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Commuting Bicycle commuting is easier than you think, before you know it, you'll be hooked. Learn the tips, hints, equipment, safety requirements for safely riding your bike to work.

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Old 09-17-10, 12:43 PM   #1
weepingwillow
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Is commuting really as complicated as it seems?

*DISCLAIMER* - I'm a total newbie (and quite a talker) so bear with me.

My boyfriend bought me a gently used MTB from his favorite bike store. I have decided that commuting to work by bike would do me a lot of good (physically and financially), even if it's only once a week to start. My planned route is abt 13 miles one way on busy roads with wide sholders. I plan to make trial runs on the weekends so I can see what routes work best for me.

I have been lurking on the boards for awhile now and I have learned a great deal from your opinions and experiences. There is so much information on special clothing and gear and parts and types of bikes and nutrition, etc - I am totally overwhelmed! I have a bike, a helmet, a handlebar bag, a seat bag, an extra tube, a multi-tool thingie, a frame pump, and a tire guage. My next purchase will probably be lighting. I feel like I am missing so much... and money is very tight (hence the incentive to ride my bike to work) so I cannot go crazy buying a bunch of gear / clothes right now. Should I make sure I outfit myself and my bike with the proper clothing and equipment first or can I make it using what I have? Is there anyone who bikes with only the bare essentials like me?

I'm so excited to get started but I feel like I need to take a commuting 101 course first!
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Old 09-17-10, 12:55 PM   #2
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I do a very similar distance daily into DC (14.5 miles) and I don't ever wear cycling specific clothing....just regular cotton t-shirts, cargo shorts or twill pants, and tennis shoes. It depends on what you like and whether you need to be dressed up for work or not. I work on the water, so I wear blue collar clothes that I don't mind getting messed up .

In the winter I just wear layers of t-shirts and I have long johns under my pants. Nothing fancy here and it works great for me. The trick is to not overdress. If you don't overdress, you don't need to buy clothes that are designed to "wick away" sweat. These clothes typically don't breathe worth a crap (making you hotter) and stink so bad after sweating that I can't stand them.

Learn how to fix a flat - that's the most common thing you'll run into in terms of issues.

Give it a try and see how it works for you!
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Old 09-17-10, 12:56 PM   #3
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If you don't have these, I strongly recommend them in addition to your list:

tire lever
mirror
ulock
rack
patch kit in case your spare tube goes bad
and perhaps a chain breaker or a xtra link depending on the condition of your bike.

There are many lights available and you will need to decide which one that you like. Many thread here and in the Electronic forum that talks about lights.

Last edited by colleen c; 09-17-10 at 01:01 PM.
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Old 09-17-10, 01:12 PM   #4
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I don't wear cycling specific clothing either, although I might get a fancy rain jacket this winter (after commuting for more than 10 years). If you're a woman and work in a business casual setting, most women's work clothes are very easy to commute in and much more forgiving than men's work clothes. Avoid pencil skirts, and if you think you're going to sweat a lot, wear a different shirt to ride in than you will wear at work. If you're wearing a skirt, throw a pair of leggings or bike shorts underneath and remove when you get to work. Almost any shoe will do--I regularly ride in heels. (If you are using toe clips, make sure that they don't scuff the leather of your shoes.) Wear dark colors on slushy or muddy days to hide any dirt that gets thrown up on to you from your tires. You don't need rain pants if you wear skirts in a synthetic fabric that will dry quickly (does not need to be a performance fabric or from a fancy catalog like Athleta) on rainy days, and change into dry tights or leggings at work. In the winter I keep a nice jacket in my office so I can wear something practical on the ride but then have a nice-looking option if I need to go somewhere during the day looking like a grown-up.
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Old 09-17-10, 01:13 PM   #5
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hi weepingwillow... welcome to the forum and the wonderful world of commuting

13 miles one way is quite a long way, not impossible by any means. If you find there and back too much effort in the beginning you could ride one way alternately on different days e.g. Day 1: bike to work, bus home... Day 2: bus to work, bike home... and so on...

Don't worry about having all the "right" gear - for every Bike Forum geek discussing "the best" piece of equipment ad nauseum, there are hundreds (thousands?) of commuters getting up in the morning, drinking their coffee and bicycling happily to work on an old clunker who wouldn't have a clue (much less any desire to know) about all the nerdy stuff discussed on this board

You'll learn as you go along - this forum can be a great resource of course - but don't let the nit-picking discussions here put you off...
There'll be set backs along the way, but that's all part of it - makes it all worth it...

Lights is a must... Learn to repair a puncture (carry a spare tube and fix the hole at work/home later)

Clothing? Nah! fwiw I've been riding bikes daily for 40 years or so and have never bought a piece of bike specific clothing... T-shirts, jogging pants, college shirts, running shoes, regular rain gear, it's all good

Have fun!

Last edited by imi; 09-17-10 at 01:17 PM.
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Old 09-17-10, 01:17 PM   #6
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Bicycle commuting is very simple. If you are just starting out, then use whatever you have. As time goes by and you are getting more experienced , you may start thinking about upgrading your bike and your clothing.But before you spend lots of money on cycling gear be sure you are commited to cycling. There is no point of investing in cycling gear and upgrading your bike , if you gona quit. My recommendation is just go for it and start with whatever you have and enjoy it. The most important things when starting out is to have a bicycle in good working condition that fits you and is comfartable to ride, followed by some basic emergency kit: pump, spare tubes, multi tool, and tube repair kit ( patches )... lights will be neccessary if you plan on riding when it's dark.
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Old 09-17-10, 01:20 PM   #7
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Also remember to always carry tire leavers... some tires can be hard to take off and install without the help of tire leavers.
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Old 09-17-10, 01:20 PM   #8
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With weather in the midwest being what it has lately, you don't need any extra clothing. Lights, however, are mandatory, IMO, if you are going to start out or be out when it's dark.

The rest of the stuff you can pick up as you go, if you need more stuff.
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Old 09-17-10, 01:21 PM   #9
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There are only three things you need for bike commuting
  1. A job to commute to
  2. A bike to commute on
  3. Determination and willingness

Everything else are optional things that many of us find make commuting easier.
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Old 09-17-10, 01:21 PM   #10
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You already have enough, but will need lights real soon.
I see people riding to work with Jeans, flannel shirts, sandles and they all make it in.
If your butt gets sore over the 14 miles you might want to pick up a cheap pair of bicycle short liners. I bought a cheap pair when I first started and it helped alot.
Your route should be your biggest concern right now, the rest will take care of itself over time.
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Old 09-17-10, 01:21 PM   #11
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commuting ain't so complicated for me because i keep things simple.

i don't wear cycle specific clothing; general purpose athletic shorts and t-shirts suit me just fine. i do wear cycling shoes with SPD cleats because i find clipless pedals to be marvelous, but they are by no means necessary. i also find that a good pair of cycling gloves to be benefitial as well, but again not necessary. and i do always wear a helmut when i'm on a bike, commuting or otherwise.

i commute with a backpack for my change of clothes when i get to work and other small miscellaneous items like phone, wallet, and keys.

as for gear on the bike:

lights
multi-tool
spare tube
tire levers
CO2 pump

that's it. in 3 years of bike commuting (30 miles/day), i've never needed anything more than the items above.

Last edited by Steely Dan; 09-17-10 at 01:31 PM.
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Old 09-17-10, 01:22 PM   #12
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The big challenges to a 13 mile commute are:

1.Sweating. If you don't cycle hard enough to work up a sweat, you probably won't have clothing issues. But that's a challenge for such a long commute. I happen to cycle hard into work, and generate quite a bit of sweat. To make matters worse, I've been using a backpack for the last couple weeks. Backpacks make your back sweat like crazy on a long commute. Because of the sweat issue, I have to take a makeshift bath in the restroom at work (using baby wipes), and change from my cycling clothes into a dry set of work clothes.

2.Is there anybody to come get you? If your tire tube is hosed, or your chain breaks, or a freak thunderstorm comes, who ya gonna call? If there is nobody, you have to properly plan for certain occurrences. Walking your bike for 6 ˝ miles really sucks.

3.Where to put your bike? I am lucky enough to have a secure indoor location to store my bike at work. If you don't have a secure spot, learn how to properly lock up a bike, and hope that it doesn't get stolen despite your best efforts.

4.Not getting hit by a car. Learn all of the state and local road rules, and follow them. Use lights and reflectors. Be smart, alert, and anticipate what drivers are going to do.

Bike commuting is worth the effort though. It's true independence in your life. It's good for you. It's good for the world around you.
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Old 09-17-10, 01:23 PM   #13
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Don't let it overwhelm you. Like the Nike commercial: just do it. As you encounter issues, you will come up with ways to resolve them, and grow wiser and become an expert without even realizing it. After three years of bicycle commuting I am a seasoned expert. But I didn't start off that way. You are a newbie so just relax, pay attention, and learn as you go.
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Old 09-17-10, 01:26 PM   #14
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You don't need special clothing to ride a bike. While clothing designed for athletic activity or cycling specific is nice, people have done without for as long as bikes have existed.

Invest your money into lighting...you can find all the clothing you need for very little money at your local thrift store, Goodwill, Salvation Army or Target/x-mart. I like wool and polyester fabrics because they tend to wick moisture, dry quickly...and in the case of wool, keep you warm even when wet.
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Old 09-17-10, 01:29 PM   #15
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Originally Posted by imi View Post
<SNIP>
13 miles one way is quite a long way, not impossible by any means. <SNIP>
Don't worry about having all the "right" gear <SNIP>
I could not agree more. You certainly are starting with a failry long commute. Don't fixate on commuting 100% of time at the beginning. Certainly ahealthy person can ride 26 miles in a day, but the body needs to get into shape before doing that 5 times a week becomes easy. It sounds like you are well on your way to getting ready to commute. As others pointed out, you need a few essentials. Sadly bikes sold in the USA don't get sold as a complete vehicle, they get sold as a toy. You need to add a few things to make a commute possible and ensure that you can get home if you have a minor problem (like a flat tire).

Don't worry about getting all kinds of clothing. Start riding and use what you have around the house. Try oout different layer and figure out what works for you. There is no clear right or wrong. Be sure you don't over dress once it starts getting colder. Certainly do NOT use a thick winter coat... you'll be sure to seat like a pig and will feel like pass out from overheating. Modern wind proof fleece is amazing. If you don't have that start with some layers and a wind proof shell. Be sure to be able to let some air in to vent moisture. Over time you'll figure out what works and you can slowly add a piece of equipment here or there. For winter riding, my favorite place to get outerware is www.foxwear.net. Lou custom makes everything to your exact needs. What is amazing is that it costs less than the fancy stuff at the sporting goods store at the mall. He makes simple, effective gear, that is very reaonably priced.

Don't be discouraged at the beginning. It will get easier!

Happy riding,
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Old 09-17-10, 01:32 PM   #16
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The problem with this forum is that it's filled with people who've made commuting into a hobby as opposed to just a way to get to work. To the outsider commuting would appear to be way more complicated than it is.

You have everything you need. You may or may not want some other stuff as you get into it. For now just do it while there's still daylight for the trip there and back. Worry about lights once it's starts getting dark.
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Old 09-17-10, 01:35 PM   #17
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Originally Posted by tsl View Post
There are only three things you need for bike commuting
  1. A job to commute to
  2. A bike to commute on
  3. Determination and willingness

Everything else are optional things that many of us find make commuting easier.
tsi said it best
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Old 09-17-10, 01:38 PM   #18
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All good advice. I've been commuting to work (on a cheap mountain bike) for about 4 weeks now, and by far, the hardest part is just deciding to bite the bullet and do it. My commute is 8.5 miles each way, on very flat roads.

What I have on my bike:
fenders, rack, lights, pannier/saddlebags, seat bag (for the light battery) and a pump.
I carry allen wrenches, tubes, tire levers, patches, and a very small adjustable wrench. I almost never use this stuff, it's just in case.

I bring in a change of clothes (jeans, polo shirt, t-shirt, etc.), a towel, a laptop, and every now and then I bring some food. Everything else stays at work.

It's not hard! The sweating isn't as bad as I thought it would be. I spash cold water all over my head and towel dry, and I'm good to go for the day. If you have long hair that might not be an option, but splashing cold water on your face makes a big difference when you're cooling down.
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Old 09-17-10, 01:39 PM   #19
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You will get a million opinions...and more encouragement:

a) go for it
b) lights as much to be seen as to see
c) I your mtb has knobby tires and you are commuting on the road, going to smooth tread tires will be worth the investment.
d) if you have straight bars only, consider gettingn bar ends like the ergon or cane creek ergo
d) go as you learn and your budget allows.

I like bike specific clothes for longer commutes, especially bike shorts.... there is a reason for them, but clothing needs vary dependingn on climate, speed of commute, work place and a thousand other things.

I like clipless pedals or toe clips/straps
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Old 09-17-10, 01:40 PM   #20
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If you don't have these, I strongly recommend them in addition to your list:

tire lever
mirror
ulock
rack
patch kit in case your spare tube goes bad
and perhaps a chain breaker or a xtra link depending on the condition of your bike.

There are many lights available and you will need to decide which one that you like. Many thread here and in the Electronic forum that talks about lights.
Everyone needs a nice rack...

I was bugging my little sister incessantly by telling her she had a nice rack... this was because she had bent it really badly and had refused to get it fixed.

One afternoon she was at the shop and I told her I wanted to play with her rack which drew a lot of stares and much laughter from those who were in on the running joke.

Seriously... I ride in pretty regular clothes, carry enough tools to fix anything I can fix, spare tubes, my pump, and my cel phone which may be one of the most valuable things I take with me.
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Old 09-17-10, 01:40 PM   #21
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The problem with this forum is that it's filled with people who've made commuting into a hobby as opposed to just a way to get to work. To the outsider commuting would appear to be way more complicated than it is.

You have everything you need. You may or may not want some other stuff as you get into it. For now just do it.
And here is a second opinion like mine. The other posters in this thread are trying to help but are only reinforcing your fear that it is harder than it is. The only "essential" you really need to carry is a cell phone. That and have someone you can call. Everything else is merely to decrease the probability that you need the cell phone, and increase your ability to handle adversity independently.
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Old 09-17-10, 01:54 PM   #22
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The problem with this forum is that it's filled with people who've made commuting into a hobby as opposed to just a way to get to work. To the outsider commuting would appear to be way more complicated than it is.

You have everything you need. You may or may not want some other stuff as you get into it. For now just do it while there's still daylight for the trip there and back. Worry about lights once it's starts getting dark.
Exactly so. Some of the threads in here about whether 25mm or 28mm tires are better for commuting, or how many spokes are appropriate for a commuting wheel, are angels-on-a-pin type issues. If you enjoy riding your bike anyway, you'll be perfectly happy riding it to work with what you have. No need for special clothes, and any bike will do.
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Old 09-17-10, 01:55 PM   #23
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Just do it! YOU will be the best gauge of what you are missing (if anything) and can make tweaks to your own set up to improve your comfort. Your equipment may also change as your commuting expands - if initially you are doing fair weather and daylight only you'll need less than if you are riding in sub-freezing weather and heavy rains.

The only things you NEED are a safe bike (e.g. working brakes, no loose parts going to fall off) with air in the tires, and a good attitude.

If you are going to be commuting at all when it is dark, then your local law probably requires a front and rear light, and I would not recommend riding without them.

If you cannot bring your bike inside at work, you'll likely want to pick up a lock appropriate to the theft risk of the area you are going to be riding in. In some places any lock will do - just something to keep the honest people honest, for most places a u-lock would be recommended, and for high risk places (usually in major urban cores) you are best off with something heavy duty.

There are a myriad of ways to carry things by bike and you'll probably figure out what works best for you as you go. Depends on if you are bringing much to work or not - for instance if you plan on changing your clothes how are you getting them there? Backpack? Pannier on a rack? Leave them at work on days you drive?
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Old 09-17-10, 01:59 PM   #24
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Just do it, it is certainly less complicated than finding extra money to buy a car, repair a car, pay for gas, insurance...

It seems daunting, because you're coming from a car and cycling is new, but going by bicycle is pretty much the simplest way to get around and can be quite rewarding once you're settled.

So buy the stuff you feel you need, but honestly a lot of it isn't actually required, more like it is acquired to make you feel comfortable and prepared.
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Old 09-17-10, 02:02 PM   #25
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*DISCLAIMER* -

I'm so excited to get started but I feel like I need to take a commuting 101 course first!
You do. I always recommend, "Ride to Work," by Roni Sarig and Paul Dorn, as a primer for the budding commuter. It is inexpensive and full of all the right info.

As a commuter your motto should always be: Make do with what you have.

Of course, some things are a must:
- Good lighting, if you will ride at night.
- Flat and roadside repair tools
- Storage and carry gear, if you must bring stuff.
- A helmet, if required or desired.

But nothing says you cannot wear the warm clothes you already have when the weather turns cold. You can use the backpack that is in the closet for carrying stuff. You can shop at WalMart or the thrift store, if needs be - I do both. One of my favorite riding shirts is a hockey jersey I got at the thrift store!

Commuters are lucky... they don't have to succumb to the snobbery that most roadies feel compelled towards. Their main goal is transportation on a bicycle.
This leaves them with a lot of the practical, common sense that the road warriors have left behind.

Go to Paul Dorns commuting website and so some reading: http://www.runmuki.com/

My advice is to stay off the sidewalk and assume your place as part of traffic. Learn to work with and among drivers, as opposed to being adversarial with them. Always look ahead, always ride like you're invisible and above all - plan to have fun. Then get out there and ride!
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