The Five Don’ts of Bike Commuting

I feel very lucky to have found an apartment that allows me to walk or bike to work. Walking takes about 25 minutes or so, and biking takes just 10, and sometimes less if I catch the lights just right. The first time I decided to attempt to bike to work was shortly after moving, and I’d only ever used my bike for exercise before – never as a means of transportation. I figured it couldn’t be too hard and set out to go to work without much thought put into the ride.

To put it simply, it was a disaster.

Top Five Don’ts of Bike Commuting

While most of these things may seem pretty intuitive to the general population, for me, they were learned through trial and error.

1.) Don’t… Keep your phone in your pocket.

It doesn’t matter who calls or texts you on the way to work, nor what time it is each time you stop. On my first commute on bike, I thought it would be a good idea to transport my phone in my pocket and it turned out not to be when it fell out into a puddle and I haven’t been able to turn it on since.

2.) Don’t… Bring a large over the shoulder bag.

A backpack works much better, trust me on this one. Day one, the huge bag not only had me completely off center, it was going into the opposite bike lane on the road and I had to keep swerving to avoid hitting into other cyclists. Turns out, the backpack is also a great place to keep your phone.

3.) Don’t… Wear wide legged pants.

They will get caught in your bike chain, and you will rip a hole in your favorite work pants. You can roll your pants up or buy a band that goes around your ankle to keep your pants secure, or else you can just wear jeans or tapered pants and they shouldn’t get caught in your bike.

4.) Don’t… Forget to check the weather.

It will probably rain if you don’t check it, and riding to work in the rain is not only wet and makes you arrive cranky, but it’s not the safest either.  You’re better off walking with an umbrella or taking public transport if that’s an option.

5.) Don’t… Wing your route.

I found myself cycling the wrong way on one too many one-way streets on day one because I didn’t map out my route beforehand, and it was not only dangerous, it was frightening. Google maps actually has bike routes mapped out for several areas, but another option is walking or driving the route beforehand to figure out the best way.

I’m happy to report that since day one, my bike commuting skills have improved immensely. I now have a great route to and from work, only bike when the weather looks clear, and have not one, but two backpacks I alternate between. I also have taken to keeping my phone in my backpack rather than my pocket, but am still working on #3 – I definitely ripped a hole in another pair of pants yesterday…

You can’t win ‘em all, right?

How do you get to work? Drive, bike, walk, public transport? How far is it from your home?

22 Comments on The Five Don’ts of Bike Commuting

  1. Cathy
    October 12, 2011 at 9:37 am (9 years ago)

    I have been cycling to work for probably 6 years now. My ride is 10 km (in the Canadian capital!) each way. You can plan for light rain, I have a plastic jacket that I’ve folded into an old Clinique makeup bag, that I carry along as insurance on days that it might rain in the afternoon. But getting to work wet isn’t good. And no matter what the Cycle Chic websites say – wear a helmet!

  2. Jennifer
    October 12, 2011 at 10:12 am (9 years ago)

    I give you so much credit for trying, and I’m also jealous of your closeness to work. I would love to walk to work.

    Sadly, my commute is 22 miles each way, and while it’s not a bad commute (traffic here is totally fine), it’s obviously too far to bike, for me anyway! I looked into public transportation, and at this point in time, I’d have to drive 10 miles to where I’d have to pick it up. I live in a newer area, so hopefully they add a bus route at some point. I would love that.

  3. Theresa @ActiveEggplant
    October 12, 2011 at 10:15 am (9 years ago)

    Great post Beth!
    As for cycling in the rain – it can totally be safe as long as you have proper lights & reflective gear on. We purchased headlights for our bikes that have a “blink” setting and we use those whenever it’s dusk/dawn and in the rain. BUT, if one is not comfortable riding on slick streets, then yes, better not to ride in the rain 🙂

    I’d love to cycle to/from work – but my office is 20 miles from home. That’s just a little too far for me to handle. My husband commutes home two times a week though – his ride is 13 miles so he doesn’t like to do it every day. On Wed & Thurs though I go to the gym after work and since we share a car he rides home instead of being stuck at work!

    And yes – DON’T forget your helmet – no matter how far you’re riding!

  4. Wendy
    October 12, 2011 at 10:29 am (9 years ago)

    roll up your pants 🙂

  5. Jenny
    October 12, 2011 at 10:32 am (9 years ago)

    I just checked and was surprised to see that my office in Arlington is only 8.5 miles away from my apartment in DC! I commute everyday (via Metro + a shuttle bus) and the trip from door to door takes an hour. A bike ride would take a little less than that and burn a helluva lot more caloies!

    I think if I felt more secure on my bike (I just got back “in the saddle,” if you will) I might try it out, but currently DC and surrounding roads (not just highways…all of them) frighten me.

  6. Cait @ beyond bananas
    October 12, 2011 at 10:53 am (9 years ago)

    Ooh no sounds like that was the commute from hell! So terribly sorry!! I have to drive to work. 17 miles just would be feasible by foot or bike haha

  7. Lauren @ Oatmeal after Spinning
    October 12, 2011 at 12:36 pm (9 years ago)

    I remember bringing an over-the-shoulder bag while biking in Canada last summer. I was miserable! It kept slipping down and getting in the way. Never again!

  8. Morgan @ Becoming Rooks
    October 12, 2011 at 12:46 pm (9 years ago)

    I think it’s awesome you commute to work! There are several girls here that bike to work and they just bike in wearing workout clothes and change when they get here. It probably saves them ripping their pants. 🙂

  9. Lisa
    October 12, 2011 at 12:51 pm (9 years ago)

    Good tips! I OVERLY planned everything when it came to biking to work. I obsessively checked the weather, I packed light. I took clothes into work the day before so I didn’t have to carry them. It takes planning for sure.

    October 12, 2011 at 2:16 pm (9 years ago)

    Living in Chicago, I see lots of people communting to work via bike. I am currently without a bike though so it’s not an option for me right now so I take the train. I actually live almost six miles from downtown though so if I do purchase a bike and decided to commute to work on it, I’ll get a decent workout in early in the morning! 🙂

  11. Sarah
    October 12, 2011 at 3:35 pm (9 years ago)

    I am 5 miles from work via the bike trail (closer driving). I have not biked to work yet because I just don’t have the motivation in the morning after a workout. I usually occupy my 15 minute metro ride with a book. Since I am heading against traffic I always get a seat 🙂

    I know its crazy, I am so close. I should try running or biking it at some point, but right now it my 15 minutes of zen.

    Good for you for biking! I know if I tried I would love it, but first I just have to get myself back on my bike.

  12. cookie
    October 12, 2011 at 4:23 pm (9 years ago)

    For me, it’s easy. My home is 550 m away from my work. Thats about a third of a mile, so even if I did have a car, it would probably take me longer to drive because of the traffic circle.

  13. Amanda @ Running On Waffles
    October 12, 2011 at 4:25 pm (9 years ago)

    I bike to commute as well, and I would also add another item to your list. A couple of weeks ago, I got pulled over by a cop for running a red light on my bike. In most states, red lights are actually stop signs for bikers because it’s safer for a biker to get a head start at an intersection (true story: every time I’ve been hit by a car on my bike has been at an intersection). Even though I tried to argue this point with the cop, he gave me a ticket (this is the first time I have EVER been pulled over in my life). DC does not have a law that allows bikers to regard stop signs as yields and red lights as stop signs, so when you’re biking, make sure to keep an eye out for cops because I’ve found they’re much more willing to pull over bikers than cars (I’ve actually almost been run off the road by cars and had cops watch it happen and do nothing).

  14. Jenny
    October 12, 2011 at 6:27 pm (9 years ago)

    Unfortunately I have to drive. I work about 35 miles from home. And our public transport system sucks out here. We did get the light rail (like a train) running from West Mesa into Pheonix, however I work in North Scottsdale (nowhere near central Phoenix) and live waaaay East of where it starts (so if it worked I’d still have to drive about 12 miles to get to it). I’ve looked into bus routes, they aren’t any good for me either. So, I drive. Takes about 45 minutes each way. The afternoons are always worse than the mornings.

  15. Mel @ Mel a la Via Paradiso
    October 12, 2011 at 6:48 pm (9 years ago)

    I used to ride my bike to my internship every other day, and would have to agree with these! I might add that trying to bike AND wear a dress or office skirt is not a good idea. My bike, though I love it, was very impractical for commuting however. It’s a hot pink Schwinn, and it’s super heavy! But I always got compliments when I rode it around!

    • Jessamyn
      October 12, 2011 at 9:52 pm (9 years ago)

      I definitely agree with these guidelines, and I especially agree with Mel’s comment about biking in skirts and dresses. I’ve been biking to school for a little over a year, and I am constantly ruining my tights and stockings because I refuse to forgo fashion in the name of biking comfort.

      and OMG about the bag selection- I swear by my backpack. But then again, when I was in Boston this summer I saw endless cyclists carrying all sorts of things while biking. I even saw a guy carrying 2-24 packs of beer on his handlebars. If you ask me THAT’s the true definition of determination. 🙂

  16. Fiona
    October 13, 2011 at 9:03 am (9 years ago)

    My 17yr old just started biking to school and fried a 2nd macbook in the rain this week (he spilled milk into the first one), I’d love to hear any recommendations for water proofing a laptop when cycling? – But he is wearing his helmet 🙂

  17. Kerry
    October 15, 2011 at 4:04 am (9 years ago)

    Word of advice – a chiropractor told me to never ever wear a back pack when on a bike as the combo of the heavy load and the leaning forwards posture wreak havoc on your lower back. You can get a pannier which is a special bag for your bike – much safer!

  18. Hilary
    October 16, 2011 at 2:45 pm (9 years ago)

    Good tips! I am a substitute teacher, so I go somewhere different every day, most places being too far to bike (plus I’m not much of a biker) so it’s not really an option for me.


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