Amy Harcourt is back for her second post in a series on bike commuting. Amy is co-founder of Bikes Make Life Better, a consulting firm that helps leading organizations to develop impactful sustainability initiatives through the use of well-planned and executed bicycle and transportation programs.
This week Amy discusses the ins and outs of bikes and accessories. (–kvt)
You see it sitting there in the corner of your garage, basement or storage unit. It’s covered in cobwebs and has one, possibly two flats. You remember the time when you used to ride it and think (wistfully) “Someday I’ll get it back out.” With summer and Bike-to-Work Day just around the corner, it’s a perfect time to make “someday” today. Start simple, with a short, trial bike commute. You can do it pretty easily with minimal effort and expense. All you really need is a functioning bike and a few pieces of gear.
First, bring that bike out to the light of day. Clean it off and check the following (or if the idea of anything remotely mechanical intimidates you, take it straight to your bike shop):
Tires: Pump them up until they feel nice and firm. After an hour or so, check to see if they’re holding air. If they are, great! If not, you’ll need to change the inner tubes and/or check the condition of the tires. You can do this yourself or take it to your local shop.
Brakes: Pull on the brake levers one at a time and watch how they pinch the front and back wheels. Roll the bike slowly and test how well the brakes work.
Chain and gears: Lift the rear end of the bike and turn your pedals to see if the chain is working. It probably needs some lube, which you can easily do or have your local shop do it for you. Ride the bike slowly on flat pavement to shift through your gears to see if they’re working smoothly. If they skip, that’s something for a mechanic to look into.
If all seems well, put on your helmet and give the bike a short ride around your neighborhood. If anything isn’t working well, it’s easy to take it to the local shop for service. Not everyone wants to be their own bike mechanic (including me!) so there’s no shame in getting help.
If you don’t own a bike, ask around. A friend, neighbor or family member probably has a bike close to your size that you can try.
Like any fun activity or sport, cycling can involve a lot of gear. But it doesn’t have to. For a simple bike commute, you don’t need much to outfit your bike. Here’s the list of essentials:
Helmet: Make sure your helmet is in good condition and that it fits your head properly. If it has any damage, replace it. If you don’t know the right fit, Google”bike helmet proper fit” for text and video instructions or ask your local bike shop.
Lights and reflective material: At a minimum, you need a front white light that’s strong enough to illuminate the way and a rear red light that blinks and makes you visible from behind. It’s also a good idea to add one more red light to the back of your helmet, backpack or jacket. Reflective material is important too as it will illuminate you in car headlights. Reflective ankle straps are ideal since the movement of each pedal stroke makes them particularly visible. Jackets and backpacks with reflective areas are also great.
Basket, Rack, Panniers and/or Bag: You need a way to carry your stuff. The best solution will depend on how much you want to carry and how long you’ll be riding. Try different things to see what works best for you. I find a permanent front basket and rear rack is the best combo. Then I can add panniers (fancy name for the saddle bags that hang from the rear rack) or a backpack. Try using what you already own and then adjust over time as you learn what you like.
Wear whatever feels comfortable. If your commute is a short one and you’re not doing it in 90-degree weather, wear your work clothes. I commute all over the San Francisco Bay Area in business attire, including skirts and heels. If that’s just not you or you want to use the commute as an excuse to work out, then suit up in lycra or other athletic clothing and bring a change of clothes.
Focus on your climate and dress accordingly. If it’s wet or known for sudden showers, bring a waterproof jacket and rain paints. If it tends to start out cold and warm up, wear layers. If it’s hot, plan to sweat and clean up when you get to work.
You can ride in any kind of shoe, as long as it stays firmly on your pedals. I love boots and heels with rubber soles. You can even get shoes that go from the bike (with cleats for clipping in) to meetings and no one can tell the difference.
You don’t need a new bike or lots of fancy gear to give bike commuting a try. If you do the steps above, you’ll be fully equipped to get started. And then, with time and some experience, you’ll be looking for that shiny new bike and all the cool accessories your budget can handle.
Tell us how you suit up for the work commute in the comments below. And join us the week of April 29th a post on mapping and testing a simple bike commute.