Tim's Tips: Commuting

Sunday, December 20, 2009
A new feature that we are going to institute on our blog is a Tim's Tips article. This will be a weekly feature and will provide tips for cyclists. These may be maintenance tips, performance tips, nutritional tips, or just just general cycling info. We hope you enjoy this new feature...let us know. Now without further ado, the first Tim's tip.


Riding for transportation is real cycling. Add the miles to your training log and watch your fitness improve as you put in extra saddle time.

It's also real money saved, real pounds lost and real reduction in carbon monoxide emissions. The average American drives 29 miles per day. If you use a bike instead of a car just one day per week, in one year you could save more than $1,000 in gas and car costs, burn 15 pounds' worth of calories and prevent 74 pounds of carbon monoxide from entering the atmosphere.

Route Selection 101: The best way to get somewhere by bike is usually different from the best way by car. As a driver, you want high-speed direct roads, and hills don't matter. On a bike, look for a road that parallels the highway, but with slower traffic (drivers will avoid it), timed traffic lights and a wide shoulder. Avoid stretches of strip mall, which provide multiple opportunities for a car to turn into your path. And try different roads until you find the best route; you might go two blocks farther to avoid a steep grade, or find it faster to cut through the park.

If your trip is less than 5 miles, there's not much excuse for driving instead of riding. "It will likely take you just as long to get into your car, drive there, find a parking spot and get out of your car as it does to ride," says Randy Warren, a commuter-program specialist at the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation.

To prevent that yoked-ox feeling, ditch the messenger bag and install a rear rack.

Quit using "there's no shower at work" as an excuse. In a survey of hundreds of bike commuters in North America, Dave Glowacz, author of Urban Bikers' Tips and Tricks, found that 85 percent don't bother to shower after reaching their destination. "If you just change your clothes, you're removing most of the sweat with your clothing," says Warren. Wiping down helps, too.

A rural bike commute isn't much different than your regular road ride, but riding in urban traffic requires you to ride more like you would drive, says Warren. "Traffic will be heavier, but also slower than you're used to," he says, "so often you'll be able to take the whole lane or share it." Also, signal where you're going and ride predictably.

It's not always fastest to ride fast. The need for sudden stops can hijack momentum. Commuting becomes almost a zen art, and a hell of a lot of fun, if you go with the flow of timed lights and traffic.

The best bike for your commute depends on the distance and terrain you cover, and whether or not you'll have to lock up. It could be the rusty hardtail or cruiser in your garage, your regular road bike or a dedicated commuter bike. The one bike that will work for every commute: a cyclocross bike.