10 Tips From Hard-Core Bike Commuters

Chris: I was a bike messenger in Chicago for a short period. I've only had a car for about one year of the past eight years, and outside of that I biked close to full time the whole time. One qualifier is that I've been totally full time (no busses or other rides) for a couple of years now.

What clothing or gear do you deem "must have?"

Ron: A good bike bag which will carry a change of clothes, tire irons, a multi-tool and a pump. If you're commuting in dark conditions, you'll need a headlight and tail light. Leave a pair of shoes, shampoo, soap and a towel at work.

My philosophy on lights is they can't be too bright. If I get hit it won't be because you couldn't see me, but rather because you probably weren't paying attention. My headlight is a Nite Rider TriNewt (580 Lumen LED) and my taillight is a DiNotte (140 Lumens).

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If your commute is over eight to10 miles, cycling clothes are much more comfortable to ride in than work clothes, so a change of clothes might be necessary for you. (Plus your co-workers will appreciate it.)

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I suggest building your commuting gear over time so you can sort out the specifics of what you need for varying weather conditions. In my case, for very cold weather a balaclava makes a huge difference. Also SealSkinz socks are great for those sub 5-degree days.

Post-ride snow.
Photo: Ron Kennedy

Chris: A: Showers Pass rain jacket: It is the most waterproof and breathable shell I've ever used. It's my outer layer from 50 F down to minus 18 F. It is great fabric and a really nice bike-specific design and fit.

B: Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires: It just stinks to get a flat when you're running late for work. So does getting flats when it's 10 degrees outside. I've gotten one flat in the two years I've been riding the Schwalbes. In addition to toughness, they also handle and corner really well, even when it's wet. That written, know that they're not cheap or light.

C: Cygolite Dual Cross Light: The light is very powerful and it's a reasonably affordable headlight. My wife says that she thinks it's a motorcycle when she sees my bike on the road.

D: My Trunkbag full of supplies: Area maps, C-wrench, a Leatherman, a compact ratcheting multi-tool, first aid kit, bike lock, patch kit, spare tube, tire boot, Road Morph (my favorite compact pump)

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What are your top five tips for people looking to start commuting to work?

Ron: 1. Figure out what's important to you, why you want to commute. In my case I have my reasons (below), but I'm not sure I'd be so consistent if I didn't feel strongly that the rewards are worth the risks.

2. Get started, don't delay.

3 Know your rights, obey the laws, and always ride defensively.

4. Be aware of the risks, but don't let them prevent you from riding.

5. Be aware of what's going on around you and try to minimize the risk when possible.

Chris: 1. Learn how to do your own basic maintenance, such as patching a tire and adjusting a derailleur or brakes.

2. Never ride on the sidewalk.

3. If you can dress to ski, you can dress to winter commute. Smartwool, Smartwool, Smartwool.

4. Always carry duplicates of any next-to-skin accessory layers such as head protection, glove liners and socks. If you have to stop for errands or mechanical problems you won't be stuck with sweaty, cold, clammy layers next to your skin.

5. A shower at work is a nice luxury, but not a necessity. The trick is to shower before you leave the house. At the end of your ride to work, take the time to spin easy for the last couple of minutes. Change out of your bike clothes as soon as you get to work and you'll feel fresh and clean all day.

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Ron Kennedy in the winter.
Photo: Brooke Kennedy

Why do you commute by bike?

Ron: A) It allows me to get consistent workouts in without taking time much time. To drive is 20 to 25 minutes and to commute by bike is only 30 to 35 minutes. I used to do what I referred to as "binge riding".? Binge riding is four- to five-hour mountain bike rides done intermittently on the weekends without any additional training during the week. The binge riding really didn't do much to keep me in shape.

B) It's good for the environment.

C) It saves money, which I can then spend on more bike stuff.

Chris: Besides the obvious environmental, financial and health benefits, I enjoy the feeling of moving through and being a part of my community. With a car, I get in a box at point A and get out of the box at point B. On a bike, I interact more with the space around me and I feel connected to the weather, the road, the scenery, the people and the ecology.

Every day, by the time I get to work, I've already spent more time outside than a lot of people get to all week. I think it's healthy to be reminded that we're all in this place (town, state, country and planet) together, and we all deserve one another's respect and understanding.

You may not aspire to be a hard-core commuter, but with a little planning perhaps you could commute to work on your bike more than you do now?

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