This UA professor rides home along the Third Street bikeway.

When you become the “bike guy” or “bike girl” at your place of employment, it is inevitable someone will come to you with questions about commuting by bike and how to get started. This happend to me a few days ago.

When you commute by bike every day, it’s basically second nature, but for people who haven’t ridden a bike in years, every little detail can be monumental.

I often wonder what the best way to encourage people to start bike commuting. I don’t always know what to tell people to make it seem doable. I’ll put my list of tips for new bike commuters below, but I am hoping you’ll add your advice to new commuters in the section below.

The bike: If they have a decent bike at home I try to get them to get it tuned up. I also have a hard time with pricing. Many people want to spend $200 or less, which is hard to find a quality bike, but you don’t want them to spend a lot of money in case they don’t stick with it. 

1) Buy a bike that fits properly. I generally recommend they measure their inseam and recommend a size from there. I also suggest they ride the bike to make sure it feels comfortable.

2) Buy a bike that will accept a rack. Riding with a backpack is uncomfortable and makes for a sweaty ride. I always encourage panniers.

3) Depending on the length of commute I recommend different bikes. For commutes less than five or six miles, I suggest any type of bike will be OK including a mountain bike with slick tires. If the commute is longer than six miles, I recommend some sort of skinny-wheeled bike. I really like cross bikes as a commuter bike for longer commutes.

The commute: 

1) I suggest people attempt the commute on a weekend when the time pressure isn’t there. By doing it on the weekend you’ll know long to budget and make sure they can ride the whole route.

2) I often suggest people with longer commutes drive part way with their bikes and then ride their bike the last mile or two to work. Do a week of that and then extend the bike commute and shorten the driver until they can work their way up to the full distance.

Avoiding sweat: A shower at work makes this a moot point, but unfortunately most employees do not have access to a shower. 

1) Go slow. Riding a bike slowly makes it less sweaty.

2) Change clothes at work and do a “duck bath.” When the weather is hot, I bring a change of clothes with me each day and have deodorant, baby wipes and cologne in the office. When I get into work, I use the wipes to clean the sweat and put on the deodorant and cologne.

3) If they don’t have a way to get clothes to work on the bike, I suggest they drive Monday and bring their clothes for the week. Then They can ride Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. On Friday, they can drive and bring home all their dirty clothes.

Those are my basic tips for helping get people started with bike commuting. What tips do you have to help get people out of their car and onto a bike? Leave a comment and let us know.


8 thoughts on “Tips for bike commuting”
  1. The link roundup for today has a link to a White Supremacist website (American Renaissance). So beware, probably NSFW. BTW this is the Denver Bikeshare story.

  2. Guhh!!! Thanks for the email. I just read the lede and thought it was interesting, I didn’t notice what site it was on. I have updated the link to the original article that appeared on Transportation Nation.

    Thank you very much.

  3. Anyway:

    1) helmet–because the pavement in Tucson (cyclist-deadly potholes ignored by COT DOT, including the Coordinator) is so bad even on the vaunted “bike boulevards,” and because of motorist behavior and lack of consistent and steady TPD enforcement of traffic laws as they apply to motorists. Lack of Tucson Pima BAC interest.

    2) Lighting–depending on season and time of day, use at least a headlight of 300 lumens (maybe 400?) with good enough throw to see the potholes COT DOT and Coordinator don’t want to fix or, supposedly, can’t afford to fix. Use a light that has a screw mount, not a tension mount. Red Star likes 700 lumens run at lowest setting, 300 lumens. Good lighting speeds up your commute so that you don’t have waste an hour playing COT DOT’s sly game of minefield in the dark.

    Tail light: Arizona only requires a rear red reflector. That’s silly and obsolete.1960. A modern powerful red tail light in flash mode, not steady or blinking, is the way to go.

    3) Panniers and rack. Yes.

    4) Distance commute: steel frame.

    5) Drivetrain: commuting in midtown Tucson, most of Tucson, should only require a 1×7, 1×8, 1×9 drivetrain if you’re in okay or better physical condition. Simplicity, lower operating costs.

    6) If you can, avoid Target and Wal Mart bikes.

    7) When riding, think ahead 20 or 30 feet and use your peripheral vision. These are old biological gifts your air bagged car culture took from you for a while.

    8) Borrow from car culture: with bikes it is important to clean and lube your chain every x miles==> drive train longevity increases. It’s easy. And always keep your bike’s
    tubes aired up…the tires last longer, are more efficient, and can push back against the broken glass and thorns.

    9) Utilize Google Maps to plan routes, experiment in virtual and narrow down to what you actually want to try in real life.

  4. Don’t forget a tube patch kit, tire levers and a pump. I have had two flats on my commute over the past year. One little goat head is all it takes. Be extremely careful of the trolly tracks, they can ruin your day or more. Certainly take test rides on weekends to determine the best route and imagine what it may be like during higher traffic conditions. Consider a longer route to use a bike path so you can avoid riding on the streets with traffic. Be safe, not sorry. A run in with a vehicle can also ruin your day.

  5. Less expensive bikes: go used! BICAS and some local shops have them for closer to that target range.

    Lights: generator-driven is not like it use to be when we were kids. Especially the hub dynamos are really efficient, especially paired with an LED light.

    Post-ride shower: for those of us with short hair, ice water from the bottle starts the clean up and cooling down even before heading for something a little more thorough.

    Lock/locker and/or safe place for the bike: it’s nice not to have to strip the bike every day so that someone else doesn’t do it for you.

    Enjoy the ride!

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