Congratulations. You’ve decided to start biking to work. Countless humanoids before you have made the same choice — even a few of us at the Official Intergalactic Surly Regional HQ. You might look around at the other bike commuters and feel intimidated, but the truth is, everyone was a first-timer once.
It can be hard to give up the comforts of cruise control and heated seats, but remembering that every single bike ride has the potential to be the best part of your day can help. Let’s crack one open and go over some of the benefits of bike commuting:
- Fewer car trips = good for the planet
- Whether you’re new to bikes or you have your favorite frame tattooed somewhere secret, moving your legs is good for you
- Experts say bike commuting may even boost your productivity at work, but if lining the boss’s pockets isn’t the motivation you’re looking for, focus on the fun
Whether you bike to work for exercise, for adventure, or to stiff the oil and insurance companies, we’ve assembled the bike commuting tips below to make your daily ride sweeter.
Tip One: Safety First
Bike commuting is arguably more fun when you don’t fall off or crash into stuff. With that in mind, our legal advisor recommended we start our list of bike commuting tips with a few bullet points on safety.
- Do you own a helmet? Are you wearing it? This one’s simple: Wearing a helmet protects your brain when you hit your head.
- How about your pedals? Do they fit your skill level and the type of riding you’re doing? The right pedals can help improve your balance, grip, and overall safety, but the wrong ones can sometimes make mounting up and bailing out kind of clumsy. For example: If you lock your shoes into clipless pedals before you’re comfortable clipping in and out, you might tip over, damage your bike, or even pick up a new flesh wound. If you have questions about pedal size, materials, or riding clipless vs. flat, visit your local independent bike shop to try out a few options.
- Are you wearing headphones? Can you hear me? If you’re riding around other people or traffic, you might not hear them coming with that Pat Benatar cassette blasting in your Walkman. Set up an external speaker to safely jam during the commute, or save it for work, where you can listen to the Grammy Award Winner for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance of 1982, 1983, and 1984 on the company’s dime.
Tip Two: Pick the Right Bike for You
Once you’ve determined bike commuting really blows your hair back, consider purchasing a bike that’ll hold up to the elements and the wear and tear of your daily grind. The best bike for your commute will depend on the surfaces you encounter and the materials you want to haul.
- If you’re sticking to pavement and packing light, a no-nonsense, get-it-done rig like the Surly Cross-Check or Straggler might be a good place to start.
- If you have a long commute and you need to carry a lunch box, laptop, and some soiled laundry, the Disc Trucker is great for comfortably covering distance while loaded.
- Thinking about hitting some dirt trails and maybe camping out under the stars? The off-road-capable Bridge Club and Ogre offer ample tire clearance for a plush ride, plus loads of mounting options for your off-the-clock tomfoolery.
- And what if you need to pick up the gremlins from daycare and grab some groceries on the way home? A longtail cargo bike like the Big Dummy can haul the kids and a couple days’ supply of pizza rolls. The Big Easy, our longtail electric cargo bike, makes all that even easier.
At the end of the day, there’s no wrong answer. Whatever makes you feel stoked for your next ride is probably a wise choice.
Tip Three: Consider Your Cargo
From sweating profusely in the hot, blinding sun to shivering in perpetual darkness and rain, conditions will vary from one commute to the next. Having the right essentials on hand is key to being prepared for whatever shit goes down along the way.
- Eyewear: Sunglasses can help keep unwelcome irritants like blinding light, flying bugs, and assorted road debris out of your eyeholes. Clear lenses offer similar protection during dark or low-light rides. And if the cold north wind impairs your vision, consider covering the affected region of your face with a pair of winter goggles.
- Lock: Pitstops happen, planned and unplanned. Keep a sturdy lock with you at all times and you’ll be more likely to find your bike wherever you’ve left it.
- First Aid: Falling down is part of riding, and there’s no reason a skinned knee or scraped shin should ruin your ride. Keep a first aid kit nearby and dress your wounds on the go.
- Hydration: Most bikes have mounts for carrying water bottles and other beverage containers. Use them if you anticipate becoming thirsty.
- Lights: Furnishing your bike with adequate front, rear, and side lighting will ensure you can see and be seen during your commute. High-output lighting systems mounted to your helmet or handlebars will help light your path to happy hour and home again, while flashers and blinkers attached to your backpack, rear rack, or bike frame will make it easier for drivers and pedestrians to avoid you. If you choose rechargeable lights, it’s a good idea to make sure they’re powered up before every ride, and carry your chargers and cables just in case.
- Racks and Bags: Most of this gear can probably fit in a backpack, but strapping, screwing, and mounting things to your bike might be more comfortable. If you’d like to avoid a sweaty back or a slipped disc, check out our 8-Pack Rack, 24-Pack Rack, touring racks, and bags for extra real estate.
Tip Four: Be Prepared for Small Repairs
As general wear and tear does its work, chains will slip and bolts will try to free themselves. Setting up your own toolkit will help you take care of basic maintenance and quick repairs when it’s convenient, instead of sidelining you during the morning rush.
Your toolkit should always include a tire lever, spare tube, and an air pump. Throw a patch kit and a chain pin removal tool in there, too. Spare lights are also smart, and even the most basic multi-tool can help you feel like a competent bicycle mechanic. Look for one with Allen wrenches, screwdrivers, and a bottle opener. These pieces may seem like small additions, but being able to quickly fix your bike or a stranger’s entirely on your own? That’s more satisfying than a tray of piping-hot Totino’s.
Tip Five: What Are You Wearing?
- If It’s Gonna Rain: Carry a dry bag. Stuff it with raingear like a waterproof jacket and pants. Put your work clothes and laptop in there. Dry bags are named appropriately. Note: Surly riders have been known to use and appreciate gear from Showers Pass, Gore-Tex, and 45NRTH, but your stockpile of plastic grocery bags and zip-locks could be useful too.
- If It’s Gonna Be Cold: Insulate. Layer up. Get to know Merino Wool. Try not to ride so hard that you start sweating, cuz then you’ll be wet and soon after that you’ll be cold.
- If You Care About Your Hands and Feet: To protect your extremities from extreme conditions, you’ll need the right gloves, socks, shoes, and shoe covers. Handwarmers are helpful and plastic bags over your socks will save your skin in a pinch, but legit cold-weather gear will keep you riding in comfort year-round.
- Padded shorts: If your sensitive areas need a little pampering, add some extra cushioning between your ass and the saddle. This might be overkill for shorter commutes, but we’re not making your personal decisions for you.
- Bright Reflective Gear: There are many ways to make yourself more visible on your bike. Setting yourself on fire remains a dodgy option. Consider purchasing or otherwise acquiring some highlighter-neon clothing, or dangle a couple-dozen blinky lights from your torso.
Tip Six: Let’s Talk About Your Hygiene
Depending on the weather and the length of your commute, you may want a shower and fresh clothes after your ride. If your workplace doesn’t offer the full spa experience, pack body wipes or borrow a few moist towelettes from the local Arby’s. Stowing some patchouli and a relatively clean t-shirt at work is another option. And if your coworkers don’t care how you smell, just do whatever you need to do to feel comfortable between rides. Merino wool is light, moisture-wicking, and still smells alright even after a few commutes.
I Think We’re On Tip Seven: The Rules of the Road
Of all the bike commuting tips, learning the rules of the road may be the most important. Following these rules and behaving predictably among traffic can help protect you from close calls and keep you from ticking off drivers, pedestrians, and other people on bikes.
- Watch for doors: When biking, it’s a good idea to assume any given car door may open at any given time — often without warning! Leave a door-sized space between yourself and the cars you ride past so you don’t leave behind any bicycle-sized dents.
- Use the bike lane: A bike lane offers space that you don’t have to share with motor vehicles, which weigh thousands of pounds and travel at great speed. Use the bike lane whenever possible.
- Mind your blind spots: Drivers traveling the same direction as you may sometimes need to cross into your path, especially when turning right at intersections. You can’t always see their turn signals or guess their intent, so it’s a good idea to look over your shoulders and pay extra attention at every driveway, intersection, or exit ramp.
- Send signals: Part of behaving predictably on the road means communicating what you’re doing before you do it. Signal when you’re about to make a turn by sticking your hand out and pointing it in the direction you intend to travel. Also, look behind you before turning. Surprises suck.
- Pass behind pedestrians: In general, people moving around on foot want to stay out of your way. If you pass behind them at a safe distance, you can see where they are at all times and avoid colliding with them or giving them a damn heart attack. Make sure to give ‘em a heads up by dinging your bike bell, calling out “on your left,” or best yet, do both!
Tip Eight: Plan a Route
Cars mostly stick to roads. Bikes, on the other hand, offer a little more freedom to investigate the vast landscape that separates where you live from where you toil. Maybe you want the shortest, flattest path to work. Or maybe you’d like to avoid high-traffic areas or add some distance, hills, or sketchy scenery to your commute. Whatever the case, knowing where you’re going and planning how you’ll get there will free you up to enjoy the ride instead of punching up directions on your dumbphone at every intersection along the way. And if you happen to find comfort in the robot’s turn-by-turn directions, check out handlebar mounts for your phone or GPS device.
That’s It! Throw a Leg Over and Go
Now that you’re armed with a few basic bike commuting tips, you’re ready to ditch the station wagon and ride to your place of business on your two-wheeled steel chariot. Hell, you don’t even have to ride to work. You can ride wherever you want! The world is your lobster. Just remember to stay safe, have fun, and do what works best for you. Surly loves you unconditionally.