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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 04-19-12, 10:44 PM   #1
PatrickGSR94
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Should I try commuting?

I'm about to switch the tires and front fork on my KHS Alite 1000 to make it a more road-friendly hybrid, as that's the type of riding I prefer (didn't know when I bought the thing). Despite my Acura Integra GS-R daily driver with 312K miles still averaging 30-32 mpg just driving to and from work, with the required 93 octane premium fuel over $4/gal in most places, I'm now seriously considering trying to commute to my office on my bike.

Trouble is (in my mind anyway) is that I live in a suburb, and my office is in a little farther out suburb, about 12.5 miles on the route I take with my car. And not being in a big city, ALL the roads I drive to work are basically 2-lane back roads, with no room out of the main driving lane, and with most people driving 50+ mph. This seems a bit hazardous to me.

The route I would take is actually 13.7 miles one way, chosen because a couple of the roads actually have very little traffic, including one odd 4-lane road through the middle of the country. I would like to stay off the VERY heavily-traveled 2-lane state highway with 55 mph speed limit.

So what do y'all think? Should I even try it with the roads we have around here? Not to mention that bike riders are quite scarce around here, and bike commuters are nearly non-existent. Which means car drivers pretty much know ZERO about how to act/drive when cyclists are present.
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Old 04-19-12, 11:04 PM   #2
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It sounds to me like you have a very good approach (IMO) by considering a safer (even if slightly longer) route. 13.7 each way is a very doable distance. A few things to keep in mind as factors that will become part of your commuting life:
- Terrain - hilly? Flat? Mountainous?
- Fitness level (current) - If you have not been active, start slow and build up as your fitness comes back. Don't rush into it. If you're already fit, then bike commuting is a great way to maintain (and improve) overall fitness.
- weather - rain? snow? humidity/heat? - you'll be in the elements. Each weather situation can be addressed pretty easily (many threads in these forums) and will make the commute so much more pleasant.
- availability of a locker room/shower near (or at) your work location. Not a necessity, but it sure helps. Regardless, you'll find it helpful to be able to clean up at work. For a commute of 13-14 miles, I'd recommend wearing clothing that you can sweat in, and clean up/change into clean clothes at work. It is a good idea to keep some toiletries, a towel and some spare clothes at work.
- packing: your bike is primarily a mountain bike, which actually makes an excellent choice for most commuters. You can initially use a backpack for your change of clothes, food, etc. but may find a rear rack (seatpost mounted) or frame pack to be preferable for the distance you'll be riding. This is a personal choice, and go with what suits you.
- lighting: I highly recommend at least one "blinkie" light on the front (white) and one in the rear, day or night. These increase your visibility to traffic. When the dark months roll around, a more powerful headlight is beneficial (many threads on these forums on that topic alone)

Your bike will be fine for that kind of a ride with slick tires and a rigid fork.

I think it is a realistic goal to shoot for ultimately riding every day, but start slow. If you haven't ridden in a while, I recommend riding the route on a day off, when you have no time constraints or agenda. This will help you get a feel for it without the pressure of getting to work on time.

A good way to get a feel for what others are riding (a great way to get some ideas) is to check out this thread. Lots of converted mountain bikes that get folks to work just fine.

Good luck!!!!!!!

Last edited by canyoneagle; 04-19-12 at 11:12 PM.
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Old 04-19-12, 11:32 PM   #3
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Thanks. As for fitness, well the last time I rode the bike was May of last year, and at that time I was not in very good shape - 5'11 and around 215 lbs with a gut. I have tried riding a new local paved cycle path in the city that is made from an old railroad bed, dead straight and nearly flat. It's a 14 mile round trip and it took me 1.5 hours. That was on this bike with knobby tires, front suspension, and me being out of shape.

Since that last ride in May, I've had somewhat of a "revelation" in my life, that is the choice to be barefoot almost all the time, as much as possible outside of work. One effect of that (a few months after I first started), I got interested in running, barefoot running to be exact. I really got serious about running back in December/January, and could barely run 45 seconds at a time. Now I'm up to 6 minutes of continuous, albeit slow, running, with 14 minutes total running in a 35 minute workout. Since last summer I have seen a HUGE increase in muscle tone of my thighs, calves, and feet. I'm also now just a hair under the 200 lb. mark.

Now that's not to say I wouldn't wear shoes while riding. I'll probably get some shoes and cleats to use with some spd pedals I have on the shelf to get the most out of my leg pedal power. But recently I've really been wanting to get back on the bike just to see how my performance has improved since I've been running. Once I switch out the tires and fork I'll probably go out to that cycle trail again and see how long it takes me to go that 14 mile round trip, which would basically be one way to work.

However the roads to work can have some sizable hills. I don't know about now, but I used to be pretty bad on hills. I did an 8.5 mile group ride back in May and fell to the very back of the pack on a couple of big hills. But there again, I was more out of shape and riding on these knobby tires.

I'm hoping I could get to the point where I can make the one-way trip in about 45 minutes. I think that would be a decent time. If it takes an hour or more I probably won't want to do it much. I have a stay-at-home-wife and young son, so spending 2+ hours commuting doesn't really sound appealing to me. And yes we do actually have a shower at work. Summer months can easily get over 100 degrees in the afternoon, with late night and early morning temps sometimes not getting below 80. And HUMID! So yeah I would be dripping with sweat when I got to work, but the shower is there.

Thanks again for the tips.
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Old 04-20-12, 12:18 AM   #4
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It sounds like you're on the right track!
Incidentally, I started "minimalist" running (with some barefoot mixed in) a couple of years ago, and I love it. I'm a vibram five fingers trail runner - I haven't done it much this year, but plan to get back into it soon. Minimalist/barefoot running REALLY works your calves, which will help your bike form.

I had a similar revelation about four years ago - after having been very fit most of my adult life, I had gone pretty inactive for a few years and gained 45 pounds. I'm just over 6'2 and had gone from 185 pounds to about 230 in 3 years. I felt horrible in my body, and that is when I decided to start bike commuting (again). At the time, my route was about 13 miles each way, and I lived 600-700 feet above the valley floor (Salt Lake City). My morning ride in was mainly down hill to a flat valley floor for the last 5 miles. The ride home was the opposite, and depending on my route, the grades varied from 4 to 18%. I started by commuting 2-3 days per week, and within a month was riding 3-4 days per week. After a couple of months, I rarely missed a day, regardless of weather.
I've since lost all of the weight, and have vowed to never allow myself to get out of shape if I can avoid it.

Don't beat yourself up about your hill climbing capabilities. Hills are tough for everyone. Just gear down appropriately, learn to periodically get out of the saddle to climb. On a flat bar bike, I really like using bar ends, as the position is very similar to riding the hoods of a road bike.
That brings up another point - handlebar choice. There are many variations of the flat bar that can give you alot of flexibility with your positioning. A good start is to install some bar ends on your current bar, and perhaps some ergonomic grips. Believe me, these small tweaks can make a world of difference. I really like the Ergon GP-1 grips, personally, especially in conjunction with some "stubby" bar ends that allow me to get a nice grip.

My current bar choice is very different, but I'm still a fan of the flat bar + bar end configuration.
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Old 04-20-12, 12:36 AM   #5
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Yeah I'm interested in the bar ends, too. I probably need some open-finger gloves as well, as my palms get irritated sometimes after many miles holding those grips.

I actually started bare footing last summer, and then picked up some VFF's last fall to use in winter. But then winter was so mild I didn't need them much. Now I rarely use them at all unless I have a sore spot on my foot that I don't want to irritate by skin-to-ground running (which I very much prefer).
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Old 04-20-12, 12:46 AM   #6
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Sounds a bit too dangerous for my tastes, but give it a try on your off day and see how it goes.
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Old 04-20-12, 08:00 AM   #7
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One recommendation: wear a reflective-striped vest. An ANSI-2 vest (liek highway workers wear) costs less than $15, and makes you much more visible.
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Old 04-20-12, 08:04 AM   #8
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I ride two-lane, no shoulder, 55mph roads every day. Make yourself as visible as possible, ride predictably and defensively and plan for Murphy...and you'll be fine.
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Old 04-20-12, 08:12 AM   #9
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I also avoid the 2-lane, no shoulder, fast moving, heavy traffic roads. Those are the type I feel most uncomfortable on. I would suggest driving your route some day if you haven't already at the same time you would be riding. Maybe drive it for a week and get a feel for how much traffic is there and how fast its moving. If you feel its a good route - go for it!

I have found that when commuting drivers will get used to you. When I first started, I got a few honks, people yelling, close passes, etc. I've been riding basically the same route now for 2 yrs and see the same cars every day on the road. I pretty much never get honks now or people harassing me. People give me more space and have generally figured out how to drive around a cyclist on the road.
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Old 04-20-12, 09:42 AM   #10
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Quote:
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I have found that when commuting drivers will get used to you. When I first started, I got a few honks, people yelling, close passes, etc. I've been riding basically the same route now for 2 yrs and see the same cars every day on the road. I pretty much never get honks now or people harassing me. People give me more space and have generally figured out how to drive around a cyclist on the road.
Interesting observation, never thought about that. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 03-26-14, 11:16 AM   #11
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So here I am almost 2 years after joining BF and almost a full year after I started commuting. I'm still slow, and my route of choice is a bit longer at 15.5 miles each way. Also I use my road bike exclusively. Did it once on my MTB and hated it.

But yeah it's crazy to see how far I've come in less than 2 years!
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Old 03-26-14, 11:20 AM   #12
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Originally Posted by PatrickGSR94 View Post
So here I am almost 2 years after joining BF and almost a full year after I started commuting. I'm still slow, and my route of choice is a bit longer at 15.5 miles each way. Also I use my road bike exclusively. Did it once on my MTB and hated it.

But yeah it's crazy to see how far I've come in less than 2 years!
are you commuting every day now?
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Old 03-26-14, 11:28 AM   #13
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No, still only 2 days a week due to family schedules. I can only do Tu/Th. My wife has commitments M/W evenings, and on Fridays I just have too much junk to deal with. Plus on Fridays I transport an external hard drive between home and work that I use for a weekly off-site server backup, and I don't really care to subject that HDD to the vibrations it may encounter while on my bike.
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Old 03-26-14, 11:29 AM   #14
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try it early one Sunday morning and see how it goes, bring food and hang out a little while before heading back. in my opinion, the distance, at least, is perfect
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Old 03-26-14, 11:33 AM   #15
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Awesome job. Your route sounds similar to mine. My routes between my home suburb and work suburb include an interstate (no bikes allowed of course); a busy 45/55mph, shoulderless highway; and a less busy 45mph, shoulderless back road combined with some neighborhood cut-throughs. Although the back road route is about 2+ miles longer, I choose it.

There are several cyclists in the area and on nice evenings and weekends I'll see them on my route. But I have yet to see a commuter.

But are you still running barefoot?
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Old 03-26-14, 11:35 AM   #16
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heh no, I pretty much dropped running completely just about a year ago, not long before I started commuting. With this much riding I just haven't been interested in doing the running thing.

Still stay barefoot, though, whenever I'm not at work and/or not riding.
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Old 03-26-14, 06:01 PM   #17
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I suggest find a place to park that is closer to work and riding in a few times then park a bit further away, etc. until suddenly you are doing a full commute. That gives an incremental way to test out the roads.
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Old 03-26-14, 06:06 PM   #18
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I think shinamo makes a few sandals that are spd compatible.
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Old 03-26-14, 06:26 PM   #19
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Should I try? Come on, don't knock it 'till you try it.
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Old 03-26-14, 09:19 PM   #20
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Have you tried using Google maps to find a suitable bike route? It's not perfect, but I use it a lot to plan routes or examine different route possibilities. You can enter your starting and ending destination, and they will give you a bike route if you click on the bike icon instead of the auto icon. They assume a 10mph speed, which can be a slow assumption for more experienced riders.

You may also want to see if there is a cycling advocacy organization in the Memphis area. Or, ask around at local bike shops. Many counties have bike maps that show preferred routes with lower traffic.

I usually go out of my way to avoid roads with heavy traffic that don't have a bike lane, even if it means a longer route. If I can't avoid this, then I expect that the cars will be closer to me - on these roads, cars are "faced" with a choice: inch closer to the bike rider or inch closer to the traffic in the next lane. 99% of them seem to do their best with this, but I don't expect that they will risk their safety by veering into the next lane to give me more room. As long as they don't hit me, start honking or behaving passive-aggressively, then I feel relatively happy.
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Old 03-27-14, 07:24 AM   #21
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lol sorry folks, I was just responding to my old thread nearly 2 years later, kind of like an update. I've been commuting twice a week nearly a year now.
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