My Surly Straggler Bicycle

How to Ride Your Bike to Work

Cubert is going to inspire you with this little ditty. I’ve been riding my bike to work for the past three years now, and have found it to be highly rewarding. We’re going to get into how I started this fun little habit, and share all about how you can just as easily ride your two-wheeler to work as well.

Commuting by bicycle has nearly doubled since the turn of the century.

More and more metropolitan areas are investing in bike friendly paths and shared streets. There’s a clear trend towards greener and healthier ways to get around town, especially here in the Twin Cities.

As with many things, getting started is the most difficult part of the endeavor.

  • You’re nervous about whether your legs will hold up for a long ride.
  • You worry about getting lost and being late for work.
  • And oh yeah, what if you get hit by a car?
  • How do you dress for the ride based on the weather?
  • How do I pack all my work crap? Change of clothes, laptop, lunch, shoes. And so on…

But please, my friends, don’t freak out! I’m here to tell you it’s a lot easier than you might think.

When I gave it a shot the very first time, I put a little bit of preparation into the experiment, and it went just fine. Well, almost just fine

Here’s what you need to do to get ready for that first ride to work:

1. Get a bike. Any bike. All I had to start with was a too-small mountain bike complete with trail-friendly (and therefore not ideal for street commuting) knobby tires. You know what? It managed to get me 12 miles there and 12 miles home.

2. Study your map. Google Maps has a super handy tool for cyclists. Within the app, you can select bicycling as a mode of transit and the route will adjust to reveal the most direct path free of heavy traffic.

The duration Google Maps provides is based on a very leisurely pace, so you can conservatively time your route with a decent margin of safety. I found that my pace was just a notch above Google’s, so I was able to shave about 5-10 minutes off the ride.

3. Pack your gear. I started off with a backpack. Roll up your change of work clothes and pack with your laptop, but remember to use a trash bag as a liner if you’re worried about rain in the forecast. On my very first cycle commute, I got absolutely DUMPED on with a torrential rain, and despite not having a water proof backpack, the laptop survived. The moral of that little story? Don’t take chances with work equipment!

4. Bring water, wear a helmet, and GO!!!

After your first day of cycle commuting you’ll feel a few things. One, you’ll feel tired as hell, especially if long stretches of cardio are foreign to you. Two, you’ll feel a huge sense of accomplishment. Hey, you just rode your bike all the fricking way to work and back! Big kids do that – little kids just ride around the block!

Over time, you’ll want to get a little sophisticated to improve your ride.

You might even become a bike accessory junkie. Try to avoid going too far overboard.

Yeah, you’re saving yourself about $10 a day with this new habit (not including the long term health benefit savings) but you don’t need to blow it on fancy schmancy “Hey, I look like I could ride in the Tour de’ France!” gear.

Here are a few tips for making the most out of your newfound bicycle commuting habit:

1. If you’re going to get a proper bike, do your homework. Head to a local bike shop to figure out the right size frame for your body. There are many internet resources for this too. A favorite site I like to check that’s a nod to old school blogging: Sheldon Brown’s Bicycle Technical Information. I’ve made the mistake of buying a really cool replacement bike, only to learn later I should have gone one size up.

2. Use Craigslist. Period. Don’t blow your dough on a brand new bike. There are PLENTY of well-cared for bicycles on the used market. I bought my wife and my bike used and we saved $1,500 on bikes that otherwise would’ve cost us $3,000 new. Oh, and don’t spend more than $800 on a used bike. You aren’t racing anyone to get into the office, and if you think you need a carbon fiber frame, tell me later how comfortable it was going over bumps.

3. Figure out your ideal packing style. You can get panniers that hang off each side of the rear (or front) wheels. I use this style for my commute, since I have to pack a laptop, work clothes, and lunch. I see many commuters who prefer a backpack, but I find it too hot on the summer rides home.

4. Keep your lock attached to the rack at work. This way you shed a few ounces of weight, and, you don’t have to worry about whether you remembered your lock or not.

5. For rides of 8 miles or more, invest in a few pair of padded bike shorts. Your backside will thank you.

6. Become your own bike mechanic. Save yourself some cash by YouTubing your way to expertise! There’s nothing intimidating about working on a bike. You can learn how to replace a flat tube, swap pedals, replace a chain, you name it. And if you’re riding to work often, you’ll need to do these things on a fairly regular basis.

When you’ve ridden to work for a couple years you start to get snobby.

I now have a helmet that’s “higher end” – as it’s a little lighter. I have shoes that clip-into the pedals, to make me “one with my bike” (sigh…) The best upgrade? I have a cell phone holder than doubles as a bottle opener.

Beer plus bikes are like peas and carrots.

Cheers! Let's ride some more.
Cheers! Let’s ride some more.

After pondering about why I enjoy riding my bike to work, I came to this conclusion: I get to be a kid again.

It reconnects me to one of my all-time joys. Growing up, one of the freedoms I enjoyed was hopping on my bike and heading off to meet up with friends for fun and shenanigans. When you’re riding to work, you’re not thinking about work like you would if you were driving. For me, commuting by bike is a way to enjoy the summer before it quickly passes by in a blur of air-conditioned office monotony.

The benefits of the exercise, fitness, and savings on gas, auto insurance, and auto maintenance are all just icing on the cake. You get on your bike, and you’re a kid again. Replace the stress of being stuck in rush hour hell with the joy of reconnecting with a time when you had all summer long to make your own adventures.

Pedal on, Friends!

Comments 2

  1. I used to walk to work since I lived about a mile away. It wasn’t always easy to walk, granted, but it was definitely an eye-opening experience. My “commute” was like a moment to focus and energize. There was no noise and no traffic, just me on the sidewalk with my backpack.

    1. I’ve done the walk commute too – roughly a mile as well when I lived downtown. Although you can’t beat the convenience, there was something about living a little too close to work that made me feel I wasn’t escaping far enough. Now, if you need a sign you’re ready to hang it up early, that “distance factor” might be a good one…

Please Share Your Thoughts!