Freedom From the Grind: Become a Bike Commuter

Older bikes can be converted to fixed gears or single-speeds, whether they're designed for road riding or mountain biking. The rear dropouts (where the back wheel connects to the frame) determines whether it will be an easy job or one requiring a savvy mechanic. Devices such as the Surly Singleator are available if you want to turn your freewheel into a single-speed.

Extra Accessories for Commuters

What lock you need depends on where you are and how long you're staying. Sometimes, a cable is all you need for a deterrent; other times, a U-lock is needed for its security. Ideally, get something light enough to carry and always lock your bike when leaving it alone--even for a minute. Many companies are happy to accommodate bikes, providing bike lockers or secure storage areas.

Fenders keep clothes clean and dry on damp rides and can be a welcome accessory for commuters. They don't have to be heavy and made of aluminum. Many are made of plastic and designed to be attached and detached quickly.

Every commuter should have at least one blinking light. Most are designed to clip onto clothes, or come with quick-release brackets that make taking them on and off bikes a breeze. A red blinking light for the back is essential. A white blinking light for the front is useful for alerting oncoming traffic.

More: 10 Tips From Hard Core Bike Commuters

Most commuters will find a bag or rack is a good investment. Using a small bag forces you to be efficient and take only the minimum, but not everyone has that option. While some believe messenger bags are the way to go because bike messengers carry all sorts of stuff, what they don't realize is that messenger bags are designed for carrying large, oddly-shaped objects short distances. They're not always comfortable when fully loaded over longer rides. Backpacks designed for bike commuting usually are long and narrow so the bag doesn't easily shift when riding. They often have a back padding system to minimize sweat, multiple compartments and optional hydration bladders.

The Big Question

Is it best to ride in normal clothes or riding clothes? Most commuters base their decision on the distance covered. The big break seems to be at five miles. Less than five, many opt for street clothes--use some kind of band to keep pant legs from getting greasy or caught on the chain. More than five miles and it's time to get changed.

And thus do clothes beget the sweat discussion. A shower at the destination, especially if it's work, makes things easy. But there's always dressing in layers, riding easy, and doing a quick manual spritz in a sink.

The hardest thing about forsaking your car for a bike is the first ride. It won't feel right. But the more you commute, the easier it gets. Before you know it, you'll be contemplating riding to work in the cold, the rain, the snow--anything to stay away from driving. It's addictive. Luckily, it's the good kind of addictive.

More: Bike to Work: Tips for Your First Commute

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About the Author

J.P. Partland has been stage racing for 20 years; his toughest race was Ireland's Milk Ras, an eight-day race against pros and national team riders. He is the author of several books on cycling. His most recent, Tour Fever is available on Amazon, other online retailers and your local book store or bike shop.

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