Bike Commuting Tips from Two Radical Biker Chicks
by Lauren Steinhardt on 14 May, 2015
Photo by Jen Downer/She Saw Things Photography
Rejoice! Spring is upon us! Flowers are blooming and there's bikes, bikes everywhere. Bicycling is a great way to get outside, get around town, and get some exercise, all while reducing your carbon footprint.
Though we love nothing more than hopping on a bike and feeling the breeze on a hot sunny day, there is a bit of a learning curve when it comes to biking as transportation. We asked our own intrepid Queen Bee, Rebecca Pearcy, to give us some tips she has gathered from her time as a dedicated, all-weather bike commuter. We also hit up Leah Benson of Gladys Bikes for her advice. If you haven’t been in to Gladys Bikes, it’s definitely worth a stop. They focus on fit and comfort for women riders, and their legendary saddle library is not to be missed. If you've always wanted to try commuting by bicycle but weren't sure where to start, these two have got you covered.
Dress Right for the Occasion
I like to dress for the ride and my day and not have to change clothes after getting to work. I organize my closet with items that I can wear comfortably while riding all grouped together so if I'm riding to work that day, I can choose more easily. My favorite riding outfits tend to be a tunic (like these from Cut Loose clothing, available in the QB shop), leggings, boots or shoes that are comfortable to ride in (tending to be flat-soled shoes). Other good options are short, stretchy skirts, full skirts, or pants with a good amount of stretch in them. I love lightweight merino wool clothing for riding (and just living) in the Northwest. It is so comfortable, breathes really well, is genius at moderating your body temperature and is beautiful to boot.
Speaking of moderating body temp, layers are an essential component of any cycling wardrobe. The weather changes so much here that I like to be prepared for anything. In the winter, my riding uniform includes a lightweight wool hood worn under my helmet, waterproof boots, gloves, sunglasses, and an Otto Urban Poncho in hot pink for high visibility. In the fairer seasons, I wear a more compact Showers Pass waterproof jacket if needed, and switch to fingerless gloves. One of my favorite times of year is the first warm weather of Spring when I can start riding without a jacket on. Heaven.
Of course I rock the Queen Bee waterproof panniers nearly every time I ride. There's plenty of room to pack my goods for the day and they are easy to put on and take off. I prefer to use panniers rather than riding with a backpack. The bike is heavier but I don't have a sweaty back after my ride.
Buy, install, and use bike lights on the front and back of your bike. I also highly recommend a helmet light. I got mine from Portland Design Works and I love it. It is extremely bright, and it shines where I’m looking (as opposed to the bike light which shines where the bike is going). It is highly useful in the darker months, makes me much more visible to drivers and I can shine the light directly at a driver if I’m not sure that they see me.
Go For It!
Bike riding should be fun! Take your time, enjoy the ride, and smell the flowers as you go. Try different routes til you find one that is most comfortable and efficient for you. The more you ride, the more confident you will be. I was pretty nervous about bike commuting in the city, but recognized that if I didn't just DO it, I wouldn't overcome my fears. I've never been an athletic or super outdoorsy person, so it was a big leap for me to start bike commuting. Now, it is one of my most favorite things to do and it has become a big part of my life. I much prefer to ride my bike than drive the car. As a busy mom and business owner, bike commuting offers some precious me-time when I can think, clear my head, get some exercise and fresh air, and get from point A to B in a way that has much less impact on our environment.~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
- Get a bike you love. Maybe it's the sparkly purple paint job, or the gears that shift so smoothly, the cushy brown tires or the buttery leather saddle. The most important part of riding a bike is having a bike that you love to ride, one that makes you grin like a kid when you ride it. Many people will have many opinions about what the perfect bike for commuting is, but ultimately, the best bike is the one that YOU enjoy riding the most.
- Make it easy on yourself. When I was in my early 20s I commuted 8 miles each way to work on an old road bike that was too large for me and didn't have the ability to accept racks or fenders, instead carrying a heavy, uncomfortable backpack and routinely showing up with a long tail of road grit up my back. Why? Perhaps I thought it made me look cool? Now in my 30s, however, I'm all about making commuting comfortable and accessible for myself with racks and panniers that keep bags off my back, and fenders to keep me dry. Do yourself a favor and make it easy on yourself too.
- Make sure your bike fits you. There's a surprisingly common misconception out there that riding a bike is supposed to hurt a little. I'm happy to dispel that myth. Sure, you might feel a bit like you've stepped off a horse after you get back in the saddle for the first time. But, if you're feeling ongoing pain in the back, neck, knees, butt...anywhere, it likely means that your bike is not set up properly for your body and it might make sense to visit a bicycle fitter. Getting a fit is like taking your bike to a tailor, where they make all sorts of changes to ensure your bike fits you *just so*. It will not only make your bike easier and more enjoyable to ride, but it will protect and support your body to ensure you're able to keep on comfortably riding your bike for years to come.
- Ease into it. If you've never commuted by bike before it can be a big transition. Give yourself time to find a route you enjoy, and feel safe on. Start with one or two days a week and go from there -- don't feel pressured to go all in immediately.
- Find a shop that you like. Unless you're one of the rare folks who has a full bicycle shop in your basement, you'll probably need some help from time to time in order to keep your bike rolling. Your ideal bike shop is an extension of your biking community, and acts an important part of keeping you on the road by offering you on-going advice and making sure your bike is in great condition. Just as it makes sense to find a doctor (or other practitioner) that you jive with, it's important to find a shop that fits your fancy and is a comfortable place for you to be. Once you find one that you enjoy, stop in at least two times per year for a check-up -- it's a great way to know how your bike is doing and if it needs any work.
- Accept that your hair might not look perfect. Folks (of all gender expressions) seem to worry about riding a bike because wearing a helmet is going to make their hair look bad. There are a lot of opinions about how to curb and prevent this 'helmet hair', but here's my humble offering: Perhaps the best answer is just to care a little bit less. My curls are perhaps a bit flattened when I arrive to work, but my endorphins are flowing throughout the day and I've got legs of steel. I'll take that over a perfectly manicured hairdo any day.
About: Leah Benson is the owner of Gladys Bikes, a women-focused bike shop in Portland that's committed to getting more people on bikes they'll love to ride. (www.gladysbikes.com)