There are many reasons why one would consider commuting to work by bicycle. It can save you a lot of money that you would have spent on gas and parking even if you only commuted one season of the year. It can help you loose weight and keep you fit while lowering your personal carbon footprint. It's also a lot of fun.
You can do it
Many of you are probably wondering if you have the capability of actually biking all the way to work. If bicycling is new to you I can provide some realistic expectations and suggestions that will make your commute safe and enjoyable.
Unlike cars, bicycles essentially travel at one speed all the time. You can reasonably expect to travel at about 10 mp/h, or 15 km/h, without working up a big sweat. Just as people can walk, jog or sprint on two legs, on a bike a speed of 10 miles per hour would be considered the equivalent of a walking speed. If you can walk around your neighbourhood you can bike. This isn't very stressful.
If you're worried that your place of employment doesn't have showers and that you may not be very fresh after your trip you can relax. There are ways of getting over this. For starters, you will not be racing to work. You will be riding leisurely but with purpose. Should you be prone to excessive perspiration you could always wipe yourself down with an antibacterial wipe at your destination when changing into your work clothes. Not a big deal. Take a shower in the morning as usual and pack some wipes for later. If you are still worried about the exertion level you should consider the option of an electric bicycle. We'll discuss these later.
How far can you practically cycle?
Unlike travelling by car or public transit you will need some time before and after your actual ride. I needed twenty minutes to change and freshen up after arriving to work and about ten minutes to load up the bike before I set out on my morning ride. These numbers may need to be adjusted a bit if you've got high maintenance hair or makeup but I think they are a good first estimate.
Now you just have to decide how early you are willing to wake up to allow time for your commute. You can travel 10 miles in one hour without working to hard. Unless to are really geographically unlucky, and have to travel uphill all the way to work, you will be peddling only some of the time and coasting the rest.
When I commuted I needed to travel a distance of 10 miles and had to start work at 7:30 am. Allowing 30 minutes for pre and post ride preparations, and factoring in one hour to travel 10 miles, I needed to start my ride at 6 am. If your ride is 10 miles or less and you start your work day no earlier than 7 am you can definitely commute to work with a bit of planning.
Planning your Route
With a bicycle you have one great advantage over a car an that's the ability of travelling along routes that cannot be navigated by car. This opens up so many options and opportunities that you would never get in a car or bus. You can travel through parks, across foot bridges, through parking lots and along dedicated bicycle paths. I've seen rabbits, foxes and turtles on my morning commutes. Check with your municipality and determine if you have any off road bicycle paths that you could use on your journey. They would be your first choice because they will have no automobile traffic. No cars means more safety. Bike paths along busy roads are to be avoided since they provide no great advantage compared to any other city road.
If you have to cross any rivers or creeks check if there are any pedestrian bridges you can use. Even of you have to get off your bike and walk it over these bridges they could save you miles of travel. I discovered many suburban streets that bordered parks that I could cut through to gain access to another road one block closer to my destination. On a map, locate your starting and end points then identify any bridges and parks you can cut through. Try to stay on suburban side streets or off road bicycle paths as much as possible. These streets have very little traffic to slow you down. By utilizing all these short cuts you should be able to find a bike route that is considerably shorter than the standard car commute.
The Basic Bike
You will obviously need a bicycle but since you will not be racing or trying to impress anyone on our trip almost any bike in good working condition will do. What's really important is that the bike is the right size, has been adjusted for your body, and has the safety equipment required in your town. In addition to these basics you can make your commute a lot more pleasurable if you have a few extras that I consider indispensable to any bike commuter. I'll talk about those later.
There are many great bicycle designs available with prices that vary from the low hundreds to the many thousands of dollars. Your commuter bicycle is an investment that will last for years with proper maintenance. Since you are eliminating the commuting cost of a car or bus your bike will save you money every day you use it. The only advice I can give on the basic bike is that unless you really need to travel over very rough off-road terrain you will not likely need a full suspension system (shock absorbers) on your bike. These have become very popular with the mountain biking design but are really not needed for city streets. They just add weight. Save the extra money you would spend on these features to purchase the extra gear every commuter will need. Since you may need to carry your bike during your commute try to find the lightest bike one you can afford.
If the electric bikes mentioned earlier interested you will find that most bike shops now have an assortment to choose from. Some electric bikes only provide a bit some assistance, lowering the amount of work you need to do. Others are fully electric and will zip you along happily with no effort at all.
If you plan on using an older bicycle, and it's been a few years since it's been out on the road, I'd suggest that you consider the purchase new tires, tubes, and brake pads as the bare minimum. Tires are either designed for off-road, on-road use, or a combination of both. Off-road tires are very knobby to provide grip on loose ground but are quite noisy and rough on smooth city roads. Smooth balloon tires are the other extreme and provide a luxuriously smooth and efficient ride on city roads but have poor grip on wet surfaces or gravel. The best compromise is a tire with a relatively flat centre section for the smoothest rolling on city roads with a few grooves for wet weather. Any reputable bike shop owner will know what you mean when you explain that you need a city commuter tire. If you are purchasing a new bike but the tires seem wrong ask if they will exchange the tires for something more suitable.
Brake pad rubber becomes hard and brittle with age so for those with an older bike replace these before you start riding. You will be amazed how much better the new brakes will work.
Depending on the season you may have to deal with riding in the dark. Apply reflectors or reflective tape on the front an rear forks to make yourself visible and purchase at least one light for the bike. Now that lights are all LED's they won't burn out like the old bulbs did. Most lights are easily removed from the bike to eliminate the possibility of theft.
Some jurisdictions require bike riders to wear helmets. Even of yours doesn't you should get one. Yes, it will mess up you hair, but so will the wind. I've only fallen off my bike once but I've seen enough bike accidents to realize that even one brain injury is one too many.
If you're going to purchase a helmet find one that's light, has a lot of vents to keep your noggin cool and that has a nice brim. When I switched to a helmet with a brim I noticed how much I had been squinting when riding into the sun. Take the time to fit the helmet properly and do up the strap every time you ride.
When biking on quiet roads it's easy to hear a car approaching from behind but when you're in noisy city traffic you can't rely on your hearing to tell you someone is right on your tail. An inexpensive mirror that can be attached to your handle bar provides a great view of what's behind you. You will use it a lot.
The Cargo Rack
Many people carry cargo in a backpack while riding. I did this for years until a purchased a bike that happened to have a rear cargo rack. Since it was already there one day I left the backpack at home, stuffed my gear into a small light cotton duffle and tied it down on the rack with a few bungee cords. What a difference this made! My back didn't get all sweaty and I felt much lighter and more stable on the road. I would recommend that since you will likely be carrying a change of clothes, shoes, notes for work and maybe lunch, you will need a rack and some sort of cargo storage system. There are many types available and you should be able to find one that is perfect for what you need to carry.
What you should never do is carry anything in a shoulder bag that could slip off your shoulder while biking or hang any kind of bag from your handle bars. I witnessed what could have been a very serious accident that was caused by a cloth grocery bag. The bag was hanging from a biker's handlebar when it got caught in his front forks just as he entered an intersection of a busy city street. His front tire locked up immediately flipping him right over the bike to land on the back of his head and back. It knocked the wind out of him and I'd be surprised if it didn't crack his helmet. Keep cargo securely attached to the rack in the back.
City streets are full of dirt and this dirt can be whipped up by wind and traffic. It's bad enough being pelted with the occasional bug but the last thing you need is to get bits of asphalt or metal in an eye. It happened to me on one trip and necessitated a side trip to a clinic. They removed a tiny piece of metal from my cornea with a cotton swab and some sticky eye ointment. From that point on I have always wore eye protection. Sports sun glasses work great for this purpose.
There will come a day when you will be riding on wet roads and through puddles. Please believe me, dirty road water sprayed up your back by your rear tire only makes you wet and miserable. I know that fenders look very utilitarian but they are very useful. Be sure any bike you purchase had the mounting brackets for fenders. If you don't have them installed initially you will want them after a few days of commuting in wet weather.
Purchase a good lock to protect your investment. Do not rely on cables to secure your bicycle, they will just be cut. Replacing a bike is a lot more expensive than a good U shaped lock. A lock that can be mounted on the bike will always be handy.
A Water Bottle
Keep hydrated on your commutes. Most bikes will have mounting holes for water bottle cages.
Ease Into It and Have Fun
For your first attempt at commuting I suggest that you venture out on a Friday. The traffic in the summer always seems a bit lighter at the end of the week and you will have the whole week-end to recover. I hope these tips have given you the courage to leave the car home and to venture out onto the road. Think of it as a grand adventure. You deserve one. Happy Biking.