Have you ever thought to yourself that it would be wonderful to bike to work but you have no idea where to start?
Do you just need to buy a bike and ride?
You want to start your day with the wind in your hair but you have to look presentable for work. HOW?!
You have no idea how bike lanes work and they seem to be full of professional racers.
Long story short, deciding to commute to work on two wheels is intimidating.
My first bike!
In March of 2016 I told my boyfriend I wanted to go for a bike ride with him one weekend. He is a confident cyclist that commutes 365 days of the year, but I just wanted to go on a Sunday stroll with him. We knew my clunky cruiser (which I LOVED) wouldn’t be able to keep up with Grandpa Roadie, so we headed down to the used bike shop to find me a hybrid.
Step One of Commuting – Buy a Bike!
Buying a bike can be intimidating – but the people that work in the store are going to be psyched that you are interested in commuting and are going to want to help you get the best possible bike for your ride. To simply put it, there are generally three types of bikes to choose from – road, hybrid, and mountain bikes. Road bikes are the ones you see that have the funny looking drop handle bars and the rider is “hunched” over – these are the most efficient bikes for commuting, they are light and designed to be quick and comfortable for longer distances. BUT they are freaky to ride if you never have got on one before. Hybrid bikes are in between a road and a mountain bike. They look like a mountain bike with straight handle bars and you sit higher on them, but they are lighter than a mountain bike. They are designed for comfort. Mountain bikes are probably what you grew up on – they are the most common bike to see on the road, but aren’t great for commuting because of their weight and knobby tires – unless you are riding through gravel roads and fields… but let’s just assume you are in a city.
Road bikes intimidated me so I went with a used hybrid bike that cost me $300. It was a brand new bike that was donated to the shop and I was stoked to get it! We went on our Sunday ride and I was hooked. I decided right then and there that I was going to be a commuter. But I had no idea what I needed to do to be one.
*within 3 months of riding I got fed up with the road bikes constantly passing me, so I went ahead and bought a road bike (2017 Kona Jake the Snake) and it was the best commuting decision I made. I challenge you to buy a road bike even if it’s intimidating! It’ll be worth it, I promise!*
Going for a Rocky Mountain ride on Jake the Snake!
Step Two of Commuting – Gear Up!
Unfortunately commuting isn’t the cheapest hobby when you start out – but you end up saving so much when you consider the gas, oil changes, and other vehicle maintenance you’ll save on! Plus.. you’re investing in your health!
So what are the basic things you need to buy?
- A bike – duh
- A helmet – duh. *AND WEAR IT*
- A bike lock
- Either a backpack to hold gear or a bike bag – I use both
- Bike Lights
- A road pump
- An “emergency kit” including tire levers, a spare tube, a patch kit, a spare chain link & a multi-tool
Stuck behind a train, at least the view is nice!
Other things to carry
- Clothes for work
- Cell phone
If you already don’t have outdoor clothes make sure you buy weather appropriate clothing – I have been caught in the rain, snow, and wind – but there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear 😉
Step Three of Commuting – Bikes 101
Ok, so you have a bike and you have the gear. But do you know how to fix it if it fails on your ride? (It will). Most cities offer bike classes that will teach you the basics or you can ask a biker buddy for some guidance if you need it! Learn how the bike lanes work in your city and brush up on your cycling signals for the road. Ask LOTS of questions and make sure you understand the basics before you hit the pavement.
Another good resource to check out is the biking bylaws in your City. Most of them are common sense safety laws, but some of them can be surprising and a good reminder to keep you safe!
Carson working on his winter bike – so thankful for his helpful tips!
Step Four of Commuting – Planning
There is a lot of planning involved in commuting, especially if your commute is going to be 10+kms. Plan a route, plan a backup route, and plan a backup plan.
In my first six months of commuting, my route changed 3 times, my bike broke down on me twice, and the weather surprised me a handful of times. PLANNING made everything doable. Many cities have bike lanes and keep the information about them updated online. Figure out which lanes are open and plan accordingly & always check the 24 hour weather report so you are prepared for your ride to work and your ride home – this might mean packing extra layers for the chillier ride home. Another good idea is to figure out what you’ll do if your bike really breaks and you can’t fix it by yourself – are you near a transit system that allows bikes on? Can you call a friend to pick you up?
Some unexpected snow!
I think the most important part of the plan is doing a test ride. Ride to work at a comfortable pace to get an idea of how long it will take you to get there. I like to be conservative and give myself an extra 30 minutes of ride time in case something happens on the path.
Step Five of Commuting – Ride, baby
The first day of commuting is the hardest. I left my house at 5:00AM, it was dark, and within 40 minutes of riding I was lost. Thankfully I had my phone and good ole Google Maps and I managed to get there on time, and I never made that wrong turn again! Commuting is a fantastic way to start your day, better the environment, and better your health. Whether you ride once a week or 365 days a year you’ll make a difference and feel great.
Enjoying the view of downtown at my halfway point
Commuting is a lot of trial and error – and what works for me might not work for you – I keep my “gear” in a saddle bag, my work clothes/makeup/lunch in a backpack, and I keep face wash, wipes, and shoes at work. I get to work and use wipes to give myself a quick wipedown, change in the bathroom, and get ready quickly. I’m lucky that my work has a gym with a shower, hair dryer, and straightener if I want to use it, but usually I just manage with getting ready in twenty minutes in the bathroom – and I haven’t received a complaint from management with how I look! 😛
No matter what your ride looks like, remember that safety is always the most important aspect. Always carry identification, a phone, and don’t ride anywhere you don’t feel safe.
Fun fact: My biggest pet peeve is seeing cyclists with helmets attached to their bike instead of their head! Wear your helmet, kids!
Calgary, AB, Canada Biking links
My favourite Bike Shop
Good Life Bikes is a used bike shop with amazing staff and Gender Empowerment Mechanics days – a great environment to learn everything you need to know about bikes
Calgary Bike Lanes
Calgary Bike Safety