Saturday, June 28, 2014

Bicycle commuting - part one

bicycle commuting

Cycling to work can be done you don't have to be that fit, and can be lots of fun (some days).
Whether you are: in love with your bike and want to ride it every day, 
you love the environment so much you don't want to burn fossil fuel, you are to cheap to go by car or you just want to exercise using a bike to commute is a good idea.

If this idea is growing in your mind, read the post and find out a few useful information and tips gathered in 2 years of commuting.

If you live near the work place 5 - 7 km you are lucky. Commuting will be easy and fun. Usually depending on the city traffic you will be able to get to work almost as fast as by car. I commute 4.5 km and takes me 20 minutes of riding each way. By car I would commute for 12 - 15 minutes. You can ride such distances in your work outfit, and sweat should not be a problem. Consider you are going for a relaxing walk in the park, no urban warrior mode, no car racing. If you keep the pace to a minimum you will get to your destination just a few minutes later and you will be more happy.
Some of the benefits of riding a bike to work: reduce the cost of transportation, exercise in the time you would wait in traffic, reduce the pollution, and others like more energy in the morning.

Step 1 - Bicycle and gear
First thing first, you need a bicycle. Buying a bicycle for commute should be as easy as buying a shirt. It has to fit, it should be comfortable, and should not cost a kidney. No nonsense here about bicycles.
The bike should be modest (nothing fancy or expensive). There are two major problems with expensive bikes. The first is the risk of being stolen, the second is the cost of maintenance.
Before buying a bicycle you should think about storage (leaving it outside, or inside a building, for long periods of time, is a bad idea). You should keep the bicycle in a secure location, like your apartment if you live in a apartment building, garage etc.

Bicycle types
City Bike:  If you do not have hills and don't plan to do bicycle trips on weekends you can go for city bikes with 1 to 3 gears. The advantage of a city bike is: low maintenance, low cost to keep it running, and not to many problems riding it in work clothes.

Hybrid:  If the bike will be used for recreation purpose also or the city you live in is not flat consider buying a bicycle with 8 speeds (8 cogs). It is cheaper than 9 - 10 - 11 cogs and you will still find decent quality parts for the bike. Consider that a chain for a 8 cogs bike is about half the price of the chain that is used for 9 cogs. Also more cogs means faster wear. A chain for 8 cogs will offer you 2k - 3k km of riding before it will need to be replaced. Hybrids are bikes that offer a more relaxed position than a mountain bike, skinnier tires, flat handle bar. It can be used on pavement as well  as on light off road. It is a versatile bicycle.

Mountain bikes:  Can be used as well as any other bike for commute. You can put skinny tires on a MTB and have low rolling resistance, but if you keep the wider tires on you will have the benefit of comfort, and you will not care as much about bad pavement, will offer more stability and security on wet roads

Road bikes:  They are used for speed, offer a less comfortable riding position. You need to be careful for potholes, it is not the ideal bike to jump corners. If you have to pedal for longer to get to work it might be a better choice then other bike types.

Electrical bikes: Offer a great deal of comfort, reducing the effort. So in the sunny days you won't sweat, you'll just enjoy the breeze while lightly pedaling. The disadvantage of the bike is the increase weight and is more expensive then a regular bike.

Take into account that you will spend money not only on the bike but on the gear too.
Things you will need: a helmet (not required by law but useful in case of an accident), front and rear lights, front or rear rack (optional), minimum amount of tools, backpack or courier bag, fanny pack (good choice if you don't have to carry to much with you: keys, wallet, phone), rain poncho or waterproof jacket (take into account that your pants will get wet)

Step 2 - Ride your bike
After you have decided on what to buy you need to do some test runs. Do some fun rides to get used to the bike, with the shifters and brakes, and with the traffic. First runs should be in places that do not have traffic or hazards. Also a very important thing is to get used with the saddle (gradually increase time in saddle, your first ride should be less than 30 minutes). After this pay attention to the bike position, are you comfortable, do you need to adjust the position?

In this moment the thing you will worry a about will be the fitness level. You don't have to. It is as easy as going for a walk (maybe on first weeks you will fill your legs a bit sore).

Don't start riding to work without doing a little preparation.

Look for routes, and test them before. Do the tests in the afternoon. It is usually a lot more traffic in the afternoon of a working day than in weekend. This way you will have a better idea about what you'll encounter on your regular rides. You will fine tune your routes after you get into commuting by bike, but make your life as easy as possible from day one. Give enough time to get to work. If you estimate the ride time 20 minutes offer yourself an extra 15 minutes, until you really get the hang of it and get some consistency.

In the morning, usually the temperature is low enough that a moderate effort won't cause sweat. When starting your ride to work you can have a higher tempo in first half of the trip and reduce the tempo after. This will keep you dry and happy.

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