Bicycle Commuting Questions

Ten Questions About Bicycle Commuting (Answered!)

Using a bicycle to commute to work is a viable option for many people.  Below are ten questions that often prevent people from bicycle commuting to work.  Take a look at the answers and ask yourself: "Why not commute by bicycle?"

1.  What if my job requires me to wear dress clothes or I need to bring work home?

For short rides (less than 2 miles): wear your dress clothes.  For longer rides: bring your dress clothes with you and change at work.  There are a wide array of backpacks, bike racks, and bike bags available.  Select one that allows you to carry your clothes and/or work with you.  Another option is to leave a stock of dress clothes at work on days when you drive or take the bus.  You may find that you are able to downsize the amount of work that you take home with you on days that you bike or fit the work into your bike bag.

 

2.  Doesn't biking take too much time?

For rides of less than 5 miles in urban areas biking can actually be faster than driving, plus there is no time (or money) lost parking a car.  At a leisurely pace, biking 5 miles can take less than 30 minutes...at a faster pace, even less time.  Plus, you save time by combining exercise and commuting, rather than having to take a separate trip to the gym.

 

3.  What about bicycle safety around cars?

Bike riders must drive defensively in traffic.  Generally, if a bike commuter is visible (lights, reflectors, bright clothing), behaves in a predictable way, and follows traffic laws (always ride in the direction of traffic), the commuter will be relatively safe biking in traffic.  Special cautions should be taken at intersections, major road crossings, and when passing driveways or parked vehicles.  Most bike/auto accidents occur in these types of situations, NOT when bikes and autos are traveling in the same direction.  Five hints for safety:

  • Be visible and audible.
  • Drive defensively...check behind you and signal before changing position, be ready for driver errors, be aware of hazards (like potholes, debris, or sewer grates).
  • Follow traffic laws.
  • Be predictable and always ride in the same direction as auto traffic.
  • Ride in a straight line 1 to 3 feet from the right-hand curb (riding too close to the curb encourages cars to pass too closely and leaves less space for evasive action).  When turning left, check behind, signal the lane change, and move into the center of the left-most lane.  A cyclist has the right to "take the lane" in these situations and when safety considerations require it.
 

4.  What if it rains or is cold?

Not everyone is cut out to ride in rain and/or cold weather...but in general, the elements can be easily dealt with for those who are willing.  Rainy weather will be more pleasant if the commuter invests in a Goretex jacket and pants.  Goretex material repels water, but allows sweat to evaporate.  Cold weather is less of a problem, since the bike ride will warm you with body heat after the first 5 to 10 minutes.  Essential for cold weather rides are gloves, ear warmers, and warm socks.  The commuter will often find that over-dressing in cold weather will result in a sweaty arrival.  Extra caution should be exercised when biking on wet or snowy/icy roads to prevent wheel slipping and potential accidents.  Also be aware that bicycles may be less visible to drivers in rainy or snowy conditions.  Fenders can help save your clothes in messy weather.  

A great alternative to biking on REALLY horrible winter days is the bus (call TRANSPO at (574) 233-2131 for South Bend/Mishawaka or visit the Interurban Trolley website in Elkhart County).

 

5.  What type of bike do I need?

Any type of bike can be used for bike commuting as long as it has been safety checked.  The tires should be properly inflated, the brakes in working order, the seat properly adjusted, and the wheels securely attached.  The commuter can make most of these adjustments themselves, but if you are uncertain, or if your bike has been stored for a very long time, consider taking it to a professional bike repair shop...the cost for a quick check is minimal considering the peace of mind it can provide.  A bicycle helmet is essential for bike commuting.

 

6.  What route should I take?

Bike commuters should select the most direct route on which they feel comfortable.  When riding in traffic be aware of the speed and volume of the auto traffic.  In general, on an appropriate route, cars should be able to safely occupy the same lane with bicycles, or be able to safely pass bicycles.  If there are marked bike routes in your area, these can be used as guides to possible routes to work (see Regional Bicycle Facilities Map).  Keep in mind, though, that bicycles have the right to ride on most roads (except freeways or other roads where bicycles are specifically restricted).  Use your own judgement and comfort level as a guide when selecting a route.  Avoid riding on sidewalks unless there is no other safe option.  Sidewalks set up many conflict points for bicycles with pedestrians and with autos backing out of driveways and making turning movements (riding on sidewalks, particularly in business districts, is also illegal in some areas).

 

7.  Where do I park my bike?

Ideally, your employer will have access to a sheltered, safe, bike parking area where you can lock your bike.  Alternatively, ask if you can keep your bike inside at your place of work.  In addition, some parking garages offer spaces for bicycle parking.  Invest in a good U-lock or cable lock and lock both your bike frame AND wheels to an appropriate structure.  Never lock your bike to a tree (not only will this damage the tree, it is also illegal in many areas).

 

8.  What if I'm not in shape?

Check with your physician if you are concerned or have serious health problems, but if you begin biking at a slow pace, you will likely quickly get into shape.  Bicycle commuting is not a race, take it at your own pace.

 

9.  Why bother biking?

  • Biking is GREAT, low impact, sustained cardiovascular exercise.  Physical fitness promotes good health.
  • Biking is fun and provides a great way to wake up in the morning and to wind down at the end of the day.  You'll arrive at work awake and refreshed, rather than groggy, and arrive home relaxed, rather than tense from the rush-hour traffic.
  • Biking is environmentally friendly, causing no resource depletion or air emissions (see the Partners for Clean Air page or the St. Joseph River Basin Commission page for more things that you can do for our environment).
  • Biking saves money on parking, gas, and even, perhaps, on a health club membership.
  • Did we mention that it is FUN?

If you have any questions, please contact MACOG at (574) 674-8894 or e-mail us at macogdir@macog.com.