Running to Stand Still

…busy Dad trying to make it all work

My 20 Years of Bike Commuting Tips…A Survival Guide

So you want to start riding your bike to work to save money on gas and public transportation and to start getting in shape right?

Well there’s a few things I’d like to share with you on bike commuting in a big Northern city.  For me that would be Chicago.

First up let me tell you about how I started bike commuting.  I started seriously commuting back in 1991.  I had been a pretty avid racquetball player playing around four to five days a week.  Complete gym rat.  I loved it…but it didn’t love my knees.  After playing for three hours I’d limp home like a 47 year old (hey! I’m 47 now!) soak my legs and go to bed.

Someone at the club told me to ride my bike more.  “It’s a more fluid motion and would help strengthen your crappy knees” he said.  So I did.  And I remembered that as a kid I always loved to ride my bike.  My Dad would sit on the front porch and time me as I raced around the block.  Soon I found myself riding more and more and I’ve never looked back.  Over the years my bike has become my therapist with wheels.

OK so here are my tips for bike commuting.  They are in no particular order except for the first one.

RULE # 1 – Always Always Always wear a helmet.  In 20 years of commuting I’ve seen cars hit bikes, bikes hit cars and bikes hit people.  All with bad results.  Wear a helmet.  And if you’re one of those people who hang your helmet on your handlebars because you don’t want to mess up your groovy hair when you ride then you’re a fool.

– Wear bright colors…night or day.  You need to be seen.  Period.

– Always look over your left shoulder before you pass cars, other bikers or runners…and always say “On your left” on a bike path.  Know there might be someone much faster than you trying to pass!  Runners also need to do this…especially runners wearing iPods.  Both bikers and runners need to look before they make their turn arounds.  One of my biggest bike crashes happened when another biker didn’t look back before she turned into me (she also didn’t hear me say “on your left”).  The impact of that crash catapulted me WAY over the handlebars and the force of the bikes hitting each other bend her front wheel like a pretzel.  Thank God I was wearing my helmet!

– Learn how to change a tire on the fly.  I see new commuters walking their bikes all the time because they didn’t have a spare.  I carry a spare tire, CO2 and tire irons.  I also carry 2 surgical gloves.  Keeps the grease and grime off the hands when I’m changing the tire.  Then just toss them out and ride home.

– Please stop at stop lights.  Rolling through red lights is just plain stupid.  Experienced bike commuters stop at stop lights and will probably give you an ear full when they have to pass you AGAIN in traffic!  Remember you can’t bike if you’re dead.

– Beware of Starbucks!!  Or any coffee shop for that matter for people in need of the java loose their minds if they see a spot near the store.  They’ll cut you off in a heart beat then fling the door open and really ruin your commute.

– Always have lights to snap on your bike.  When the sun goes down earlier toward the end of the year I’m lit up like a Christmas tree.

– When riding on a busy street with parked cars on your right always look for heads behind the wheel.  These are the people who might door you.  I also worry about the drivers passing you on the left but not as much.  They can see you…unless they’re texting… 😦

– When you swallow a bug on a ride don’t freak out.  If you can’t get it out then deal with it and take a drink of water.  Think of it as natures energy pill.

– If you decide to draft someone be prepared to then be drafted.  As they used to say in the 1960s…”ass, grass or cash…nobody rides for free!”

– Don’t wear headphones on a bike.  If I have to explain why you’re beyond help.  Also it’s against the law…I think.

– Always check the weather before you ride.  In Chicago it could be 80 at 7:30am and 35 at 5pm.  I’m not kidding.

– If you have to talk on the phone please pull it over.  My favorite is when I see a guy with no helmet talking on the phone with no hands.  Just makes me want to jam a stick in his spokes.

– Always have alternative routes for your normal commutes.  When it’s raining (I still bike in the rain) I always take side streets where there’s less traffic.  I don’t assume a driver can see me.

– I find that the most dangerous season to bike commute is in the spring.  Drivers aren’t used to seeing bikes on the road yet.

– Be wary of the following vehicles:  Cabs (obliviously) and shit wagons.  You’re probably wondering “What’s a shit wagon?”  It’s what I call the beat up pickup trunks with no brake lights or turn signals that go up and down the alleys and streets looking for junk.  They’d cut off their own Mothers if she were riding a bike.

– Get a RoadID (www.roadid.com).  Just in case you do get whacked by the guy in the shit wagon.  I wear mine cycling and running.  It’s a constant part of all my workouts.

If you have any thing to share please leave a comment and retweet it on Twitter or post it on Facebook.

I hope you find these tips helpful when you decide to hit the streets…maybe I should rephrase that…

My therapist

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8 responses to “My 20 Years of Bike Commuting Tips…A Survival Guide

  1. thewholekitchen May 14, 2011 at 7:25 am

    Nicely done, Ed! You hit ALL the highlights…and even taught me a new one – carrying surgical gloves is a brilliant idea! I’ve grimed up more than one shirt changing a tire. I’m not fast yet, but I can get it done. I pass 4 Starbucks on my commute and those uncaffeinated zombies are definitely a huge hazard for cycling.

  2. Tony Santone May 14, 2011 at 9:56 am

    Good post. My 2 cents: wear a helmet. I wouldn’t be posting this comment if I wasn’t wearing a helmet when I had a close encounter with a passenger side window at 20 MPH. It’s the other people you need protection from.

  3. Kirsten Miller May 16, 2011 at 8:55 am

    GREAT post! I hadn’t thought to bring surgical gloves. That’s brilliant. I usually just wipe the grease on my bike shorts (that’s why they’re already black, right?!). Thanks for sharing your tips.

  4. Sue Gelber May 16, 2011 at 9:51 am

    Surgical gloves! What a great idea. You just saved women all over America hundreds of dollars in manicure expenses. Excellent post.

  5. Jose May 17, 2011 at 11:02 am

    Great article! I am still ramping up to begin commuting so this article is so up my alley!
    On the safety tip – I’m pricing out helmets now, and setting up my road ID. I have a friend who was hit recently and was in really bad shape – he vows he’ll never not wear a helmet again. Scary stuff.
    Thanks so much for posting this!

  6. ed schober May 17, 2011 at 10:33 pm

    Thanks all for the comments. I really hope they come in handy if you decide to tackle the urban bike commute.

  7. David Pittman June 3, 2011 at 7:56 am

    I don’t commute by bike (it would be silly to ride 20 feet down my hallway), but I’m taking notes of many of these tips. The surgical gloves one is pure genius. I recently had to pop the chain back on, which got grease all over my hands. Then I looked up and realized the handlebar tape on my BRAND SPANKIN’ NEW BIKE … was white. S&@#!! It’s not so virginal white any more.

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