Cyclocommuting is the term I use for bicycle commuting. I've been a dedicated cyclocommuter for the last 8 months now. I'm frequently asked several questions about cyclocommuting from people who are interested in getting started, have tried it once or twice, and had problems, or are simply stunned by the idea that someone would actually work-out in getting to and from their job each day. I decided to produce this write-up for those questions.

Basics needed: A bike, a route, some time. This is highly simplified of course, but these are the bare necessities.
Bike - the number one question I receive is "what type of bike should I get for cyclocommuting?" And the number one answer is always "it depends". If you are just getting started, then a hybrid bike is a good idea. The upright riding position allows you to keep see the autocommuters, and makes you slightly more visible to them as well. The low cost of your basic hybrid helps, as does the wide gear range of your typical hybrid. A mountain bike will suffice, but unless your commute route is on single track, get some skinny tires or narrow slicks. Road bikes can make a commute faster, but less comfortable, especially if you are just getting started. I alternate between a mountain bike, modified with specific gear for commuting, and a high-tech road bike.

Route - this may seem obvious, but pick a route that is not heavily trafficked. The best commutes are between two and twenty miles in length. Shorter than that, and it's quicker to walk. Longer than that and you are probably a professional cyclist and really don't need to read this. The route should be as direct as possible, but don't choose busy, congested streets over quiet, suburban roads that are a few miles longer. The best way to plan this out is to get a quality street map. Since I live in the northeast, I use the Hagstrom maps. Don't get the ones that are spiral bound, as they are a pain to use. Invariably, the route you want to plan covers several pages, and you'll quickly tire of flipping back and forth between pages. Instead, get one of the big foldout maps. Unless you are intimately familiar with all the roads between your home and work sites, plan on spending a good deal of time reviewing the maps to find just the right combination of roads. Look for smaller named roads that join two neighborhoods or subdivisions. Look for the rural routes that may be a bit longer, will take you away from the traffic. Most importantly, when you find your best route, get out and drive it. Do this at least once during non-commute hours, to familiarize yourself with the route. Drive slowly and observe carefully? Are they’re any monster hills along the route? How does the road surface look? Is there adequate space on the road for cycling? Is there a big shoulder? Are there hidden driveways? Once you have the route planned, drive the route during the same time of day that you plan on cyclocommuting. Traffic patterns change throughout the day. What may seem a horrific nightmare of traffic during the 8:00-9:00am hour, may be idyllic and tranquil at 7:00-8:00. Also, if your route takes you through neighborhoods where children are present, be aware of the local school bus schedules! Nothing is worse than being stuck behind a diesel-belching school bus full of kids throwing crap at you at 6:30 in the morning. Trust me. Spend at least a week traveling the route by car. Note the time it takes you via automobile.

Time - unless your name is Lance Armstrong, you are going to spend more time on the bike during the commute than by car. I'm lucky in that my cyclocommute route is the same as my autocommute. My basic route is 12.75 rural and suburban miles door to door. This drive takes me about 30 minutes at the 7:30-8:00 hour. The cyclocommute takes me around 43-45 minutes. My average speed on the bike is between 15 and 17 mph, depending on which bike I use. So for me, the difference in time is minimal. In fact, if I factor in the time I spend showering, changing and eating breakfast, the two commutes are almost identical in time. When I drive, I get up at 7:00 and get to my desk at about 8:30. When I cyclocommute, I get up at 5:30, and am at my desk by about 7:15. The extra 15 minutes is due to the stretching I do before I ride. I'm not exactly sure why the times are so similar. Possibly I'm extra efficient in my grooming when I'm at work. Possibly some other force of nature. In any case, it's a good thing.

Extra Equipment – over the last 8 months, I’ve picked up some items that have made a difference in my cyclocommute:
Panniers – I got started cyclocommuting on a modified mountain bike. I added a rear rack, with a trunk style bag. The bag wasn’t big enough to hold my clothes, so I purchased some rear panniers. These are big enough to hold a change of clothing, my lunch, a lightweight laptop computer, bike tools and spare tubes, with room left over. They are quickly removable from the bike and don’t take up too much space in my cubicle at work. The downside is that I tend to over pack them, taking on all sorts of unnecessary stuff. This makes the bike, heavy and a little sluggish to handle. Out-of-the-saddle climbing is a little difficult as well. The upside is that pedaling a heavy bike for several months does wonders for your fitness

Lights - I purchased a top-quality, single bulb, rechargeable headlight for the commute. My cyclocommuting career started in the late fall of 2000, just before daylight savings time ended. The headlight made all the difference during the long dark morning commutes during the winter. Even now, in the spring of 2001, I often use the light as another method of being seen by the autocommuters. I have also purchased multiple tail lights. The idea behind multiple lights is to purchase different models, with different flashing styles. If you mount them in different locations on the bike (under the seat, on the seat-stays, on a waist-band of a backpack etc) and set them all to a different flash mode, you are more easily seen from the rear.

Reflective Clothing. For Christmas 2000 my wife gave me a jacket, vest and pair of tights with the “Illuminite” finish. These are highly reflective materials, and can be seen by auto headlights a long way off. They don’t breathe all that well, but they do keep off the moisture if it’s foggy or drizzly out. These are from Performance Bike.

Arm Warmers – During the early spring season, it sucks to have to bundle up in a jacket and tights each morning, only to have to schlep the stuff home in the afternoon cause it’s too warm to wear them. Tights can be balled up small enough, but all my cycling jackets take up too much space in the panniers or backpack. Arm warmers are the key. They don’t take up much room in the bags, keep your arms warm and dry, and look really cool.

Multi-tool – Carrying a toolset is required for cyclocommuting. It’s not a question of IF you’ll break down, but only a matter of WHEN. Having a good toolset can spell the difference between making it to work a little late, or having a long walk home to get the car. I’m a confirmed multi-tool junkie. I carry a Topeak “McGuyver” multi-tool. This sucker has all the right sizes of allen wrenches, several screwdrivers, 8, 9, and 10mm box wrenches, pliers, tweezers, scissors and the obligatory fish scaler. It also has a fork and knife set, for trailside munchies, as well as a built in tire-iron and chain removal tool. All in a small pouch, 2x3x4 inches or so.

Backpack – The first few weeks that I cyclocommuted, I carried a backpack with my clothes and other accoutrements. This was just your normal, everyday students book bag style backpack. It sucked. That’s when I went to the panniers. However, now that I leave my clothes at work, I didn’t want to carry the panniers for the few items I carry, and wanted to be able to alternate between the mountain bike and my high-tech road bike. I tried several other backpacks, but none of them were what I wanted. I finally found backpack nirvana in the Vaude Splash-15 pack. Vaude has a line of backpacks that use a frame designed to keep most of the pack surface off your back, creating airflow to keep you cool. Several models also have hydration bag holders built in. The Splash 15 was, for me, the best compromise between size, storage and weight. It has many compartments for tools and such, a large main compartment for a complete change of clothes, a helmet holder and rain cover. Perfect for the cyclocommuter. The pack sits up high on the back, which took some getting used to, and if you use the hydration bladder, you’ll need to be aware that condensation on the bladder will make anything in the main compartment damp.

Lightweight fenders – If you get into cyclocommuting, chances are that you’ll end up riding in wet weather. You can always tell a dedicated cyclocommuter by the dark stain straight up the back of any jacket that he or she may wear from the wet crap thrown up by the rear wheel. I don’t advocate riding in a downpour, however you can ride comfortably in damp weather, and avoid the signature stain if you have fenders on the bike. On my modified mountain bike I have plastic fenders that are easily removable. I’ve ridden in really wet weather, and have come home reasonably dry.

Gloves – I now own four different pairs of bicycling gloves. My normal fingerless gloves good down to about 55f or so; a lightweight cotton glove that goes under the fingerless gloves, good down to about 45f or so; a middleweight full-finger glove that is good to about 30f and an insulated waterproof glove that is good below 30f, and makes a great all around winter glove as well. Warm hands are the key to happiness.

Of course, you don’t need ANY of this to make a successful cyclocommuter. All you really need is a bike, and the desire to ride. Those are the only two mandatory components.

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