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Commuting by Bike: Getting Started

Curious as to how you should go about setting yourself up to travel more frequently by your favorite two-wheeled companion? Come on in and get an idea of the planning and execution required to get up and get going on your new commute!

The Case for More Cycling Commuters

One of the key question that is being addressed by many city transportation councils is how to get more people out of their cars and utilizing alternative methods of transportation. Here in Los Angeles there has been a heavy shift in pushing for an increase in the number of cycling commuters by making the city more bike friendly via repainting of many roads within the city limits to include designated bike lanes. Adding lines to the roads is only a phenotypic change to our streets however, and with obesity, diabetes, and other illnesses associated with a lack of physical activity on the rise NOW is the time to shift the paradigm of what a healthy city can be. Of course commuting to work or other destinations via bike is not feasible for everyone; it is a possibility for many. So whether or not you decide to bike twice a day, once a month, or are just reading to become more aware about the outside world, I salute you for at least taking the time to learn about the cycling community.


Dusting Off 'Ole Rusty

Typically one of the first things you’re going to want to do is pull your bike out of the garage and give it a nice spring tune-up and cleaning. If it is in really bad condition or you don’t feel up to the mechanical tasks required in a tune up I recommend bringing it to your local bike shop and getting to know the neighbors. If you are serious about switching over to commuting one or more times a week via bicycle it will be a benefit to get to know the experts in your area.

Also, if you are planning to leave the house before the sun is up you should invest in bike lights and reflective materials. Some states require all vehicles on the road to have lights or reflectors when it’s dark; this will make you more safe and visible to others.

Plot Your Route


Hop online and utilize sites such as- (use the bike guy!)

Riding distances between 5-8 miles one way are very manageable for those starting out. If your commute is going to be greater than 10 miles each way or contain steep inclines/declines I advise working up to the distance over a couple weeks until its manageable.



  • Make up two or three feasible routes and either print them off or jot them down.
  • Do a dry run using your car or bike without time constraints so that you can analyze whether or not you need to make modifications and gauge the time it will take you to get to work or school.
  • Plan on arriving at least 15-30 minutes before you normally would.
  • This will allow you to cool down, freshen up in the bathroom, get changed into your work clothes, and let you reflect on the morning ride.

Days Leading Up To Your First Commute

Practice getting your gear and work supplies together to get an idea of how much extra time you might need to tack on in the morning. The best way to gauge this is to start from scratch and utilize the old stopwatch. Over time the routine will evolve as you figure out what works best for you and your natural morning flow.


My method is typically staging my departure the night before by putting my lunch in the fridge (lock and lock Tupperware work wonderfully), folding and placing my work/lab clothes towards the back of my messenger bag (this helps in cushioning the rub that my laptop usually instigates), placing my keys, helmet, and gloves near the door of the apartment, and most importantly setting the coffeemaker to finish brewing right as I roll out of bed.


Once you’ve done this dry run at least once or twice, it’s time to take the plunge.

The Big Day


The most important thing to do on your first commute by bike is give yourself plenty of time. Honestly, you should take your estimated prep/travel time and double it. This way if you somehow get lost along the way, are stuck waiting for a train to pass by, or run into mechanical trouble you’ll have plenty of time to recover and still be early.



Before you set out make sure your put something in your stomach. My morning recommendation is a hot bowl of oatmeal with honey paired with a fresh cup of coffee. If time is short a cliff bar or cereal will do the trick.



Once you have left the house and locked the door give your bike a quick once-over to make sure nothing drastic is missing or out of place. Secure your helmet on your skull, turn on your lights, and lay some rubber. You’ll be there in no time and will have already given yourself a decent workout for the day!


Reap the benefits!

If you are someone that typically needs to include creativity or original thinking in your daily tasks you will notice that giving yourself a morning bike ride will jump start your brain more than usual and allow time to mentally organize what you need to do. Additionally you may find yourself much more perky and alert than your co-workers as they stumble in half asleep.


Final Thoughts

Some small details, recommendations, and information that will be discussed in detail with follow up posts:

Bike Safety-

  1. Wear a helmet; your brain is something you cannot afford to lose.
  2. Always follow the rules of the road.
  3. Ride with the flow of traffic, utilize hand signals, and be very aware of your surroundings.
  4. Be aware of people that have just parked their cars and give yourself enough room to avoid getting “door prized.”
  5. Don’t be an idiot and run lights or ignore signs; it's not safe, it will get your pulled over, and makes the rest of us look bad.

Tuning Up A Bike Yourself-

  1. Do not use classic WD-40, it is NOT a true lubricant. Get yourself some Finish Line or Greased Lightning from the bike shop or home depot.
  2. Make sure your brakes are not worn out and can provide a safe and complete stop.
  3. Inflate your tires to the maximum recommended PSI, it will improve your ride dramatically.

Emergency Kits-

  1. I always carry a mobile first aid kit with me that has an ice-pack, some alcohol swabs, band aids, and emergency pain medication. I try to keep a Kind bar stocked incase my blood sugar is low, and it also has my medical information inside (as does my wallet).
  2. You should get a seat-pack and store an extra tube, patch kit, and 10-20 dollars in small bills incase you need to take a taxi or bus (place in a bag if locking up outside).

Perspiration And The Workplace-

  1. Some witch-hazel on a towel can be your best friend for freshening up.
  2. Make up a mini dopp kit that has a bottle of hotel shampoo, hand lotion, and a small stick of deodorant and keep it in your desk or bag.
  3. Always try to have a clean towel or chamois that you switch out once or twice a week depending on the weather.
  4. Keep an extra set of clothes at the workplace; it never hurts to be prepared.

Depending on your weight and route elevations, biking at a speed of 12-14 MPH will result in burning ~450 calories for a one-hour commute.


Photo's taken the morning of 4/26/13

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