Commuting by bike: Urban utopia not required

Guest post by Amy Watkins

It’s been a while since we’ve talked about riding bicycles as a major mode of transportation. So here’s Offbeat Homie Amy Watkins with more biking tips…


Hello there, fellow citizen of the rest of the world, person living in the suburbs, or an annoyingly sprawled American city. I’m here to give you some good news: you — yes, you — can reduce your carbon footprint, improve your physical and mental health, save money, and have loads of fun by commuting by bike.

If you don’t live in an awesome, urban wonderland where biking is the norm, I’m right there with you. My husband, daughter and I live in the #1 city in America for pedestrian deaths, a city that practically invented suburban sprawl, but even in this really-not-ideal place, it is possible for us to use our bikes daily. Consider this: the average North American bicycle commute is 7.5 miles and takes 30 minutes, and, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s 2009 travel survey, 40% of all U.S. car trips are two miles or less. With things cooling off in the Northern hemisphere and kids heading back to school in the U.S., now is a great time to try replacing some of those short drives with bike rides.

The first and most important thing you must do when you start riding your bike is learn the traffic laws for your area. In the U.S. traffic laws vary by state, so I will offer only two pieces of advice:

  1. Learn the rules.
  2. Follow the rules.

As a general reference, I haven’t seen a better bike safety video than this one from the 1950s:

Any bike that is safe, well-tuned, and comfortable can work as a commuter. I used a beach cruiser for my five-mile commute for more than a year, but a commuter or hybrid-style bike is ideal. These bikes are sturdy but lighter and faster than cruisers or mountain bikes, and the pedaling position is more comfortable than being hunched over on a road bike, especially in work clothes.

Your local bike shop can help you find a bike that fits your body and your needs. Even if you end up buying a used bike, the bike shop can tune it and make sure everything’s adjusted properly for your comfort and safety. If you’re comfortable on your bike, you’re more likely to ride it.

You will need some gear to commute or run errands, but there’s no need to go overboard. Think about what you have to carry with you. Lighten your load. Besides the usual wallet, keys, and cell phone, I carry a laptop to and from work. Riding with a backpack on is hot and makes me feel off-balance, so I invested in a pannier with a built-in laptop case. I also have a collapsible basket that lies flat against my back wheel when I’m riding to work and expands to hold groceries when I need it. This set up feels secure and comfortable for me, but it’s important to find what works for you. If you’re just hauling your purse or lunchbox, a front basket is probably fine and adorably Parisian.

Speaking of being all cycle chic, dressing to commute by bike takes some forethought, but it doesn’t take a new wardrobe. There are a lot of biking and style blogs that can give you suggestions for dressing to bike in the heat or the cold, how to avoid helmet-head, etc. In general, I dress in layers, carry a rain poncho, and embrace the fact that riding a bike means being affected by the elements. Print dresses are great for hot weather and gloves and earmuffs are essential for cold.

Screen Shot 2013-08-28 at 10.42.03 AMFinally, remember that biking is supposed to be fun. My commute is about five miles and takes about 30 minutes each way. That’s one hour of exercise built into my day, one hour of time alone to mentally prepare for work and decompress before I get home. It’s a chance to be out in the world with nothing between me and the elements and my neighbors. I feel more connected when I ride.

In our sprawling city with its not-so-great pedestrian infrastructure, we still need a car. I drive to work once or twice a week when I’m tired, or the weather is bad, or when I have errands to run that are difficult on the bike. But when we’re in the habit of biking we don’t want to get in the car. My daughter summed it up like this, “Riding in the car sucks. We don’t see any wildlife and it’s bad for the polar bears.” Can’t argue with that!

Comments on Commuting by bike: Urban utopia not required

  1. Yay bikes! I live in the Netherlands and can’t even imagine not having a bicycle. I just got back from getting groceries on my bike. But biking is the norm here, kids even get lessons in school when they’re about 12.

    • I wish that bike safety was taught more frequently to school children or that traffic laws about bikes were a bigger part of drivers’ ed here in the U.S. Most of the bad experiences I’ve had on my bike have been a result of a motorist not understanding the rules about bikes sharing the road. Not to scare anyone off–those experiences are few and far between!

      It’s also really important for cyclists to know the rules and follow them. Every cyclist that breaks a traffic rule makes motorists more wary, irritated, and unsure about sharing the road.

      • I agree! I live in Montreal, which has excellent dedicated bike lanes for a North American city, but even with the high number of cyclists here, drivers still don’t know that cyclists are permitted to do vehicular driving. My pet peeve is when drivers honk at me for being in the left turn lane. How else am I supposed to turn left?

        That said, though, as crazy as drivers in Montreal are, they are pretty aware of cyclists on the road and make an effort to keep their distance, which I appreciate.

  2. As a super sweater, I don’t think I could bike to work unless there was a shower. I am drenched when my husband and I take short bike trips through our nearby park, let alone going all the way to work…in work clothes.

    I love riding bikes, though. I can totally see that it could be a great way to start and end your day.

    • Where there’s a will, there’s a way! I also sweat up a storm biking, but it’s amazing what even a quick change in a public restroom can do. Sure, it takes a little extra time, but it makes it work even in hot sweaty weather. For more minor sweat issues (esp. early spring, late fall), I find that wool clothing really helps, since it handles moisture well, and I can more often get away without changing. I love my Icebreaker wool!

    • I live in Florida. At the hottest part of the year, I carry an extra shirt, a small towel, and deodorant and change in the restroom at work. If it’s possible to keep a small fan on your desk, that can also help with quickly cooling down once you arrive.

      If you can’t commute to work, you probably can replace some other short car trips with bike rides. A quick pedal to the market or out to eat on the weekend turns errands into adventures, or that’s what I tell myself when I’m feeling lazy about riding. πŸ™‚

  3. I love riding my bike to work! I’m a pretty chilled bike commuter in a city of hard core racing cyclists, so I regularly get odd looks riding on my sparkly red ladies bike with my handbag in the front basket! I tend to make cycling days pants days as most of my work pants have a bit of stretch, and often carry my work shoes in my basket & wear a flat pair for riding. I say yay! to cycling for transport, no lycra required!

  4. I bike to work until it snows, but my commute is very short at 2 miles. A change of clothes is SO important. Even keeping a backup outfit at work is helpful if you don’t want to change every day. And I use a backpack every day to carry what I need back and forth. There are no grocery stores on my commute, so I use my car for that once a week.

    Despite the rules, I am torn between riding on the sidewalk and the road. In my area I pass MAYBE 2 pedestrians on the sidewalk on my short ride. Obviously I wouldn’t do this if there were bike lanes or more than just a couple pedestrians. I trust myself 100% not to hit them but I don’t trust vehicles in my area not to hit me. I’ve fallen off my bike several times in the past couple of years due to close calls with cars passing me, then getting in front of me and slamming on their breaks for the light or turning right in front of me. So…I did make my own set of rules because I try not to die. They work in my area where 99% of people drive to work so the sidewalks are almost empty, but I am sure they would not work elsewhere!

    But biking is wonderful. Just find a system of what to wear and carry and how to ride that makes you comfortable!

    • The reason not to ride on sidewalks is not for the pedestrians but because it is actually more dangerous for cyclists. Unless you are riding on a long and uninterrupted sidewalk, most sidewalks are broken up by driveways in which cars cannot see the cyclists coming.

    • Whether or not you’re allowed to ride on the sidewalk depends on where you live. In some places, biking on the sidewalk is illegal. In other places, you are allowed to ride on the sidewalk or in the street. In those places, you are considered a pedestrian on the sidewalk and a vehicle in the street, so you should behave appropriately based on where you’re riding.

      A small part of my commute–maybe 1/4 mile–is along a very busy road. I ride on the sidewalk for that part of my ride. Again, it’s most important to know the rules and, otherwise, be as safe as you can be doing what feels right for you.

      • So it turns out I am following the city ordinances! My city has it divided up where it is ok and where it isn’t. And pulling anything behind your bike is not allowed here along with other random things. Part of my commute is on a nice trail, but I still use the sidewalk for about half a mile where there aren’t any driveways. Anyway thank you for this post because it made me look it up!

    • I’ve had a few close calls as well. For this reason, I specifically choose routes that have multi-lane roads. If the road is at least two lanes wide, then I take the right-most lane and ride in the middle, so it’s inconvenient for them to try and pass me without switching lanes.

  5. Thanks to both Amy and the commenters for sharing! We live about a mile or so (as the crow flies, at least) from my husband’s job, and he usually walks, but would love to get a bike to cut down on the walk time and not add to the number of trips he has to drive back and forth (though I will encourage him to drive it more when the weather gets ugly–not every road around here has sidewalks, and I don’t want him getting run over because people don’t see him in a deluge or blizzard or something).

    I, personally, would love to bike, too, and while I do know HOW to ride a bike, I’m so disaster-prone that I don’t trust myself to do it where I might encounter much of any traffic. (AKA, I have TERRIBLE balance and always have–I can’t even take my hands off the handlebars for more than half a second, no lie). So, now I have a question that probably sounds insanely silly to most people: has anyone ever gotten one of those adult-size tricycles (sometimes they are strangely referred to as “three-wheeled bicycles”)? I’m pretty sure Schwinn makes one, and some other companies do, too. I wondered what people thought of them.

    Sometimes I work down on campus where my husband works, and I don’t always come and go at the same hours as he does, so being able to cut down on travel time would be nice. (Oh, and I don’t drive. Ever. Anxiety–real shocker, huh…)

    • I never leaned how to balance on a bike, but as a kid felt comfortable with training wheels. I really want one of these adult trikes! They seem just a wide as bike trailers that I see people with in the bike lane all the time. I think if you ride an adult tricycle, you have to OWN it. I plan on putting tassels on the handlebars and ribbons on the basket. People will think you are weird for riding it. The fact that you’re on OBH, however, probably means you’re ok with being weird. πŸ™‚

      When it becomes financially feasible, I will probably go to a bike shop in a hipster neighborhood to get one. I wonder if it would fit on a car bike rack, though. I also don’t drive, even though I can, I choose not to. Like the OP, I lived and learned to drive in suburban Orlando and learned to hate to drive.

    • It has taken me 2 years, but I can officially scratch my nose while biking now. Recently, I started carrying my yoga mat and backpack at the same time. So there’s hope for you if that’s something you want to tackle!

      Some other things that might help if you want to ride any type of bike or tricycle: practice. Go on joy rides and practice making turns, quick stops, etc. to build up your balance. Tightening my core while riding seems to help. Try your commute at a quieter time of day sans backpack. Add empty backpack. Add heavy backpack if that’s something you will need to get used to. Then try it at peak traffic times if you have to ride then so you can get used to the traffic flow and find your safe zone. Not even kidding, I did all of these…

      • A trike probably won’t fit on a bike rack, but it should be fine for most bike lanes. I second the “practice” advice. If you want to try on a regular bike, moving anything you have to carry to a back basket or pannier helps with balance a lot.

        • Thanks to those who replied to my query. Good point about bike racks…I didn’t consider that part. We don’t have bike lanes here at all, and a few winding roads to get into town, which is a bit of a concern for me at the start…

          To justanothersciencenerd, if you see this: how did you handle turns and stops if you couldn’t take your hands of the bars to signal? This is something I’m trying to figure out. Last time I really biked was when I was a kid, so it’s been a good 15 or so years, I would guess, and I don’t think I really cared about signalling (and when you live in the middle-of-nowhere, chances are you’ll only see one or two cars anyway). Now it’s more of an issue.

          • I have a magical commute- mostly bike trail, straight segment of sidewalk.

            But I don’t want to discourage you- I learned to ride as an adult in a parking lot.

    • HOW? I also live in LA and would love to bike places, but I have almost been run over as a pedestrian so many times that the idea is scary. Are you in a more suburban area? Most of the bikers I know are in the Valley/Glendale/Pasadena, and I live in East Hollywood.

  6. yay for this article! sometimes I feel like OBH is reading my mind.

    I live in a mid-sized city that is very pedestrian- and bike-unfriendly. When I moved here from a more urban environment, I fully intended to get a car . . . and then I never did. And now I am making less money, and a car is pretty much out of the question. So I bike in a city where nearly everyone has a car – and I love it!

    My general advice is to be creative if you live somewhere that seems difficult for bikes. Find alternate routes, quieter roads, a path through some trees, etc. There may be more people than you think who bike/walk to work (often those who cannot afford cars), and they may have eked out some unexpected paths, which you can find if you look carefully. At least, that was the case in my area.

    I will never be the type of biker who rides a midst traffic, confidently making left turns along with the cars (at least not in my current location). But you don’t necessarily have to be that person in order to get where you need to go on a bike. I get off my bike and walk across busy intersections, and I don’t care how dorky it seems. Do what you feel comfortable doing, where you feel comfortable doing it. I don’t trust the drivers in my city, so this is what works for me.

    • Good for you for biking where it’s not the norm! The more people bike, the safer it becomes for everyone else, in part because governments begin to see it as more important and worth investing in.

      Finding a comfortable route is as important as finding a comfortable bike. I do not bike to work the same way I drive to work. The route I use adds about a mile to my bike ride, but it puts me on quiet neighborhood streets where I can safely ride in the street (where you are statistically safer than on the sidewalk) rather than trying to ride in the street or on the sidewalk along a six-lane highway. An extra mile makes me safer and gives me a more pleasant ride–totally worth it.

      • There are some scant bike paths and lanes here, and I know the government is working on/aiming for more, at least.

        I didn’t know the statistics about sidewalks, though sidewalks are barely an option for me because there are so few of them here!

  7. I never really considered biking to work and unfortunately it’s not really an option for me as I live about 17 miles from my day job and am also a tutor who ends up driving all over the place to student’s houses. I do try to encourage students who live in the same area to schedule sessions on the same day so I don’t have to make multiple trips out there and gas mileage was a definite concern when I purchased my last car. I couldn’t afford a hybrid, but I did get a Nissan that is currently averaging 34-35 miles per gallon… However, this article does inspire me to get a bicycle for exercise. Maybe I would enjoy that more than walking because with the extra speed you can get a little breeze on your face when it’s hot. πŸ™‚

  8. I don’t live in the US, but I commute by bicycle and it’s brilliant- and I live in a very rainy place. A good rain coat, waterproof trousers, and bicycle gloves keep me nice and dry.
    My office does have showers for us cycle commuters (and encourages us to cycle – in addition to the showers, we have a cycle scheme that saves about 30-40% of the cost of a new bike, and tons of covered bike shelters), but I usually just go into to bathroom and attack myself with wipes, deodorant,and a hairbrush.
    I’ve never seen those collapsible basket baskets, so thanks for that- but oh man, I may have to invest for my groceries- normally I load up my panniers and my backpack – but the backpack is so awkward to cycle home when its heavy.

  9. I live in Montreal and ride my bike everywhere. We have awesome public transit too (so there is no need to own a car whatsoever unless you want to pay boatloads of money for parking and gas (it is more expensive on the island to discourage driving)).

    However I hardly utilize the public transit because despite the snow and the temperatures that drop to Minus 30 C (sometimes minus 40 C) in the worst of winter, the roads are cleared fairly quickly and I still can bike (unless there is just too much sleet- then it is bus/metro time).

    We have an advantage of having some great bike lanes and a good bike culture (with bike share during the summer) despite the hills. The cold is a nuisance but it is so worth the savings and the workout.

    • Hi Alex! I was going to post a question for Canadians, and then I found you! I’m currently living in a very bike-friendly city in France.

      Next year I’ll be immigrating to New Brunswick. Though it seems fairly reasonable to ride a bike in summertime, what about winter? How do you ride a bike when there’s snow all over the place and it’s freezing (don’t laugh at my questions – we don’t get much snow or less than -10C in my area). Do you change your bike tyres just like you do with car tyres to avoir slipping on frozen pavement? Thanks for any tips! I really wish I’ll be able to keep on using my bike as much as I do now.

  10. I’ve just started riding a bike to work this summer. It helps that I live in Paris and my twice-daily commute involves riding down the champ de mars, down to the Eiffel Tower and then along the seine, up one road and I’m on the champ Γ©lysΓ©es staring at the arc de triomphe!
    Plus, I use velib, the communal bike service, which means I don’t even need to worry about maintenance. I think people who drive cars in big cities are silly, and I bet they feel that way as they watch me ride past while they are stuck in traffic!
    Ok, gloating is over, I’m just high on bike riding-enduced endorphins!

  11. Biking seems like the way to go, but I just can’t get over the anxiety I feel about it. I live about 8 miles from my job and there are not many bike friendly routes at all. I can count five memorials I pass each day to bikers who have been killed by being hit by cars- in the same route that I would be taking!

    I’ve planned it out so many times and each time it causes a major panic attack that I haven’t gone any further. My husband works about 1 mile from our house and the route he would take would be all residential/ light traffic streets. I envy him.

    • I started riding casually on the weekends with my husband and friends. Doing it with a group of people who knew what they were doing and were confident helped me to get started. Is there someone you could ride with when you start out? Are there bike trails you could practice on for a while before you jump to commuting? The more you practice, the more confident you will feel.

    • I used to have sooo much anxiety riding in any sort of traffic, and it really didn’t take long at all for me to get confident. I recommend learning all the safety laws and being a real stickler for them – ie riding on the sidewalk might seem safer, but is actually much more dangerous. One of my greatest fears is getting doored by a parked car, so I always ride at least 4 feet away from them, and sometimes that means I have to take the car lane. And that is ok, because you know what, even if you slow cars down a little bit, they see you when you are in front of them. Many cyclists who get injured are not following traffic laws. Of course I wouldn’t suggest jumping right into traffic, probably start with casual neighborhood rides or bike trails, and once you remember how fun it is to ride and how much distance you can cover quickly, you might be ready to start venturing further from home.
      Another example I know is a family I met out on a bicycle tour – they ride with their toddler, and were absolutely terrified to ride much in their city. But when I met them in San Diego they were on their way riding to Patagonia from Alaska. They said they were really anxious at first, but after riding for a few weeks it just became second nature. Also, keep in mind , riding a bike is much safer than driving!

    • I commented on this below, but check Google maps to see about bike routes and paths. I found some random bike paths through the middle of neighborhoods that I would never have discovered in my car.

    • I completely agree with the anxiety thing. One of my teachers in high school was killed while riding her bike and another teacher told us way too much detail about the accident. Sort of scared me for life. Maybe I could take baby steps and work my way up to busier streets.

  12. I’m a bike commuter in Santa Rosa, California. My ride to work is only 12 minutes long. It’s pretty easy, except for a three blocks long section on a busy street with no bike lane. That’s where I get my daily sprint, pedaling as fast as my little legs can go to reach the next stretch of bike lane!

  13. Question – what do you suggest if you live in an apartment complex on a higher floor? I have a hybrid bike, which while not as heavy as a mountain bike, is still heavy enough that I don’t feel as if lugging it up and down the stairs each morning and evening is entirely feasible. Ordinances of the complex prohibit chaining bicycles to the stairs, and I’m not even sure there’s a single bike chain-up spot on the complex. Part of me wants to bike the 5, 6.5 miles to work and back, but the other part of me worries about the safety of my bike overnight (and has no desire to lug the damn thing up the stairs at the end of each day).

    • That is tricky. A 6.5 mile round trip is really a great bike commute, but hauling a bike up and down stairs sucks. Could you motivate yourself to do it one or two days a week? Like a “meatless Mondays” type deal? Motorless Mondays? πŸ™‚

      I wouldn’t feel comfortable leaving my bike outside overnight either. Bike theft is so common, and it’s also not great maintenance-wise. I live in an apartment too, but on the ground floor where I can roll my bike in and out of the sliding glass back door.

      • The once or twice a week is what I was pondering on my own last night. I’m a grad student, but I keep regular hours in the lab/on campus all week long (side note about success in graduate school: Treat It Like A Job. /endrant), so I’m going the 6-ish miles each way (so 12-13 miles round trip) 5 days a week. I have early classes on Monday and Wednesday, but my only class on Tues/Thurs is at 1 PM, so I’m not under a time pressure to get to campus. I don’t have any classes at all on Friday.

        My thought is to work up to biking 3 days a week, and only using the car on M./W. I’ve also been trying to find motivation to go to the gym regularly again, and combining cycling to campus (gets me sweaty) with going to the gym (definitely gets me sweaty!) might make me more likely to cycle simply because I know I have to bring a change of clothes anyway – kill two birds with one stone.

        Now I just have to convince myself that lugging my bike up and down the stairs 2-3 times a week is worth it. On campus I can bring my bike into the grad room (someone else in my lab bikes in and brings her bike in), it’s just what to do when I’m back at home.

        I want to help the environment, improve my cardiovascular fitness, and save money by buying less gas for my car, but I’m also lazy. It’s finding that sweet balance where I can be lazy AND healthy at the same time that is the difficult part.

        • I totally get the lazy factor. I encourage you to try it just one day a week. You might find that you feel like my daughter and just don’t want to get in the car. A big thing for me was remembering how free you feel on a bike. Plus, after two years of regularly commuting my bike, my ass has never looked finer. πŸ˜‰

    • -Ask the landlord to install a bike rack inside the building if possible, or if there is some sort of secure area where bicycles can be stored on the first floor – a mail room, janitors closet, etc.
      – Find somewhere outside to lock up your bike and bring in the front wheel and/or bike seat each night instead of the entire bike. Most people won’t steal a bike they can’t ride away, or one that would take lots of money to fix up in order to sell. Also, if you cover your bike with stickers it is much less likely to be stolen.
      – Get a folding bike like this one that would be easier to carry up and down stairs.

      • – I can try, but it’s a big complex (well, not as big as some, only 200+ units) with separate buildings, and the lease actually has a provision in it that bicycles are not to be ridden in the complex. (I kid you not.) The management company also manages hundreds of apartment complexes across the US. Still, it never hurts to try…

        – bringing in my seat is less of a PITA than my bringing in my front wheel – and the front wheel is easy compared to the back wheel. Yikes. Don’t hate me for saying this, please, but my desire to commute by bike is also tempered by the ease of the activity – the more difficult it is, the more likely I am to take the path of least resistance and drive to work. (I think that is part of the reason why more people don’t bike commute even when they can – it is simply easier to drive because, at least around here, the city is designed for drivers, not cyclists. I also think it’s important to be honest with myself – I am, and humans are, lazy. We follow the path of least resistance without thought – it is only when commitment to or adoption of an ideal forces us to think about our path that we might even consider switching it. After that, it’s the strength of the commitment to the change plus the effectiveness of your habit formation that keeps you going.)

        – While the folding bikes are neat and awesome, I just don’t have the capital right now. =/ Thanks for the suggestion, though!

        • I’ve gone up and down the stairs with my bulky beach cruiser. Not fun, but it can be done. Actually, the “lugging down” part is pretty easy, more like “guiding down”. It’s the “up” part that’s a pain in the butt.

          • I tried it on Friday, and it actually wasn’t so bad! I must have just been completely unadjusted to the climate when I moved in (no surprise) and it was way harder to get my bike up to the apartment initially than it was to get it up and down for biking to work. Success! Laziness conquered!

    • I live on the third floor of a building with a tiny lobby and a policy about not leaving things down there. I had to nix my mountain bike and get a lighter weight commuter bike. It weighs 26lbs (almost 1/4 of what I weight) and I carry it up and down the stairs every day, though my neighbors carry their bikes all the way to the fifth floor! I kind of hate the carrying it part, but I figure it’s strengthening my arms and shoulders.
      Clearly, buying a new bike is an investment to only make if you’re sure you’re going to use it. You can always sell your old bike to help put money towards a new one. There are always bikes on Craigslist, and there are some smaller, more affordable bike companies making great lightweight bikes, like Public and Swobo.

      • I’ve thought about getting a new/different bike for commuting, but the thought of selling my bike gives me the fits! It was my graduation present to myself 7 years ago, and that bike and I have done thousands of miles on rail-to-trail. There are plenty of biking trails I can use it on for exercise, fitness, and pleasure around here, so selling my baby…er…bike just isn’t going to happen.

        No, I think I’m just going to have to suck it up and carry it up and down stairs, like you said, and dream of the day that my financial situation turns itself around and I can afford a different bike for commuting. That, or we move to a more bike-friendly location, which certainly might happen. (Just not for 12 more months!)

        Regarding the correct number of bicycles to be own, isn’t the appropriate formula c = b + 1, where c is the correct or “right” number of bikes to own, and b is the number of bikes you currently own? πŸ˜‰ (At least, I’ve had several cycling enthusiasts swear this is the correct formula!)

  14. If you’re new to bike commuting and unfamiliar with bike-friendly routes, try the Google maps bike feature! (Probably not available everywhere.) Enter your “from” and “to” locations like usual and let it calculate, then click the little bicycle icon and Google will try to optimize the route using bike paths and roads with bike lanes.

  15. I’m sure that’s not a photo of the author riding her bike without a helmet on!!

    As a long time bike commuter, I live by the motto “better dorky than dead” and wear the helmet religiously, as well as the reflective vest if my commute is anywhere near dawn, twilight or dark (which in the winter in Seattle it is).

    Most people are reluctant to bike commute because they are afraid of traffic or other injury causing situation. A helmet and basic lights and reflective gear can go a LONG way towards making you safer. I know without the vest, even with the bike lights, cars act like I’m invisible. With the vest, it is clear they see me.

    As I leave the office, with my bike gear, I often sing for my coworkers “don’t you wish your girlfriend was hot like me?” The little bit of self deprecation goes a long way toward making me feel less silly in the gear.

  16. I havent biked since middle school, but as the at home half of a one car household, Id like to take it up as Icould travel farther/faster than walking. Unfortunately, anywhere i go, the toddler has to go, too. Ive seen both back seats for children and trailers. My husband thinks the trailer would be less likely to mess with my balance, but i worry about its visibility to cars.

    Anyone willing to do a post on the best way to become a cyclist with small children, especially as a cycling novice?

    • There are tons of resources online about cycling with small children. In fact, did Stephanie do an article about this on OffbeatFamilies awhile back?

      I really hated riding with the trailer, but everyone is different about what works for them. My husband biked our daughter to school for two years using an Xtracycle frame extension. It is a bit of an investment, but really great for hauling the kids, groceries, etc. He even used it to ride me home after I dropped my bike off at the shop. We call it the minivan. πŸ™‚

  17. I ride my bike to work in Manhattan, which is not as much of a Urban Biking Utopia as one would expect- sure my commute is only 1.5 miles, but some days it’s like running the gauntlet avoiding all the delivery trucks driving in the bike line, cars opening their doors into you, tourists wandering into the street- amidst the usual hellish nyc traffic, so I would like to add one piece of advice- Wear a Helmet! Seriously. They aren’t that nerdy. Check out if you need a helmet, they’re very cute/cool.

  18. Check out this blog, and you will drool over all the beautiful commuting bikes she reviews:
    Check out the sidebar for her bike reviews, info on choosing a a transportation bike, and tips on how to ride in inclement weather. Reading her blog was what REALLY got me obsessed with bicycle commuting.

    For bike safety, couldn’t recommend this site enough:

    I have a vintage (1969) Raleigh Ladies Sports 3-Speed. I love it. If you want to learn about fixing up bikes (and have some time to put into it) and don’t want to put down a lot of money up front, vintage is the way to go.
    I have to second the original poster’s warning against cruisers. You will expend much more energy on a cruiser. The way that you are positioned on the bike, the weight, and the fact that the seat is often too low to get full leg extension means it will be a little harder than other bikes. Of course, if that’s all you have to start off with, don’t let that stop you!

  19. I’m so jealous of people who can bike around. I used to do that all the time when I lived with my parents, but the place I live now is downright rural. The shortest car ride I take from home is 5 miles to the grocery store down a narrow and dangerous road, and my work is over 7 miles away across a highway bridge over a river. While I do love my current living situation, part of me looks forward to a future living place that’s a little more suburban.

  20. I like the idea, but wouldn’t try it for two reasons.

    1- I have both a bad back and a knee that is threatening to become a problem (my docs are “watching it” whatever that means. If I adjust a bike to be back friendly, it kills my knees. I have not tried recumbent because it costs two much and it leads into point 2.

    2- The drivers in my city are awful. (there was another ‘a’ word I was tempted to use) If the way they treat pedestrians (of which I frequently am one) is any indication of how they treat bike riders, it would be entirely too stressful to deal with daily. I imagine a recumbent would be worse because of the low profile.
    The concept of stopping before a crosswalk, as opposed to pulling in and blocking it for a right turn, seems to be the rule around here. Even if spots with large, “Pedestrian Crossing” signs right next to them. Don’t even think about crossing in in front of a freeway exit with a left hand turn option. Even with “walk/don’t walk” light, most cars rolls right through without looking. t one point I seriously considered toting an air horn to remind them I was there, but I figured that was opening a whole other can of road rage that I didn’t want to deal with.

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