Four times a year I teach a workshop called "Be a Bike Commuter" for the local university's community education program. It's mostly based on my experience and information from the League of American Bicyclists. I am looking at making some changes for the next session and am wondering, from other experienced commuters, what things you wish someone would have told you that would have made your first few commutes more successful and/or enjoyable.
Get Quality Equipment!
Puncture-resistant tires. Schwalbe Marathon, Continental Gatorskin, or Specialized Armadillo. Those are the three most popular puncture-resistant tire models but there are many others. I like the Schwalbe Marathons because they have reflective sidewalls, providing nighttime side visibility to car drivers. I get very, very few flats on them and they last a long time.
Bright headlights and taillights. Really super bright LED lights are available now that don't cost that much money. Totally worth it because bright lights cause many more car drivers to yield to you, and sooner. Almost every close call I have ever had with a car happened at night when I was riding without lights. I have noticed some people using bright blinking lights (both front and rear) even in the daytime and that increases their visibility even more. Choose some based on the excellent reviews available at http://bicycles.blogoverflow.com/2013/09/the-2013-headlights-review/ and http://bicycles.blogoverflow.com/2013/09/best-bike-tail-lights-review/.
A rear-view mirror. I use the "Take A Look Cyclist View Mirror" that clips onto my glasses because it's large and rectangular, which lets me see more of the road behind me. If you don't have glasses then get some and clip these onto them. The mirror is distracting and annoying for the first week or so but then you get used to it. Having a rear-view mirror is an amazingly HUGE improvement - it's much less stressful to ride because you can see all the cars coming up behind you, and you can control that traffic by adjusting your lateral position in a way that's impossible if you have to turn your head to see behind.
Fenders and waterproof clothes. Fenders are cheap and they reduce the amount of water that splashes onto you - especially onto your feet - by a huge amount. Get fenders that cover as much of your wheels as possible, not those crappy "road bike" clip-on kind. Waterproof clothes that are also comfortable (breathable) are not cheap, but improve your comfort immensely. I like Gore-Tex stuff and think it really works (it's waterproof and makes you much less sweaty than cheap nylon rain stuff.
Help students to become aware of Misleading Marketing
It can be hard for students to understand the market, let alone marketing. Either they are buying new bikes or second-hand bikes, you could cover some historical and not-so-historical marketing dishonesty such as:
- pepsi-coco-tire-sizing-marketing-dishonesty more here
- particularly with second-hand bikes warn them about dishonest Frame Sizing with older products more here.
I feel the topic is relevant to young cyclists because some of them may need to deal with the problems in selecting a bike or tires. Some manufacturers may want to make their products more attractive than they really are, false understanding of their products may result in poor choices by students. The first commuting should be an informed choice, not to tarnish commuting community with false or misguided information.
Talk to your workmates/classmates
You might find some others that cycle, and they can give you tips about where to keep your bike, nearby showers or lockers, and local routes. If enough of you join forces you could lobby for some company change rooms. :) And you will know who to talk to if one day you need to borrow a spanner at work or something.
The first thing I noticed was that your bottom gets sore pretty fast, and after a while it becomes almost unbearable. I tried buying a new, cushier saddle, but practically the only solution to this is padded cycling shorts (or tights in colder weather). If you’re willing to sacrifice a bit of convenience when changing for some added comfort, I’d highly recommend bib shorts. Maybe it’s just me, but the regular shorts continually need to be adjusted over the course of a long ride, while bib shorts are largely “put it on and forget about it.”
Most of my other tips from a blog post I once wrote on this topic have already been mentioned.
GET A HELMET!
As someone who recently started commuting about 16 km per day, I can really recommend you to get a helmet. I've been working for about a year now at that place and at first I went with the bike. I managed fine the first 5 months, but I was involved in 3 accidents with damage to either me or my bike in the 4 months afterwards. the first time, a car trying to overtake me came too close and sideswiped me, leaving me with scratches on my hand and knee and a derailed chain. the second time, I got my rear tire bent on a busy intersection when I thought it was safe (a woman from the right who I thought was driving slowly thought I'd not cross. The third time, I took a left turn without noticing the oncoming mailman, breaking my front light and making my front tire flat. I got a helmet after the first accident. You might only need it once in your lifetime, but you'll be glad you got it when that time comes.