I commute to work by bike as often as possible. They say it burns several hundred calories, so it is a good workout. Obviously, it is a more environmentally friendly means of transport than a car. It is also cost effective over time. However, the main reason I ride is because I enjoy it. It’s especially nice early in the morning, when there isn’t much traffic, the sun is just coming up, and I can lose myself in the journey.
On this page I’ve got a little bit of advice for anyone wanting to get started, and some links that I’ve found helpful. Please see my Princeton / Cranbury bike route to follow along my route.
I like to keep track of my commutes in Evernote. At the bottom of my daily research journal (see the template here) I log the distance and any comments about the ride such as the flat I got the other day from neglecting to keep my tires properly inflated.
I think it is important to give your route a bit of thought, because it may affect your decision about equipment. For example, I have a couple of routes I use, but one of them takes me on an extremely busy highway with three lanes of traffic barreling south in a rush to get to work on time. If I had a mountain bike, I could avoid this stretch of road by taking a scenic gravel and rock-strewn path through the woods. I ended up choosing a longer route with much less traffic, but my road bike limited my choices.
I’ve been an avid cyclist most of my life, and I’ve mainly relied on Cannondale mountain bikes for commuting. I thought with road tires I had the perfect combination of rugged durability (my mountain bike is 15 years old) and practicality. Sure, my back and wrists got sore sometimes, and I wasn’t the fastest bike on the road, but it got the job done. If a mountain bike is what you have, then you’ll be fine starting out with it. Make sure to be aware, though, of spots like your back and wrists that may need to be adjusted frequently to avoid issues.
A word of warning to anyone visiting the bike shop this weekend: after I tried a Cannondale road bike I couldn’t go back to my mountain bike again. There is nothing wrong with my old bike, of course, but I realized just how much more enjoyable my commute could be with a bike that is designed for traveling long distances on pavement. If possible, I highly recommend giving road bikes a try. After taking them for a spin, you can always get a mountain or “urban” bike if you decide that works best for you, but don’t dismiss the road bikes as nothing more than expensive equipment for professionals and enthusiasts. They are that, yes, but they can be enjoyed by regular folks too!
As far as brands are concerned, I am not sure it matters. I like Cannondale a lot because the bikes seem to be a perfect fit for my body. I’ve tried or purchased other brands, but somehow the frame geometry never quite worked for me.
It took me a while to figure this out, and in retrospect, I wish that I would have asked my friends if they would loan me their bikes for a week or so of testing before I wasted time and money on other brands. After taking a bike on a couple of commutes you get a much better sense of what you like and dislike about it. In the end, if nothing fits, you could always get it custom built!
I don’t like carrying anything on my back. As much as I would prefer not to have a rack hanging over the rear tire, it comes in handy, and I think it is worth the aesthetic price. I don’t know what brand I purchased, but it was one of the least expensive ones in the store. I’ve been pleased with my Avenir Excursion Rack-top bag, because it was inexpensive, durable, and surprisingly roomy. I also got some fenders, but I have to admit that I don’t like riding in the rain very much, so these don’t get a whole lot of use.
If you are biking to campus, one thing you might want to consider is a sturdy lock. I bought a monster Hiplok chain that is supposed to be worn around your waist like some bizarre fashion statement. It’s a cool idea, but I don’t like it much. I usually end up using a more conventional lock instead, because I don’t like lugging the thing around. I think the best thing to do is leave the lock on campus (preferably someplace protected from the elements) and just lock up your bike there whenever you are on campus. It is a little less convenient, but a strong lock gives you peace of mind. It goes without saying that you should run the lock through your frame — I’ve seen so many front tires locked up securely to bike racks missing the expensive bikes that are supposed to accompany them!
The longer the distance, the more you’ll want to consider investing in a couple pairs of biking shorts. They are expensive and not especially flattering, but you’ll appreciate the padding, and they will make the whole experience a whole lot more pleasant. I like the Pearl iZUMi Attack shorts.
- The Princeton Rouleurs and Bridgewater Cycling and Activity Group look interesting, and Knapps Cyclery has beginner rides.
- Commute by Bike is a nice place to start.
- Paul Dorn has some Bike Commuting Tips.
- The 511 site is geared towards San Francisco, but the advice on the site applies to pretty much anyone.
- Bicycling magazine has some information. It tends to be too general and too much of a pain to find on the site, though.