Tips for the New Commuter

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Commuting by bike is one of the best decisions you can make. For your health, for the environment, for economic viability – the benefits of riding a bike are exponential. But I know, it’s not an easy task. It demands a certain level of commitment. And in a society dominated by cars, we sure have made it difficult for people on bikes. But not to worry, that’s all starting to change. More and more of us are getting out there every day and riding. And the more of us there are out there, the better it’s going to be. And by “it”, I mean everything.

But let’s slow down for second. Forget about the future and just focus on the present. If you’ve made the decision to start commuting by bike, let me be the first to congratulate you. You, my friend, are a pioneer and a hero and we here at Performance, salute you. Thank you!

Now, let’s talk gear. Just about any bike is suitable for commuting, but depending on your lifestyle and the environment in which you live and work and breathe, you might want to take into consideration some of the basic elements that make up a good and practical commuting machine.

Bike Frames

breezer beltway.jpgFirst things first: You should be comfortable when riding your bike. Riding a bike should be a joy, even when you’re tired and miserable. Generally speaking, you want a frame that will put you in a slight, upright position. This not only helps relieve stress on your back, neck, and hands, but allows you to easily scan your surroundings. (An important factor in any urban environment. Whoa, is that a squirrel darting out in front?! No problem, you got this.)

Finding the right fit can be a daunting task for any new rider. If you are unsure of what size bike frame to get, you can visit any Performance store where an associate will be happy to help fit you for a frame. You can also contact our help support line at: 1-800-727-2453

Weight is also a consideration, but not as much as you would think. Steel frames are the heaviest, but the most durable. Aluminum frames are somewhere in the middle and are generally a good choice for a commuter bike, since they’re both lightweight and durable. Carbon fiber is, of course, as light as you can get, but also the most expensive. Just keep in mind that the geometry and fit are more important than the material. Steel, Aluminum, and Carbon are all great materials to build bikes with, so just listen to your wallet.

Gears

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Just a quick mention about gears. You can, if you want, commute to work on a single speed bike. However, if you’re like me and don’t like to suffer too much, I would recommend getting a bike with some gears. For the city, 8 or 9 gears will suffice, but of course the more gears you have, the more options you have for less suffering. That’s all.

Tires & You

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Next up is tires. When you first get out there and start rolling, whatever you have on your bike should be fine for commuting. However, once you become familiar with your route, it may become apparent that a different tire might be more suitable for the terrain. Basically, you’re going to want something wide, with a bit of tread, but not too much tread. For instance, most road bike tires are racy, skinny little things and are awesome if you want to go fast on smooth pavement, but don’t fare too well on uneven pavement, broken glass, rusty nails, and the other flotsam and jetsam that washes up on city streets. On the other hand, mountain bike tires are a little too wide, a little too big. Their knobby knobs are great for the dirt and mud, but on the road they can be pretty sluggish and will slow you down. So, what you’re looking for is a balance between the two. Something wide with a little tread to bounce over things, but also smooth enough to keep you rolling right along.

Sit on it!

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In addition to tires, a saddle can be like a warm hug. Everyone is different in this department, and for some of us, we have to experiment with different saddles in order to find the right fit. But don’t give up! There are plenty of great, cushy saddles out there on the market and I promise you, your butt will know the moment you sit down.

Rack ‘Em!

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OK, on to utility. For some of you, a backpack is all you’ll need. You’re young, carefree, and require nothing but an apple and a copy of Catcher in the Rye (and maybe a new shirt for when you get to work).  For others, you might require a bit more. A change of clothes, a tooth brush, a laptop, an espresso machine. Whatever the case may be, racks can be extremely beneficial. Not all bikes are designed with rack mounts so, depending on what you need will depend on whether racks are in your foreseeable future. (For most commuters they will be.)

I’ve found a rear rack with a pannier is enough room to carry my laptop, something for lunch, and a change of clothes. However, whatever your needs are, they’re plenty of options out there, so don’t fret. The espresso machine, however – that was in jest. I wouldn’t recommend taking your espresso machine.

Fenders: Friend or Foe?

In addition to racks we also have fenders. Personally, I don’t mind getting a little dirty from time to time and racks will add additional weight to your bike, so I don’t generally use them. They will, however, keep you and your clothes clean and dry. And if you’re in it for the long haul, a set of fenders can do wonders for your morale. So if you want to stay dry, clean and comfortable on your way to work, then fenders can help.

Lights

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You’re going to want to invest in a good front and rear light package. Chances are, you will have to leave a little early in the morning to get to the office on time. And chances are, you’ll be heading home as the sun is setting. Or, you might invariably find yourself in a low-light situation. And even if, for the sake of argument, none of these conditions are present, it can never hurt to have some lights flashing to make you more visible on the road. Regardless of when you use them, having lights on your bike is the one accessory you don’t want to be without. Let’s just leave it at that. (Oh, and by the way: Make sure you carry spare batteries or a USB charging cord with you, just in case.)

Routes

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A quick word on routes. When looking at the map, sometimes it’s hard to tell what the best route is for a bike. Google maps will do a pretty good job at mapping a bicycle route for you, but it isn’t always 100% accurate, so it’s a good idea to do a little recon before you start commuting. Take a drive, hop on a bus, go for a walk – all of these things will help you plan the perfect route. During your recon missions, be on the lookout for any bike paths or quiet side streets you may not have noticed at first.

Once you’re ready to start commuting, it’s advisable to keep a physical map and phone on you at all times. Take your time and use your best judgment. If you’re not comfortable on any road, it might be possible to break the commute up by taking public transit or driving part of the way. After a while, you’ll be exposed to all the possibilities and learn which streets are best for riding a bike. The most important thing to remember, is to relax and have fun. Once you’re route is mapped out, the rest is a piece of cake.

Repair Kit

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Finally, you’re going to want to have a general repair kit. This doesn’t take up much space and with the exception of the lights, is the one thing you don’t want to leave home without. The kit should include a multi-tool, tire lever,tire boot, patch kit, bicycle pump or CO2 cartridge system, and a spare tube. (But preferably two spare tubes.)

Hopefully, you won’t need it. But it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Flat tires are a common theme on the road and the more you ride the better your chances of a getting a flat will be. But don’t let that scare you. If you haven’t done it in a while, changing a tire is pretty easy. If it helps, go ahead and let the air out of your tube, take the wheel off, and practice changing it. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

See? No big deal. Now that you have that new experience under your belt, you’re ready to hit the road. Let’s make sure we have everything: Bike? Check. Bag with work related items? Check. Lights? Check. Repair Kit? Check. An indomitable spirit? Check.

OK, let’s do this!

4 thoughts on “Tips for the New Commuter

  1. get a city officials to install more bike lanes away from cars. why is it that small cities can do this , but big cities like san diego have no money or time.

    1. I agree 100%. LA is a nightmare to bike in. I’ve had to look for the best routes but sometimes there are no alternatives. You can be caught in heave traffic with no bike lanes.

  2. Great article, thank you!

    Three years ago, I started commuting to or from work a couple times a week and it has had such a huge positive effect on my life!
    My overall health has improved. I have more energy (specially the days I ride) and feel less stressed.

    It might not be feasible for everybody to do it every day, or round trips but perhaps on some days, maybe just one-way or combined with some other form of transportation.
    Below a link to a video from the Global Cycling Network (GCN) with some tips on bike commuting

  3. Great article. I bike to work when I can. I’m about 1 mile from my job so I usually take a very long route and get in about a 10 mile workout prior to getting to work. I don’t bike regularly but I wish I could. Sometimes I just have too many things to bring with me. Other times I’m at a different work site.

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