I spent some time yesterday coaching a newbie on how he could start riding his bike to work at least once a week, avoiding a stressfull drive through the heavy morning traffic of downtown Los Angeles.
I lot of things came up that I thought were obvious-and if you're already a bike commuter, they'll probably seem that way to you, too. But he kept saying, "I never would have thought of that" so I guess it's time to post some tips in case you're just starting out at bike commuting.
The best streets to ride your bike aren't usually the same streets where you drive. Plan a route that goes on bike trails, bike lanes, and residential streets. Wherever major transportation corridor you drive through probably has a road or two that runs parallel to it. These side streets are usually almost as fast, with far less traffic. Residential streets are great for this. Drivers avoid anything with a 25 MPH speed limit, but on a bike that's a very good pace. You'll save your lungs, and possibly your life.
Test your bike commute route on a weekend. Make sure it's doable, safe, fun and scenic. You also want to get a good idea of how long it will take you to ride your bike to work, and how you'll feel when you get there.
Don't Sweat It
You're going to get to work a little bit sweaty, and you need to plan for this. Deodorant, baby wipes, and possibly a change of clothes may be merited. If you can stash some of these on-site, you're in luck. In the summer I ride in shorts and a t-shirt, and change into business clothes when I get to my destination. Garment bags work great for this.
There are really three schools of thought on riding your bike to work in the rain. You can be a bike commuter warrior who always makes the trip, rain or shine. You can opt to ride only when the weather is good (and be proud that at least you're doing something). Finally there are the loonies who don't feel like they have to ride in the rain, but they do it anyway for fun.
Make sure you've got the right gear (which could simply mean a change of clothes when you arrive, and a place to hang up your dripping biker garments), cover yourself and you bicycle with lots of blinking red lights, and keep your sense of humor (or sense of honor?)
Bikes are sometimes fragile pieces of equipment, and sooner or later you're going to have a flat tire, a broken cable, or other minor nuisance. Take the time to learn some basic bike mechanics. REI does free workshops and classes on this, and so do a lot of community colleges and local non-profit organizations. If you're in Los Angeles, check out the Bicycle Kitchen. Anywhere else, you can find out about stuff in your area by going to the regional section of BikeForums.net
Sometimes knowing how to fix your bike on the fly isn't enough to get you to work on time. Get familiar with the buses and trains that run near your bike route. Maybe even put a cab company in your cell phone.
Enjoy Your Treats
Eat up! It's more than just a reward, it's bicycle fuel. When you start riding your bike to work, you're going to burn a lot more calories, and you'll notice that you're feeling hungrier. Go ahead and have that bacon, avocado, and chocolate sandwich. Not only have you earned it, you need it.