|Basics of Bicycle Commuting|
If you want to increase your fitness level, make a contribution to planetary health, and save money, consider commuting by bicycle. Whether you are commuting to work or to school, a bicycle is an excellent choice for transportation. Your trips will be more enjoyable and safer if you keep the following tips in mind:
Select an Appropriate Bicycle. If you are contemplating a bicycle purchase, be sure to select a bike that’s appropriate for commuting. You’ll want to consider the road surface (paved or dirt) and the possible weather conditions (snow, rain) before making a decision. A hybrid bike may be a better idea than either a road or a mountain bike. Be sure you purchase your bike at a shop with knowledgeable staffers who can fit you properly.
Check Out Sensible Accessories. Some bicycle commuters install fenders on their wheels to deflect moisture from wet roads and tires. Many bicyclists like handlebar-mounted rear view mirrors while others prefer helmet-mounted mirrors. It’s a matter of personal preference but it’s a good idea to have a mirror. Basic tools to make basic repairs and adjustments are a good idea and may prevent you from getting stranded. A lock is a good and inexpensive investment.
Wear a Helmet. The most important investment you can make in your personal safety is a properly-adjusted helmet. A knowledgeable sales person can assist you with your selection so that your choice isn’t too large or too small for your head. Helmets can prevent up to 88% of head injuries.
Know the Law. Rules and regulations relative to bicycles may vary somewhat from community to community. It’s important to know and observe the statewide rules of the road: ride on the right, ride in the direction of traffic, observe all traffic signs/signals, etc.
Be Visible. It’s important for motorists to see bicyclists. Outfit your bike with a white light in the front and a blinking red reflector in the rear. Wear a jacket or reflective vest that’s bright yellow or lime green. Lights and bright clothing are especially needed in low light conditions (early morning, dusk, after dark, fog, rain).
(Photo courtesy of David Cain)
Stay Alert. Railroad tracks, drainage grates, cracked pavement, distracted drivers, and loose dogs are some of the challenges bicyclists face. It’s vital to remain alert and responsive to potential hazards as they arise.
Make Room for Cargo. Commuters need space on bicycles to carry clothing, equipment, and supplies. Consider purchasing a rear rack on which sturdy saddlebags (also called panniers) can be mounted. Ortlieb makes panniers from high grade plastic (similar to dry bags carried in canoes) that will keep your goods safe from the elements.
Stay Comfortable. It’s possible to enjoy commuting in a range of weather conditions if you dress appropriately. As temperatures drop, you’ll want to add layers under your windbreaker. Fabrics that wick will keep moisture away from your skin. Gloves and shells made with Gore-tex keep rain out while allowing your perspiration to evaporate. Headbands, neck gaitors, and fleece gloves (under overmitts) will keep your extremities warmer. To keep your head toasty, wear a thin shower cap under your helmet. The kind which are provided in hotel rooms work well. Bike shorts provide a comfortable base layer in all weather conditions.
Choose the Best Route. The route you take by bicycle may not be the route you take by car. You may want to take less trafficked roads to get to your job or school even if the distance is longer. Roads with fewer cars may be less stressful. There may be bike lanes or bike paths that you can incorporate into your route. It’s a good idea to talk to avid cyclists and other bicycle commuters to get their ideas and suggestions.
Talk to Your Employer/Administrators. If your employer or school administrators know of your intention to commute by bicycle, they may be inspired to support your efforts by installing bicycle racks, providing parking space out of the weather, shower facilities, or other amenities. Congress recently passed a Bicycle Commuters Act which allows employers to pay bicycle commuters up to $20 per month.
Rally Your Friends. The joy of bicycle commuting may be enhanced by the company of colleagues or fellow students. Tell your friends and co-workers that you plan to commute by bicycle. You may discover others who want to do it, but who hesitate to try it alone.
Have a Backup Plan. There will be times when you may not be able to commute by bicycle. Extreme weather conditions or mechanical problems may interfere with your bicycle commute. In anticipation of such obstacles, it’s wise to research mass transit routes and consider colleagues with whom you may be able to car pool. Many buses are outfitted with racks to accommodate bicycles. If transit providers near you don’t provide racks on buses and at bus stops, urge them to do so.
Perform Regular Maintenance. Regular safety checks should reveal when you’ll need to replace your tires, oil your chain, and adjust your brakes. Many bicycle maintenance tasks are easy to learn and execute. Others, such as front derailleur adjustments, are best left to pros. Whether you do it yourself or work with a mechanic, it’s important to repair and replace parts as necessary.
Join the Vermont Bicycle & Pedestrian Coalition. Through education and advocacy, the VBPC works to promote safe bicycling, walking, and running throughout Vermont. More info can be found at www.vtbikeped.org
The Better World Club offers bicycle-only and car-and-bike membership, including insurance and free roadside assistance. Better World Club offers VBPC members a 10% discount on new membership. The VBPC receives a donation for every new sign-up.