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November 10, 2010

Becoming a Bike Commuter

by Kyle Boelte

Bike_commuter1
A good example of a steel commuting bike with fenders and racks.

There are few things simpler than riding a bike to get around. It’s a pleasure most of us learned as a child but gave up somewhere around age 16 when we picked up a set of car keys. Maybe later on we started riding again to get in shape, or because we saw Lance Armstrong powering up the Alpe d'Huez and thought, “Wow, that whole biking thing is pretty cool.” And now, when we think about climate change, ways to reduce our carbon emissions, and all those people on bikes we see each morning, we wonder if we could actually become a bike commuter.

If you ever considered biking to work but were kept away by worries about logistics, rain, or what your co-workers might think, you'll find a series of tips here on the Compass blog to get you to work on your bike at least once a week. Today's post is about bikes.

It's not about the bike: Pretty much any bike you have can be used as a commuter. And one of the great things about biking to work is saving money, so don't feel like you need to buy a specific bike for commuting. But, if you are in the market for a bike, or you are thinking of fixing up the one you have, there are a few things to keep in mind. 

Comfort is important. You're not going to actually ride a bike that you don't enjoy riding, no matter how pretty it is or how much someone talks it up. For a lot of people, a comfortable bike is one that lets you sit upright instead of crouching down in an aerodynamic position. You can find hybrid and relaxed-geometry road bikes that fit this description, as well as mountain bikes.

Big wheels rule. Large (700c) wheels roll easier and are more efficient than small mountain-bike wheels. You usually find 700c wheels on road bikes but you can also find mountain-bike-type bikes with large wheels. And unless your commute involves lots of dirt roads, slick tires are best because they have less resistance than knobby ones. (One of the simplest ways to upgrade your mountain bike for commuting is to put a pair of slicks on it).

Fenders and racks
are great. If you are committed to commuting, you're going to end up riding in wet weather at some point. Fenders keep water and muck off of you and make your trip much more pleasant. (Some type of eyewear is also advisable.) Racks let you carry bags of clothes, your lunch, and anything else you might need. Racks are not mandatory, but they are a good idea.

Steel is Real.
Steel bikes are great for commuting because they absorb road vibration and last for years. They are also less likely to get stolen than a fancy carbon-fiber bike. Aluminum bikes are fine – I've ridden several over the years – but they are not as comfortable as steel bikes and don't last as long. If that's what you have, though, ride it with pride. I'd even break my own advice to get an aluminum Cannondale Bad Boy

Be Seen. Make sure you have a headlight and taillight on your bike so cars can easily see you when it's dark out. Even if you generally bike during the day, be prepared for low-visibility situations in case you have to stay late at work.

Have questions about commuting or finding the right bike? Ask them in the comments below. Future posts will discuss finding a route, getting to work nice and clean, and other commuting-related bike issues.

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