Looking for some commuting tips
On another forum there were a lot of discussions about commuting, and I put this together:
AustinBike.com - A Mountain Biker's Take on Commuting
In it I pulled together all of the reviews that I have done and knowledge that I have picked up so far.
I am looking for any additional tips or info that I can pass along. If there is anything that might be a good add, let me know. Also, the audience is in Austin, so we don't have snow or ice, we do get down into the 40's and occasionally 30's, and I have ridden home in triple digits.
This is advice I would give in addition to what you've already added.
Bike – They make commuter bikes for a reason - they're specifically designed for the task at hand. Most of these come with internal gear options; those are pretty maintenance free. Commuter bikes go one of two ways: getting the best bike you can afford (lots of commute miles) or the cheapest bike you can find that will do the job (fewer commuter miles). I fall in to the "Lots of commuter miles" category, so I have a kick ass bike I use for commuting as well as other stuff. I too used a SS for the longest time, and recommend that. Disk brakes are also a very good idea, as you won't wear through rims as frequently. Anything heavy duty is fine, but I generally steer away from higher end drivetrain components. Sora/Tiagra/105 is good, Ultegra/Dura-Ace is less good because these parts are going to get exposed to all kinds of nastiness, and you don't want to be shelling out $134 every time you need a new chain and cassette (like I did for my SRAM Force).
Best $$$ bike generic fast bike I've seen for commuting so far is the Civia Bryant disk alfine belt drive, fitted with fenders & a rack. Cheapest one I've seen? $50 yard sale bike.
Other desirable features that are definitely a plus? Can take a 700x28 tire or larger, can fit fenders, generator hub powered front light.
Best feature of my commuter bike? Generator hub for sure. I never have to remember to charge my front light. See my notes on the taillight too.
Rack – The only thing I'll say with racks is if you have decently sized feet, you want to try them with the bags on (and the bags padded adequately so they're full of stuff) before you buy. I have EU-47 shoes, so I heel strike bags on bikes with short chainstays. This can be solved by using a different rack, one that holds everything further back. Most racks have a weight rating too. Seat post clamp racks don't work with carbon fiber seat posts. If it looks like you're going to hit the bags with your heels (or if it's close), get a different rack.
Personally, I use a backpack and pack light.
Pack – Any pack will do the job; good ones will do the job better. Pain points with packs are carrying them ("does it have handles to carry it?"), waterproofing ("Is it waterproof? Will it still be waterproof in 2 years?"), durability ("will it last 2 years?"), getting the rack on and off the bike (Ortlieb use a handle integrated in to the mounting system), whether it will stay on the bike (some lower end ones use hooks, and when hopping a curb things fall off) and price. Generally, you get what you pay for. Ortlieb and Arkel make some of the best packs around. Go check some out and see why they are the best.
Headlight – Headlights fall in to two categories - to be seen and to see. I generally recommend the "to see" lights. Most usage patterns are either on the road or on shared bike trails. On the roads, flashing patterns attract attention, but are difficult for drivers to judge distance (better is to have one flashing, one solid on). On the trails, you'll earn the ire of other people with flashing lights - solid on, but not so bright you damage their eyesight too, otherwise again - the complaining.
A good headlight will have a cutoff in the beam pattern so as not to blind oncoming riders, be bright enough for you to see by, be rechargeable without using any proprietary chargers, and have enough battery life to get you through at least 3 commutes (because inevitably, you will forget to charge them every now and then). A good example is the Light & Motion Urban 500. It's small, light, something like 507 lumens, USB rechargable and has decent battery life.
Worth mentioning are helmet lights. I like the Vis360 helmet lights. Ignore the hype of side visibility, that's utter cr*p, but the Vis360 is a nice all-in-one package. Even better, because it's on the helmet, if you don't want to strip the lights off your bike every time you park it you can just take your helmet with you. Being able to remove your lights easily and quickly may be of importance if your bike is likely to get stripped while you're at work.
Taillight – Check your local laws for tail lights. Some jurisdictions require lights, some don't but require reflectors. Again, a lot of the criteria for headlights follows here, right down to flashing. Some tail lights, like the PDW Radbot 1000, come with integrated reflectors and a "solid on" burn time on 2xAAA batteries of 20-30 hours. The lights in Seattle must be visible to 500 ft from the rear, but 1000 ft is better. On a dark night, you might be able to determine if you can be seen by riding past a reflective surface street sign, and stopping 500+ ft down the road - if you can see your tail light reflection being bounced off the street sign, your light is visible from that distance.
Tires – Puncture protection ftw. 29er refers to a marketing term to describe wider profile 700C rims used for MTB only, so if you have a 29er, you can generally run some of the wider touring tires which are available in puncture resistant slicks, where the size you can use will only be limited by the width of your rims (guideline: min size = 1.5x rim width). This depends largely on your road surface and riding style, but I've found 700x28-32's to be pretty popular with commuters in pothole ridden Seattle as a good compromise between speed and comfort for dedicated commuters. A great commuting tire in my opinion is the Schwalbe Marathon line. They have reflective sidewalls, a puncture resistant strip, and although they weigh a lot I did run a set of Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires for 10,000 miles without a flat. I'm currently running their slightly higher end Marathon Supreme's.
Brakes – Whatever you get, make sure they're good. I have disk brakes because we get a lot of crud on the roads around here, and rim brakes were wearing through my rims at a rate of 1 wheel every winter. In drier areas where rain and grit won't get on to your rims, rim braking would be my choice - it's lighter, simpler, uses easy to find brake pads, and doesn't have heat dissipation issues on long descents.
Clothing – Clothing is personal preference, but if you're going to put in moderate effort a good guideline is "what would you wear if you were standing still and it were 10ºF warmer?" Wool socks and layering will get you most of the way through your commute all year round. Start off with what you have, then as you find stuff not working, then look in to bike specific gear.
Showers - if you have access to showers, AWESOME. If not, baby wipes will do the trick. You can buy them in bulk too. There are some dedicated wipes (e.g. Action wipes) but replenishing your supply will be more difficult.
Securing the bike – Since you're commuting, you can just leave your locks at the office rather than cart them to and forth each day - if you do this, be sure to talk to your boss about whether it would be OK to leave the bike inside the building somewhere for a few days if needed, as someone may come and cut the lock after hours, leaving you luckless and lockless at the end of your journey. If that were to happen, at least your boss will be cool with it until you can buy a new lock.
Where possible, park the bike behind someone who controls access, and avoid parking it on the street.
Note that many cities have laws against locking your bike to utility pipes and trees, but in the case of trees the division responsible for enforcement is usually so underfunded they won't cut the lock. Also learn how to lock the bike properly.
Toolkit – Tire levers, patch kit, multi-tool, pump (an actual pump, not CO2) and a spare tube. I also recommend an energy bar, a bus pass and $5 worth of cash. I stash mine in a part of my bag that I don't use very often, so I never remove it. You can use the energy bar wrapper to boot a tire if you hit a particularly nasty bit of glass. You can eat the energy bar if you need some energy. You can buy more food with the $5, or catch a bus with it. If you need to get moving quickly, you can just switch the tubes instead of patching it there on the spot (allowing you to patch the tube in the comfort of your living room, rather than out in the cold, dark, rainy night). For my patch kits, I use glue but I also tend to put one or two glueless patches in there as well. The glue patches work better, but the glue does dry out. I also carry 1 set of spare disk brake pads, a master link for my chain and a spare tire valve in a used up patch kit container, because at one point or another I've had each of those fail on me. I'd only do this if you're commuting long distances out in the boonies like I am.
Very useful tips! What's not in the list however are the different dangerous traffic scenarios that bike commuters should be aware of like:
Biking through road tunnels
- the tunnel I go through has high vehicular traffic and curves to the left. I position my bike outside of the curve (right most lane) when it curves to left and position my bike to the left (left most lane) when it curves to the right. The tunnel btw is one way traffic so I don't worry about oncoming vehicles.
Biking over flyovers
- when you're in the middle of the crest of a flyover, for brief few seconds, cars behind you may not be able to see you while they are going up the flyover. That's why I prefer to put blinkers on my helmet and not just below the saddle.
- I'm pretty redundant on the visibility and I not just have blinkers on my bike frame, but most importantly I have a blinker on my helmet. I keep the blinkers on even when riding in daylight. I also have reflector stripes on my shoes and shirt.
- as much as possible I try to keep up with the pace of the traffic. In my experience, when the cars behind me see me making the effort to keep up with the pace, I seldom get honked at.
Didn't remember seeing it, so I'll add in;
Practice your commute before committing to your commute. That is to say, ride the route under the same conditions you will be commuting in, figure out the logistics, get a realistic time frame for travel + extra leeway, and have a good idea of alternate routing in case of emergency/last minute changes. No reason to jeopardize your attendance and standing at work for not doing a little homework before hand.
The ridiculousness of cycling clothes increase exponentially in relation to the distance from your bicycle.
+rep for you. This is an often-overlooked piece of advice from us folks who've been commuting for a while. You're just naturally early after doing it for a while.
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