Saturday, April 6, 2013

HTCBB: Preparations a Week before the Commute (How to Commute by Bike series)

The decision has been made:  you are going ride your bike to work, school or to run daily errands for the first time ever, this season or in months. Before you hop on that bike, consider that a few preparations many be necessary. A week before you ride, consider the following things when getting ready for your ride at this stage of the process.
  1. Check the condition of your bike.  This would be a good time to check the air in the tires, the condition of the bike chain, the response of the brakes, the cables and gear shifters, etc. Take a spin around the neighborhood to get a feel for the condition of your bike and how much work might be needed to get it into riding condition. If more than a little air and oil is needed, schedule a tune up at a local bike shop. Treat your bike with care. Like a car, a little bit of work and periodic maintenance will increase the life and make your ride smoother.

    My experience:  I get a tune up twice a year and follow my mechanic's recommendations. The need for a bike tune up depends on the kind of riding you do and the miles put on the bike. Since I commute anywhere from 20 - 50 miles a week, that's a lot of miles on my bike over the course of a year. Keeping it finely tuned by a professional is a good investment for me. (Some folks go a step further and learn how to tune up their bike. I know a few basics, and for where I'm at now, that's good enough for me.)

  2. Consider a route.  Some communities have a network of bike lanes, roads and paths that bicyclists are encouraged to use. Check out a local bike shop for a city, county or regional map of these routes. Other places are still working on developing a network. If you're not sure where to ride, neighborhood roads with low speeds and traffic are typically good places. Another ideas is to look for bicycles over the next couple of days when you're out driving around town. Notice where they are, and where they aren't. Looking for others on two wheels is a good indication of where some possible routes might be.

    City of Madison Bike Map

    My experience:  Some places are easier (and safer!) to ride than others. In Madison, Wisconsin, there were usually several different safe routes to get around town. My route to work now admittedly not the safest. However, I have tried a few different alternative routes before settling on my current one. I also venture to new places on the weekends or during recreational rides. Take your time and be patient. Finding a route that fits you can take a bit of trial and error.

  3. Think about transporting your stuff. How are you going to bring what you need with you on a bike? You may travel light - a phone and wallet might be all you need. Others might need to think about carrying a lunch, a computer or tablet or even a full change of clothes. (Sometimes I even include a hair dryer!) There are about as many different kinds of options are there are people! Some can use a backpack, other saddlebags (or panniers) still others a basket. Consider that you still will want to look presentable when you arrive and over the course of the day. This may actually take some time to figure out what's best for you and your lifestyle.
    Banjo Brother's Market Pannier

    My experience:  I started out commuting in graduate school when I lived about a mile from campus. I could commute in my clothes and use a backpack to bring everything else. With my first few jobs after graduation, I would bring a change of clothes. A few years later, I use a pannier. (I use a Banjo Brothers "Market Pannier.") My needs evolved over time, but one thing that has remained the same is not "looking" like I ride my bike to work. How do I know that it works? Not so long ago my supervisor commented on my ability to bike to work yet still dress to impress.
  4. Consider what you might wear when you ride.  This kind of goes along with #3. How comfortable are you riding? Are you able to ride in what you need to wear at your destination? How sweaty might you get? Do you have room in your bag to bring a change of clothes or a place to change at your workplace? All of these are questions to ask when thinking about what you might ride in. Also consider wearing brightly colored clothing if you'll be riding alongside automobile traffic. Bright colors increase visibility.

    My experience:  I commute in both (not at the same time, though!). In the summer when it's hot, I'll don my biking shorts. Just about every other time of the year I'll wear an older pair of khaki's and layer on top. I'm not interested in looking like I'm a part of the Tour de France when I ride to work every day. I'd rather look like I'm a member of the community on my bike wearing everyday clothes. Plus, when arriving to my destination, khaki's are a little more PC than spandex.
The week or so before the first ride, consider these few things. Preparing before the ride will help alleviate some anxieties and give you a boost of confidence. What do you do to prepare? What do you use to transport your stuff? I'd love to hear what you do and share your ideas with others! Next up in the series:  Preparations a few days before the ride.

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