Home > The ULTIMATE Guide To Bike Commuting (Tips For A Better Ride To Work)

The ULTIMATE Guide To Bike Commuting (Tips For A Better Ride To Work)

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Millions of commuters use bicycles as a means of transport. Cycling is good for your wallet and the environment.

Perhaps you’re already a regular cyclist and are looking for ways to make your commute more efficient and comfortable? Or maybe you’re a complete newbie and just want to try out riding to work?

Riding a bike regularly to work or college might seem a little daunting at first. But with the right know-how and some tweaks to your daily routine, it soon becomes easy and something you’ll end up looking forward to each day!

Here are some tips to help get you on your way…

Guide to bike commuting

Why Use Your Bike For Commuting?

Committing to a daily bike commute heralds a positive lifestyle change. It benefits you in several ways. So, what precisely are the benefits of bike commuting?

Firstly, it improves your aerobic fitness, which has a positive influence on your cardiovascular health, benefiting your heart, lungs and blood vessels.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends 150-300 minutes of moderate exercise per week for adults aged between 18 and 64. Increasing the duration or the intensity offers additional health benefits.

Biking into work significantly reduces your risk of contracting heart disease, some cancers, and type 2 diabetes. It helps with weight loss, too.

Bike commuting also benefits your mental health. How? Exercise releases mood-lifting brain chemicals such as endorphins and neurotransmitters. It reduces stress-hormone levels in the body, like cortisol and adrenaline.

Exposure to natural light enhances mood, too. This is something Florence Nightingale first perceived in the hellish conditions she nursed in during the 19th century.

Other benefits of bike commuting include the money it’ll save you in fuel or public-transport costs and the positive contribution you’ll be making towards a cleaner environment. Cycling reduces your carbon footprint!

Overcoming The Weather

A basic concern for anyone contemplating bike commutes is the weather. This might affect the clothes you wear on the bike and the equipment you use.

In hot or cold weather, the challenge always lies in maintaining safe bodily temperatures. During extreme heat, for instance, it can be hard to keep your core temperature at its optimum 98.6°F (37°C).

Most bike commutes are so short that you’re unlikely to suffer any health problems from overheating. Nonetheless, be wary if you begin feeling faint, dizzy or nauseous. This can signify heat exhaustion, which should cause you to stop and rest in shade.

Hot Summer Weather

If you’re bike commuting in hot weather, be sure to drink on the bike and hydrate properly when you’re off it. Heat exhaustion can turn into more dangerous heatstroke if you ignore the feeling of being unwell. Heatstroke is a medical emergency.

If your core temperature rises to around 100-102°F (38-39°C), you may suffer from heat exhaustion. At 104°F (40°C) or above, you are likely to have heatstroke. One indication of the latter is a complete cessation of sweating. At that point, call for help!

Cold Winter Weather

When bike commuting in winter, you need to be insulated with warm clothing at the very least. Cycling in wet clothes is uncomfortable, but it’s of secondary importance as long as you stay warm.

Riding a bike creates a wind-chill effect. This doesn’t alter the actual air temperature, but it can make you lose heat at a much faster rate than would normally occur. This, in turn, hastens the possibility of hypothermia.

Bike commuting in extremely low temperatures (i.e., below freezing) becomes hazardous even over short distances if your skin is exposed. It can cause frostbite, accelerated by wind chill. Knowing all this stuff helps you defend against it!

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Types Of Commuting Bikes

If we cut to the chase, you can use any type of bike to commute on.

Urban Commuter

For sheer practicality, an urban commuter bike is hard to beat. After all, it’s designed for the job. This is a bike that usually has an adequate set of gears for city riding, as well as handy commuting features built-in like fenders and racks.

Hybrid and Road Bikes

Over longer commutes, sportier bikes like hybrids or road bikes come into their own. A road bike is designed to be fast and efficient on smooth surfaces, so it’s a good option if you’re planning on riding more than a few miles a day.

Touring Bikes

If you intend to carry a lot of stuff on your bike commute, a touring bike is a wise choice. Its whole geometry and handling are based on the expectation of bearing extra weight at the front and rear.

Gravel and CX Bikes

Gravel bikes and cyclocross (CX) bikes are also great, especially if you want to ride some trails as well as paved surfaces into work. CX bikes are relatively rare in their purest form, but gravel bikes are popular on the modern bike market.

Mountain Bikes

With mountain bikes, the ideal type for most commutes is a hardtail. Even then, you may want to lock out the front-fork suspension. A full-suspension MTB is unnecessarily heavy on roads and makes your riding less efficient. But still, it’ll get you to work.

Fixies And Cruisers

Any other bike types you can think of, like cruisers, single-speed bikes and even recumbents, are all good for commuting and have their pros and cons.

Maybe Not BMX

Objectively, the least practical bikes for commuting are probably BMXs, but even they’re fine if your commute is very short or if you adapt the bike somewhat.

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cyclist on their way to work on a commute.

How To Carry Your Gear

Use A Cargo Rack

Most commuters either carry their work gear in a backpack or inside a pannier mounted to a cargo rack. Usually, the cargo rack will be at the rear of the bike, but front-mounted panniers are also possible.

A Backpack for Cycling

The beauty of a bike commuter backpack lies in its simplicity. You don’t need to fix extra things to the bike or worry about attaching and detaching stuff. It’s ideal for minimalistic road-bike riders.

Cycling-specific backpacks are worth looking out for, as these will usually be anatomically shaped to account for the curved spine of the cyclist.

One downside of a backpack is that many of them don’t allow your back to adequately breathe, so you may arrive to work with a sweat patch between your shoulders. This is where bike commuting panniers come in.

Panniers or Other Bags On The Bike

If you take the trouble to fit a rear rack and panniers to your bike, you no longer have to personally bear the weight of all your gear. Admittedly, it’ll still weigh you down on hill climbs, but it won’t be on your back.

Other ways to carry stuff into work include a handlebar-mounted basket or a frame bag attached to the top tube of your bike. These won’t usually carry loads of stuff, but you can fit a few essentials and maybe your lunch inside them.

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What Clothes To Wear

The first fashion choice you face as a new bike commuter is whether you want to go all-in and wear sporty close-fitting Lycra, or just wear “normal” clothing, albeit perhaps with some cycling-specific features.

It’s common if you’re not a cyclist to be self-conscious about wearing body-hugging attire. There’s no pressure to do so, either; you’re still getting exercise even if you ride to work in jeans and a t-shirt. Choose bike commuting clothes you’re comfortable with.

Clothes that are designed for cycling, whether athletic or casual, will make you more efficient and more comfortable on the bike.

Even if you go casual, what you should avoid is materials that absorb sweat and are poor at wicking it, like cotton, which subsequently takes ages to dry. Good materials for cycling include polyester and Merino wool.

Of course, you also have to tailor your clothes to the season, so you need light, breathable clothes during summer and insulated, windproof gear in the winter. Windproof also means water-resistant.

A winter wardrobe might include thermal bib tights or bike pants, a windproof bike commuting jacket, a base layer and/or jersey, winter socks, gloves, and perhaps winter shoes or thermal shoe covers.

In summer, if you dare, pare down your kit to cycling shorts, a short-sleeved jersey, socks and shoes. A pair of fingerless mitts will protect your hands should you crash. Glasses are useful in all seasons to keep bugs and dust out of your eyes.

Water-resistant clothing is generally better than “waterproof” stuff in terms of breathability, especially at lower price points. You don’t want to buy waterproof attire if you’re sweating buckets inside it within seconds.

More than anything: don’t feel pressured or put off by clothing choices. Biking clothes exist to suit all tastes and confidence levels.

Regardless of whether you think they’re cool or not, bike helmets should really be worn for your commute (any time you’re on the bike, really). There are winter versions if you’re looking for warm head options.

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Bike Accessories And Parts

There are endless ways you can change your bike, whether you’re upgrading major components or adding small accessories. Some of them have the potential to improve your commute and make it hassle-free.

Tires & Wheels

For instance, the best bike commuting tires are typically not the ones you’ll find on a new bike. Most new bikes, apart from uber-expensive ones, come equipped with cheap tires that are neither very quick nor resistant to punctures.

Most commuters value puncture resistance over speed, so a tire like the Schwalbe Marathon Plus is an iconic choice for rides into work.

Wheels, too, make a lot of difference to your ride. If you’re a heavy rider, for instance, intending to carry a lot of stuff, a double-wall wheel rim laced with 32 or 36 spokes will help keep the wheel true.

Lights

A vital commuting purchase for anyone bike commuting at night is lighting. In general, blinking bike lights are often favored at the rear for attracting attention, whilst a static light at the front helps drivers to judge your distance if they’re planning on pulling out.

Bike Bell

What else? A bell never hurts, as you often need to warn other cyclists and pedestrians of your presence on a commute. Any bits you can wear or put on your bike that are reflective or high viz will help with safety.

Saddle

A comfortable commuter saddle will help keep away any butt pain. That can only be good for motivation!

The longer you intend to ride, the better the saddle you need ideally

Security

To keep your bike secure at work or outside shops, ideally you need two good locks. The more valuable your bike is, the more you should invest in this. Kryptonite U-locks with wide shackles (e.g., New York models) are good for valuable bikes.

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Plan Your Route

Before embarking on your first bike commute, plan the route according to your level of fitness and experience. You don’t necessarily want to choose the same quick route you’d take in a car, because mixing with cars is much riskier on a bike.

Risk is a factor that even the most experienced cyclists weigh up when choosing routes. You can use online route-planning tools, like the one offered by Strava (subscription only) to discover the routes favored by other cyclists.

If you feel nervous about biking into work, go ahead and recce the route you’re thinking of taking before attempting it on a bike.

Planning routes is also a way to keep your bike commutes fresh and challenging. Maybe you want to add distance to increase your fitness, or just want a change of scenery? Again, some online tools are great for suggesting routes.

Bike lanes

Cleaning Up Before Work

Another concern for the new commuter is how to wash or shower before work. Physical exercise inevitably makes the body hotter, and the response of the body is to create sweat for cooling purposes.

It’s not only unfit people that sweat, either, or those that aren’t used to exercise. The body becomes efficient at sweating the more you work out, so it’s not a problem that will necessarily alleviate. It may even get worse as you become fitter.

Of course, it’s quite possible to roll at a relaxed pace into work and barely sweat at all to any noticeable degree. Thus, you might not need to wash or shower before work. The need might be influenced by the type of work you do.

If your job is physically hard anyway, a quick trundle into work on a bike is hardly going to matter. But if you work in a formal office environment and want to change into fresh clothes before starting, you need a means of ablution!

Let’s say you want to bike into work but there’s no shower at your workplace. What do you do? One idea is to join a local gym and use the shower facilities there. Some commuters clean themselves up with baby wipes and wash their hair with dry shampoo.

An extravagant but effective way to solve this problem is to buy an e-bike. That way, you can get to work with little physical effort and save most of the workout for the ride home.

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Intermodal Commutes

A popular way to get to work is to mix your modes of travel so you do most of the distance on a train and cycle the first and last stretches. Of course, this requires you to carry your bike onto the train.

If you’re usually too tired to ride long distances to work or don’t have enough time or motivation, intermodal bike commuting is ideal. Bike commuting should never feel like a chore, or you’ll stop doing it.

Folding Bikes

When you’re hauling your bike on and off trains, the weight of the bike and its size become issues. Folding bikes are ideal for these journeys, despite being surprisingly heavy.

Lightweight road bikes are also a good choice for taking onto trains. They’re easy to lift and their tires will fit into bike racks where they exist. Naturally, you need to check what bike facilities are provided on your local railway line before committing to this idea.

Video: Taking Your Bike Onto A Train

Staying Safe

Riding a bike into work is never entirely without risk, particularly if you’re forced to mingle with dense traffic.

Other Road Users

If you’re an inexperienced cyclist, one of the safest assumptions you can make is that drivers of large vehicles haven’t seen you.

Never ride into gaps that are remotely likely to close. Be ultra-wary when switching lanes of any hazards you can’t see. This might include motorbikes riding quickly between lanes of slow-moving traffic.

Check Your Brakes

Bike maintenance is a vital aspect of safety. Make sure your brakes are working properly and your tires aren’t deflated or worn down to the cords. Check the condition of your bike and frame.

Watch Out For Slippery Surfaces

If the road surface is slippery, you can improve safety by riding more cautiously, especially around corners. Keep the bike as upright as possible. You can also deflate the tires a little (around 10 PSI) or ride on fatter commuting tires where possible.

In places where icy roads are commonplace, install studded tires for extra grip!

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Roadside Repairs

A cause of anxiety for many potential commuters is the prospect of getting a flat tire. The best way to assuage this concern is to practice removing and installing tires and inner tubes at home. When doing this, never use tools you won’t have out on the road.

Most flat tires are not mended by the roadside. You simply remove the punctured tube and replace it with a spare one. In doing this, you should check the tire closely to make sure the offending sharp object is not still embedded in the tire.

Even with tubeless tires, the standard procedure is to install a tube if a puncture will not seal. Most cyclists carry spare tubes, tire levers and a multitool among their bike commuting accessories so they can quickly deal with deflated tires.

With a little practice, basic roadside repairs will not intimidate you in the slightest.

Mark Whitley
Mark Whitley
I’m a cycling enthusiast, and the founder and chief editor of Bike Push. If I’m not working on this website, then I’m out on the bike clocking up the miles. I want to help others get the most out of cycling.