Bike Commuting

by Robert Annis

Now that spring has sprung once again, more people are thinking about biking to work in the morning. That’s a great idea! Bike to Work Day was celebrated May 20, so there’s every reason to start commuting by bike. By pedaling to work, you’re protecting the environment, keeping your hard-earned money out of the hands of oil companies, and saving on parking and overall wear and tear on your car. But that’s not even the best part. Riding your bike is fun!

Take time to enjoy the ride and really experience the sights, sounds, and smells. Just remember to follow all the traffic laws, says Kevin Whited, executive director of IndyCog, the city’s bike advocacy group. “Whether you’re riding the Monon, bike lanes, or city streets, you’re on a vehicle and thus legally obligated to obey the rules of the road,” Whited says. “Be cognizant of the fact that certain elements of the population are going to be watching everything we do, trying to catch us breaking the rules of the road. Remember that we’re all role models out there.”

Many first-time commuters are a bit nervous about biking in traffic but Whited says, “Don’t be. Just use common sense when riding and always ride like you’re not visible.” IndyCog posts daily safety tips on its social media channels, using the hashtag #RitK_IN. Here are a few tips to make commuting by bike easier.

oakpark.biker
pedbikeimages.org / Dan Burden

Gearing Up

You don’t need a fancy bike to commute to work. If you have an old mountain bike hanging in your garage gathering dust, all you really need is a tune-up from your local bike shop, a couple of road tires, and maybe a rear rack. (However, if you plan to be serious about bike commuting, a pair of fenders and some high-quality lights are definitely recommended.)

If your commute is fairly short, say 5 miles or less, there’s no major need to wear cycling-specific clothing. Over the distance and in moderate weather, you’ll likely arrive at the office smelling as fresh as a May morning. For slightly longer commutes, several companies sell work and casual clothes that are optimized for bike commuting. Levi’s makes some great jeans and jackets in their commuter line, and Giro’s New Road collection has several pieces that wouldn’t look out of place in some casual office environments.

For commutes of 10 miles or more, you may be better off wearing Lycra cycling apparel to and from the office. It’s more comfortable on longer rides, and you don’t need to worry about stinking up your work clothes. Definitely invest in a good wind/rain jacket, as well as a waterproof bag (either backpack or pannier) for your clothes, laptop, and other items. Even if your sartorial choices are a bit more subdued, be sure to wear something bright, such as a high-visibility jacket or helmet or both.

Planning a Route

The route you take to work by bike will likely be different from the way you go when driving a car. Study maps, particularly IndyCog’s RideGuide 2.1 (indycog.org/rideguide), which you can find at most local bike shops, libraries, and other places. Look for greenways, roads with bike lanes, and less-trafficked side streets, especially if you’re new to bike commuting. After you have a potential route planned, try biking it on a weekend to get a sense of any issues you may have overlooked, potential details and pitfalls, and, of course, how long it takes you.

Afraid of issues popping up where you need a car or can’t pedal home? Many IndyGo buses are equipped with racks on the front so you can lug your bike home at no additional charge. Also, CIRTA’s Commuter Connect offers a free emergency ride home service (cirta.us/commuterconnect/emergency-ride-home/default.aspx). You do need to be registered as a bike commuter to use the service, but it’s easy and free to register online.

Commuter Connect Manager Andrew McGee says the “free emergency ride home service is popular because it acts as a safety net. You can use it up to five times a year, but unfortunately, bad weather isn’t considered an emergency, so do be sure to watch the weather forecast.”

Cleaning Up

“For the first few years I bike-commuted, I rode in cycling gear and cleaned up with baby wipes,” Whited says. “But then I realized that if I didn’t ride so hard, I could wear street clothes, which saved me time getting ready. I didn’t sweat much or very little anyway, so I didn’t need to clean up before starting work.”

If your work has a shower, you’ve hit the jackpot. If not, don’t fret. Downtown commuters have the awesome advantage of the Indy Bike Hub. Located in the City Market, the facility features a BGI shop with on-site mechanics, bike storage, showers, lockers—everything a commuter needs. If you don’t work downtown and don’t have access to a shower, try those baby wipes and some lightly scented body spray.

The only thing better than starting your workday with a bike ride is ending the workday with a bike ride. It’s a great way to relieve stress after a hectic day and a great way to savor a productive one. Besides, how many of your colleagues can say they enjoy their commute?

Robert Annis writes about cycling and outdoor travel for Outside, Men’s Journal, and dozens of other major publications.