The New Home Economics

On bike commuting

4 Comments

I really have no idea why biking is such a divisive issue. I’ve been bike commuting for years, and when I tell people this they act like I’m trying to start a fight with them. Newsflash to all those Minneapolis drivers who curse me out on a regular basis: I don’t care how you get to work; why do you care so much how I get to work?

But enough ranting; this blog is supposed to be constructive. So here are some facts about bike commuting:

1) It’s not for everyone. It’s much easier if you live in the same town that you work in, or at most only 1-2 towns over.

2) You don’t need an expensive bike or expensive gear. In fact I recommend against that because your bike could get stolen and your stuff will get ruined by rain and road salt. My only expensive biking gear is my Timbuk2 messenger bag which I’ve had for 6 years now and it still looks pretty much like new. It’s best feature is its water-resistance: I’ve ridden through many rainstorms and still arrived at work with dry clothes in my bag.

For my bike clothing I have an old tan pair of shorts, some old running tights, various t-shirts, and a bright yellow fleece. All are over 5 years old and kinda grungy-looking, but I really don’t care.

My bike (seen in the header image) is a 1980 Schwinn WorldSport. It is my fifth bike in 10 years, and my favorite of all, and it was the cheapest! My first two were stolen, my third died in a crash (luckily I survived), and I sold my fourth because I decided it was too nice of a bike for my purposes.

3) If you want to try bike commuting, know that it might take a few weeks or months to figure out your own unique rhythm. Like, what route should you take? Bike in your work clothes or bring them along in your bag? TRY different things and you will figure out what works best for you. I recently changed my bike route after years of riding the same old route.

4) On safety: I found this website a few years ago and am constantly recommending it; it is simply the best guide to how to be safe on a bike that I’ve ever seen. Had I read this in 2002, I might have avoided the one crash that I have experienced. Getting “doored” is not fun at all, and I was very lucky to only have minor injuries.

5) On weather: if you never ride when there is a chance of rain in the forecast, you will never become a regular bike commuter. At some point you just have to get over the weather. Riding in the rain is fun, in the summertime at least. For cold weather, dress warmly but not too warmly. You should feel a little bit chilled the first 1/2 mile or so, and then your heart gets going and you feel nice and snug.

I rode a couple times in below zero weather and I don’t know that I’ll do that again anytime soon– right now my minimum temp for riding is 10-15 degrees F. Essential extra piece of gear for cold weather biking (under 30 degrees): a balaclava. I got mine from REI and it’s lasted about 6 years now.

In Minnesota, it really is possible to bike about 8-9 months out of the year with little hassle. With a certain amount of hassle dedication you can add in those other 3-4 unmentionable months.

6) This goes without saying, but biking is a great way to get extra exercise. I haven’t had much time to work out since I had my kids, but with simply bike commuting I was able to get back to my pre-pregnancy weight no problem.

So yeah, I’m a biking advocate, within reason. I understand that not everyone can or even should do it, but even if we approached something like 10% of commuters (instead of 1-3%) it could really make a difference in both traffic congestion and pollution. And it sure saves a lot of money.

What have I missed here? Do you have great reasons to bike? Safety strategies? Cold weather coping strategies for us upper-midwesterners?

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4 thoughts on “On bike commuting

  1. I’m a fair weather bike commuter. My low temperature threshhold is 45 degrees. This may change as time goes on, because biking is addicting. I feel more energized upon arriving at work in the morning and at home in the evening.

    I decided yesterday that one must-have piece of gear is a good pair of protective sunglasses. Biking in the wind with dust blowing in my face recently caused some significant eye irritation. I bought a pair that thoroughly covers the eyes. It came with 3 additional lens options, from clear to dark. I think of them as my windshield. http://www.serfas.com/product_details2.asp?ID=401

  2. Working from home, I really miss my morning bike commute. It was perfect for clearing your head. At dusk on the Cedar Lake Trail, you really need to keep your wits about you. There is so much wildlife returning to that area, it is easy to get distracted by a pheasant or a deer and bike into another rider.

  3. I’m super interested in starting bike commuting, but I have not yet purchased a bike.

    How have you chosen what bike you ride?

    Is it reasonable to try and find one for around $200 (maybe $300)?

    I don’t think I’m comfortable with plunking down 5 or 600 bucks on a bike until I feel like I’m going to stick with it.

  4. Hi Michael,
    If you get a used bike, you can definitely get a nice one for under $200. I found mine through Craigslist. It only took a week or two of looking, and then I found someone who was selling two refurbished 80s-model bikes. I test-rode both of them and ended up with the more expensive of the two, and it was $140. It’s not perfect, but it’s great for the commute because it’s light and fast and narrow.

    I used to commute on a mountain bike, but after reading that bike safety website I started to think about a road bike. Since I ride on city streets, a road bike is just that much narrower and therefore easier to maneuver between parked and moving cars. Every inch counts!

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