by: Sarah Braker
Whether you’re just starting out as a bike commuter, or an old hand at it, there are always things you can do to make your ride smoother. There are steps you can take before you leave, small improvements you can make to your bike, and gear that will prepare you for the elements. We asked our friends, family and colleagues who commute what their number one piece of advice would be. Here are the suggestions that we heard most often.
- Route plan before you leave
Your job is stressful enough, your commute shouldn’t add to it. Google maps, MapMyRide, and LaneSpotter are just a few of the tools you can use to map a route. Paper bike maps (yes, those still exist!) and friends who know their way around can also help you find safest and reliable ways to get to work. One of our friends suggested locating bus routes or subway stations along the way, as a backup plan if you need a break or the weather changes. Another added that commuters should give themselves a cushion of 10 or 15 minutes, at least until they’ve got the best route memorized. That way, if you do take a wrong turn, you can find your way back without worrying about being late.
- Trick out your bike. Sort of.
You don’t need to spend thousands on a fancy new bike to commute to work, but there are a few accessories that might be worth spending money on. If you’re riding in your work clothes, fenders can be a lifesaver (and a pants saver). Even if it’s not raining, you can’t predict the weather or the puddles you’ll have to cross. Another key purchase: a bell. Unless you want to yell “on your left” over and over, a bell can go a long way to giving you the space you need around pedestrians and other bike riders. One person we asked said that getting a rack and pannier was a game-changer, allowing her to carry more weight than a backpack.
- Get a flat-fixing kit (but also map out the nearest shop)
Learning how to make the simplest repairs can help you become a more confident rider. The easiest of them all is fixing a flat tire (though getting that last bit of tire on the rim has been known to befuddle even the most committed rider). Seriously though, some tire levers, a pump and either a patch kit or a spare tube is all you need to save yourself from a long walk or an expensive Uber XL ride. One commuter we asked said he also locates bike shops along his commute, and knows when they open and close. That way, if he needs help with something more complicated, he knows where to go.
- Check the weather and prepare for surprises
If you’ve got a phone, you’ve got a pocket meteorologist. Yes, you can decide that you’re going to be like the post office, and commute in the rain, sleet or snow. Or you can give yourself a break and decide that you don’t need to ride in conditions that dampen the fun. Either way, knowing the weather means being prepared with a raincoat or gloves or an extra layer. A committed commuter we spoke to said that one item that’s made a big difference is a pair of sunglasses because they keep out the rays and keep dust and debris from the road from getting into his eyes.
- Think about some bike shorts
You don’t have to ride in head-to-toe spandex, but honestly, bike shorts can make a big difference. Nearly every person we talked to said it’s worth the investment. They make your ride more comfortable, which can give you the boost you need to go further or ride longer. If your commute is short, you may not need to think about a change of clothes, but for longer distances, bike shorts and a spare t-shirt can be a big help. Another item we heard about over and over again was wipes. If you don’t have a shower at work they’re a good way to freshen up after a sweaty commute.
What other tips would you offer people to improve their bike commutes? Tell us in the comments.