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E and N Rail Trail Complete10 Tips for new bicycle commuters

1. Practice Cycling

If you haven’t been on a bike in years, the first step you should take before riding around town is simply getting comfortable on your bike. Take some time to practice in your driveway, in a park, or on a calm side street before you take your wheels on the road. Practice the range of motions you’ll at some point do on your bike, such as riding with one hand, shoulder checking, stopping quickly, and standing up to pedal.

2. Check your bike

Give your bicycle a good once-over before you take it out on the road. Clean the chain, put air in the tires, and make sure the brakes are working properly. Check out our guide “How to get your bike ready for spring” for more in-depth instructions on how to get your bike road-ready. If you’re not comfortable with basic bike mechanics, take it to a local bike co-op or bike shop for a tune-up before you go.

3. Find somebody to ride with

Finding a more experienced rider to tag along with can be a great way to beat those first ride jitters. Find a friend, family member or coworker who cycles regularly, and join them on a trip around town. Let them lead the way, so you can just focus on getting comfortable.

 4. Plan ahead

Look for a map of bike lanes and paths in your community and plan a route that will have you spending as much time as possible in protected bike lanes or bike routes on traffic-calmed roads. While in most North American cities, commuting entirely in dedicated cycling infrastructure is impossible, many cities have cycling infrastructure that will cover you for at least part of your trip. If there isn’t a bike route map on the municipality’s website, contact a local cycling organization or bike shop for advice on the best routes in town.

5. Be space aware

Be cognizant of other cyclists, pedestrians and vehicles around you. Yield to pedestrians at crosswalks, shoulder check before turning, and mind the turn signals of cars in front of you as you approach intersections. Pay special attention to staying out of the blind spots of motorists.

6. Use alerts

Pass on the left, and use a bell to alert other cyclists and pedestrians that you are about to pass them. You can also say “passing on the left,” if you don’t have a bell.

7. Follow the rules of the road.

Bike in the direction of traffic and obey traffic lights. There are a few traffic laws – such as the requirement to come to a complete stop at stop signs – whose relevance to people on bikes is currently being debated. The ability to treat stop signs as yields, known as the Idaho Stop, is a bike-specific law designed to reduce congestion and keep cyclists safe. But the Idaho Stop aside, obeying traffic laws is the best way to keep yourself and others safe.

8. Use hand signals.

Biking in a predictable manner can go a long way to keep you safe on the road. If people behind you (other bike riders, cars, etc.) can predict what you’re going to do, they can better plan their movements around you. Just as drivers who don’t signal cause crashes, so do people on bikes. Use hand signals when you’re turning or stopping to avoid unnecessary confusion. A bent left elbow, fingers raised skywards, means turning right, while pointing your arm straight out to the left indicates a lefthand turn. Pointing your fingers down with a bent left elbow signals that you plan to stop.

9. Make yourself visible

Use bicycle lights when riding at night to be more visible to other road users. While the usefulness of helmets and other safety-wear for cyclists remains a contentious issue in the cycling community, the use of lights is hard to argue against. Motorists can’t look out for you if they can’t see you!

10. Have fun!

While cycling in the city needs to be approached with the same degree of precaution that any form of transportation should, it shouldn’t be a stressful experience. Cycling is safe, healthy and importantly, fun! Relish the experience of the wind in your hair and the sun on your back. Take note of your surroundings, say hi to other cyclists. As much as it’s about health and sustainability, cycling is also about putting the joy back into your commute.

What is it about cycling, and cycle commuting? Why should I do that?


Simply put, it’ll change your life

Designing your bike commute to be as minimalistic as possible will make it easier to opt for your carbon free, two wheeled transportation on a more regular basis. It will also reduce the daily stress of between waking up and walking out the door. The tips in this article take more planning to implement, but are well worth the extra effort.

Benefits of Simplifying
A few of the reasons this is important…

  • Minimizes morning excuses – Let’s all be honest, we’ve had those mornings that we woke up with the full intention of riding the bike to work and once we saw the flat tire or realized we hadn’t packed the night before, we grabbed for the keys instead. By simplifying your commute, you’ll reduce the amount of excuses that can crop up to keep you off the bike.
  • Reduces stress – Along the same lines as minimizing your excuses, nothing causes more stress than running around trying to do everything before work, especially if you overslept. When you wake up in the morning and everything you need is in place, it’s a much more relaxing way to get on the bike.
  • Helps you enjoy the ride – If you’re frazzled when you jump on the bike it’s much more likely you won’t enjoy the ride. Once you implement these methods to simplify your commute you’ll be freed to enjoy your commute. That’s really why we do this anyway, right?

How to simplify your bike commute
There are several ways to simplify your bike commute. Even if you implement a few of these, you’ll see a huge difference in your daily ride quality and an increase in your frequency of opting for the bike.

  1. Ride a bike that’s comfortable for you – A bike that fits your riding style is very important. If you want sped and are an aggressive rider, go for lower bars that reduce wind resistance. If you want comfort and are organized enough to not need to race to work, try a bike that is more laid back (bars higher than the saddle).
  2. Check your bike periodically – regular riding will cause wear on the consumable parts of your bike and you’ll want to make sure you catch any problems early:
    • Tire pressure (loss of 5psi per week) Tires last longer if the proper pressure is maintained
    • Tire wear and damage (slowly spin your tire and look for objects embedded in the tread)
    • Brakes for wear and stopping power
    • Wheels for truing.  Spin the wheels and check for lateral wobble
    • Chain for stiff links, rust and dryness ( is there a squeaking noise when you ride?)
  3. Clean your bike regularly – At least once a month, or after a particularly dirty commute, you’ll want to to clean your bike of any dirt and grime that can cause problems in the long term.
  4. Always carry flat repair materials – Invest in a underseat bag or pannier, pack it with an extra tube, tire levers, patch kit, pump and hex wrenches and always keep it on your bike. This way you always know you have what you need to fix a flat and keep moving.
  5. Store hygienic necessities at the office – Keep an extra of everything you need to clean up from your commute (deodorant, towels, wipes, etc) at your office. No need to daily carry them back and forth.
  6. Leave a pair of shoes at the office – If you ride with clipless pedals or need to wear more dressy shoes at work, store a pair at the office. Again, no need to carry them back and forth each day.
  7. Take all your clothes for the week on Monday – I’ve heard suggestions of driving on Monday to take everything in for commuting the rest of the week. However if your bulkier items (shoes, towels, etc) are already at the office, then five changes of clothes will easily fit inside a normal sized backpack or panniers.
  8. Always keep an extra set of clothes at the office – Keep an extra belt, pair of pants, shirt, pair of socks, bra, underwear, etc at your office at all times. There’s nothing worse than being halfway into your commute when you remember you forgot an essential.
  9. Pack the night before – By packing your clothes and lunch the night before you’ll reduce your stress the next morning. You’ll also be in a better state of mind so not to forget something.
  10. Only pack the essentials – Do you really need three tubes, the Sam’s club bottle of gel and an extra helmet? When packing your bag the night before, ask yourself if each item is a necessity.
  11. Carry smaller sizes – If you don’t have a place to store your hygienic items at the office, try going smaller. Put your liquids like gel and shampoo in smaller bottles. Purchase travel sized deodorant and toothpaste. This will reduce your daily bulk to carry.
  12. Plan your route ahead of time – For most commutes there are several different ways to get from your house to the office. Use a tool such as Google Maps to plan a route that is more scenic, avoids dangerous roads and skips road work.
  13. Check the weather nightly – Keep an eye on your local weather so you can plan to dress for the temperature and precipitation.

Implementing these tips to simplify your bike commute will reduce the stress of getting out the door and ultimately help you enjoy the ride more.

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