling device on your bike is never a bad idea, especially for beginners. Just think about it, would you want to drive a car with no horn?
There will always be drivers on the road who abuse their horn as a release of aggression, but other than that the horn may be one of the most important safety features of any vehicle. The quick sounding of a horn is more often than not the reason an accident is successfully avoided.
If your commute will take place in a more remote area, you may be able to get away with not having a horn attached to your bike. You could also opt for a bell, but note that these are not nearly as loud as horns. Sometimes, even using your own voice may be enough in remote areas.
For those commuting in densely populated areas, a horn is much louder and more effective in case of emergencies. Horn and bell attachments can be very inexpensive, starting at around $5 on Amazon.
Commuting in the early morning hours or into the late evening might leave you commuting in the dark. Along with bright colored and reflective clothing, get a handlebar light for your bike or a helmet light to ensure that you can see where you are going.
It may seem like a silly idea to fasten a light to your helmet, but it happens to be the most practical. It allows you to always be seen clearly by others and have the full range of motion with the light as opposed to it being fastened to your bike.
Multipurpose headlamps have adjustable straps to fit almost any size head or helmet, and can come in handy in various situations! Try them when you’re crawling around in your attic or basement looking for your boxes of holiday decorations- you won’t regret it.
You can find a LED multi-purpose headlamp like the Hands-Free 7 LED Headlamp for under $10 on Amazon. This one is great because it pivots and the light is bright. It’s also lightweight and fits under the helmet with a little adjustment on the straps and base of the headlamp.
Any cyclist who has been stranded roadside without the ability to adjust their saddle or pump up a deflated tire will tell you the importance of having a multi-tool packed for your bike commute. There are different variations of multi-tools ranging from mini-sized ones with the basic Phillips head and hex wrench to larger pieces that nearly match the functionality of a full toolbox.
Mini multi-tools are compact, intended to fit in a jacket pocket or a side pocket of a bike bag or pannier. In our online search, we’ve seen mini multi-tools range from $20-$60 depending on the number of tools included. Some come with mounts so that you never have to worry about forgetting them at home or in the office. The only thing worse than not having a multi-tool is having a multi-tool that’s not with you in a bind.
This Crankbrother’s multi-tool is available on Amazon in 3 tiers to cater to cyclists of all levels. The least expensive option (the F10) ringing in at around the price of a movie ticket, popcorn & drink on Amazon includes hex wrenches and screwdrivers, while the premium option (the F15) rings in at around the price of a full tank of gas and is compatible with bikes of various chain lengths. The F15 is also equipped with a bottle opener, for those who like to reward themselves after a long commute home from the office.
Getting a flat can really leave you stranded roadside or trailside, and a multi-tool won’t help you much in that department. Having a portable tire pump with a glueless patch kit is essential for getting where you need to be. A little roadside maintenance may put you a few minutes behind on schedule, but it’s better than walking for miles or awaiting rescue for something that you could have patched up yourself and been on your way. Portable tire pumps are fairly inexpensive, the average price on Amazon being between $20-30.
Have A Backup Plan
For mechanical issues that can’t be fixed in a pinch, have a backup plan in case your bike becomes unrideable during your commute.
Let a coworker know that you’ve decided to start cycling and on what days you plan to take your bike to work. This way, you can have them call for a ride if you’ve become stranded and need to get into the office on time. It’s always good to let family and friends know you’re cycling as well, for incidents that happen on your way home when you don’t want to have a coworker go out of their way to save you.
Cycling, like other activities, is better with a partner! See if any of your friends or neighbors want to try bike commuting with you. This will ease some of the beginner anxiety and you will have someone to hold you accountable for the days you want to be lazy and ditch the two wheels for four.
Also, for anyone who is a AAA member, bicycle roadside assistance is now free with any membership level. You get two free bicycle calls each year with AAA, which includes free transportation for you and your bike up to 10 miles.
What are some health benefits of cycling?
Bike riding is a form of cardio, so it increases your heart rate and gets your blood flowing. Cardio is a great way to get your adrenaline levels higher in the morning, so for people who don’t have time to hit the gym before work, cycling can get the job done while also getting you to work on time. Doing cardio a few times a week can reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease, which is the number one cause of premature death in the United States.
Is it safe to ride in the cold?
As long as you feel you can breathe and move your limbs without being too stiff, riding in the cold weather is perfectly fine. After a few minutes, you will begin to warm up and your muscles will loosen up, which decreases the risk of injury. If you are worried about straining yourself by biking in the cold, do a quick warm-up in the house before you leave (30 jumping jacks should do the trick).
What if I become winded?
Doing cardio such as bike riding will obviously get you breathing a little heavier. If your bike commute to work isn’t too extraneous, you should be able to regulate your breathing in a few short minutes. If you know you tend to get overly winded or winded very quickly, consult your doctor. Some people may have exercise-induced asthma and not even know it. Your doctor can prescribe a rescue inhaler, which will open up your airways with 2 puffs before your ride. You can take 2 puffs again if you feel you need it during your exercise.
Prodify Cycling does not endorse any particular treatment. Each individual should carefully evaluate his/her situation and use good judgment from a medical provider before making a personal decision.