Commuting by bike offers several advantages over other modes. If you enjoy cycling, it’s simply more enjoyable than being stuck in a car. Cycling is good for your health, good for the environment, and affordable. Cycling can save time over car commuting if car parking is inconvenient, and it’s more flexible than bus transit. Many car owners commute by bike in order to overlap their exercise time with their commute time, arriving at work invigorated and ready to start their day.
Bike commuting does require some logistical planning. How will you handle variations in weather? How will you dress? Will you want to wash up? Will you ride in darkness? How will you carry your stuff? Where will you keep your bike? What route will you take? The answers to these questions will depend on your commute, your work environment, and your personal preferences.
If you bike commute in North Carolina, you’ll eventually find yourself riding in the rain. What comes down from the clouds will get you wet, but what your tires spray up from the road will cover you and your bike with grime. Fenders can make wet roads and paths much more pleasant, protecting your clothes and your drivetrain.
As Ranulph Feinnes said, “There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.” Unfortunately, your ideal work attire isn’t always preferable for cycling in the weather. Casual dress codes and modern clothing designed for outdoor activity make it easier to find practical compromises, especially if your commute is short. But for longer commutes, or if you plan to get a vigorous workout, you may prefer to change clothes between your commute and work.
A cold rain can make cycling very uncomfortable without a rain jacket, helmet cover, shoe covers, and possibly rain paints. Under warmer conditions, however, perspiration can be trapped inside rainwear and cause you to become wet and uncomfortable anyway. If changing clothes is an option, you may choose to simply embrace a warm summer rain, letting your clothes get soaked. Quick-drying synthetic active wear and wicking cycling clothing will usually dry out after a few hours on a hanger. Cycling-specific sandals dry quickly and can be worn with bare feet or with insulated waterproof socks.
On cold days, dress in layers that you can easily take off during your ride as you or the weather warm up. Try to adjust your clothing before you find yourself sweating. On hot days, choose something that breathes and will dry quickly.
Perspiration is a common concern when cycling during warm months. If your workplace doesn’t have shower facilities, showering at home before your commute can eliminate most of the odor that might otherwise accompany perspiration, because it removes the bacteria that would cause the odor. A washcloth or alcohol wipes can remove the accumulated salt and make you comfortable.
It’s important to use good front and rear lights if you’ll be cycling at night. It’s the law, and also makes night cycling a lot safer. There are many of affordable bike lights available that work well for commuting. If you’ll be commuting at night regularly, choose a headlamp with a rechargeable battery unless you want to upgrade to a dynamo-powered system for unlimited range. See the companion article on cycling at night for more information.
Carrying Your Stuff
There are two schools of thought on transporting your clothing, lunch, and other stuff: (1) carry it on the bike, or (2) carry it on your body. Carrying it on your body in a backpack or messenger bag is convenient if you’ll be parking your bike away from your office; you won’t have to unload your cargo from your bike when you arrive. Carrying your gear on the bike in a pannier bag, trunk bag, or carradice bag may be more comfortable, especially in hot weather, and may make you feel more stable if the load is heavy. Bike bags are available in a wide variety of sizes and waterproofing features. If you choose a messenger bag, make sure it’s designed for cycling, complete with a third strap for stability, and not just as a fashion accessory.
Some employers allow bike commuters to park their bikes indoors, either in their offices, storage closets, or other designated rooms. Fire codes prohibit leaving bicycles in stairwells, corridors, and exit areas. If you bring your bike inside, try to use freight entrances and freight elevators in order to avoid conflicts with pedestrians and possible damage to facilities.
If you must park outdoors, try to find a location with protection from the elements. Rain and sun can take a heavy toll on a bike over time. If the building doesn’t have covered bike parking, it doesn’t hurt to request it. If your bike will be exposed all day, you may want to consider using an older, “beater” bike for commuting, and not your brand new racing bike.
Parking your bike in the same public place day after day makes it possible for bike thieves to plan a theft attempt. If your bike is valuable at all, you’ll want to choose a good enough lock to act as a deterrent. U-locks and heavy chains are generally the most secure; in high crime areas, you may want to use more than one lock type at the same time to require more than one type of tool to overcome them. Be sure to include your wheels when you lock your bike, especially if they are quick release.
Choosing the best route for your bike commute will depend on your comfort with traffic, your schedule flexibility, and the type of cycling you enjoy. A direct route on the same roads you might travel by car may be practical, but oftentimes there are back streets with lower speeds and traffic volumes that are nearly as convenient by bike but make you look forward to cycling more. Sometimes a greenway shortcut or parking lot cut through can open up a route that avoids traffic hassles or gives you a pleasant change of scenery. Google Maps can be an excellent tool to discover a route alternative that you didn’t know existed. If you’re not confident about your route, try test-riding it early on a Sunday morning to see how it goes when traffic is light.
How to get started
If you’re considering bike commuting, don’t feel that you have to jump in all-or-nothing. You can start gradually by storing some clothes and other supplies at work ahead of time, and riding in on a day with ideal weather and no schedule conflicts. Just try it and see if you like it. If you keep commuting, you can gradually accumulate equipment for a wider variety of weather conditions and logistical challenges.