Bicycle Commuting: Non-Mainstream Advice


What’s going on everyone? A here, exited to write about this topic, as it’s close to home(still ride every day). To clarify, I have not raced or competed in cycling, I’ve used the bicycle to commute.

It’s been a lot longer than six years cycling… However I will only count the years a bicycle has reliably gotten me to and from work and was my primary and only form of transport(besides friends giving me an occasional lift).

I began riding a bike at a very young age. The small Russian town where I lived was fairly poor(back then) and most families did not own cars. My first bike was some cheapo bazaar bike that my Pops got me. It folded in half, had one gear, and one rear caliper break.

I rode a fair amount during the summers, however, most of the time it remained stored, as the roads were iced over and the only way to get anywhere was walking.

Fast forward a bunch of years, now in America, a friend gifted me his old mountain bike. I used it to ride to school and later upgraded with another hand-me-down mountain bike.

Since then I’ve gone on to own 8 more bicycles, due to the cheaper ones wearing out, and leaving some behind when traveling.

Part 1: Buying a Bike

So you’ve thought about cycling to work/school/store, however you don’t have a bike(or a functioning, safe to ride one). Most people stop there, as the idea of spending money up front isn’t pleasant. Everyone’s heard the horror stories of $10,000 dollar road bicycles with carbon frames.

Tip: Don’t buy a ridiculously expensive bicycle, especially at first.

If you are looking to commute, you don’t need one of those, I wouldn’t spend more than $500 on a bicycle, and a great one can be had for <$200.

Craigslist is the first place you should look, as used bikes drop in value ridiculously, and any replacement parts can be found online at a low price. It just takes the little bit of extra work to find and install them.

A bicycle shouldn’t break the bank, and here’s why:

When you are racing(the athletes with expensive bikes), your bike is secure at all times. When you are commuting, you will inevitably have to leave your bike in front of stores, chained to light posts, tress, and utility pipes. While you go on about your business…

…It’s not too difficult for some one to walk up, cut the lock, and steal it. A $60 bike stolen is almost negligible. A $2000 bike stolen is a tragedy. Now, for a majority of people this will never happen, however: give yourself peace of mind, knowing your bicycle isn’t worth a lot of coin.

I’ve never had a bike stolen, my buddy has had two stolen.

Tip: Buy a bike with 700c rims. This is a common rim size and will make it easier to find tires/tubes.

Decide between Road Bike/Hybrid/Mountain Bike.

Road Bikes are the lightest, fastest, most expensive, and can take the least abuse. They have drop handlebars, and thin rims/tires.

Hybrids are the in-between, main difference from a road bike is slightly wider rims and straight-bar handlebars. These can accommodate various tire sizes.

Mountain Bikes are heaviest, with the highest rolling resistance, however are able to take the most punishment. Can have disk brakes and suspensions.


Part 2: Useful Gear

One of the most enjoyable parts of cycling is upgrading your bike. We’ll keep things simple and list a few basic items, to buy from the get-go.

Tip: The cheapest upgrade you can make is your leg muscles.

Pedals: Campus vs Clipless? I rode with campus for a long time, as they come standard on most bikes and are very convenient(not need to take off/put on cycling shoes), no need to clip in/out. However when it comes to performance, it’s Clipless all the way. With campus you only generate power on the downward part of the stroke, relying on friction to keep your foot on the pedal.

Whole different story with Clipless, as you can pull, and you stay in place firmly. It’s kind of like moving through molasses when you’re in a higher gear. Power output all the way through. Highly recommend Clipless pedals to everyone.

Tip: Learn to ride with clipless pedals. Day and Night difference.

TRUTH IS: I rode campus for a long time because I was a wuss. I was scared to learn something new and be physically attached to the bike. I always used the price tag as the excuse, but really I was just being a bitch.

Moving on… If you are going to ride, you will get a flat. Sooner or later, you’ll find a tire losing air. When this happens, you are either prepared, or you’re walking(and dragging your now useless bike with you).

Tip: Never ride on a flat. This destroys your tires!

To remedy this buy a small hand pump and a few replacement tubes. Learn to change a flat(it’s easy, youtube has tutorials), and you’ll be rolling again in no time.

Tires: There is a great variety of tires out there. Look up the sizing on your rim, and buy ones that fit. I usually wear out the originals, and then buy a pair of gator hardshells.

Tip: Rotate your bike tires. The rear tire will wear faster than the front.

Helmet: Wear one if it makes you feel safer. Sometimes I wear one, sometimes I don’t. The helmet does not protect the face and barely protects the already dense skull. When you’re cycling at 10 to 20mph, falling off the bike will mean skinned knees, not a serious head injury.

Some sports require a helm(Football, Skiing, Motorcycling) this I understand. Riding 2 miles to the grocery store at 7mph on Sunday afternoon doesn’t require one. Just be mindful and watch the road.

Reflective gear/Lights: It depends where you are cycling. For an area of low traffic, you don’t need them. Most bike lights are weak little l.e.d.’s that nobody will spot anyway. If you are cycling on a busy road, you will need both. I recommend a reflective vest to wear or put on your pack, and two good quality lights, your safety depends on them, don’t skimp.

Music/Headphones: I always listen to music with in-ear headphones while cycling. It helps you cycle harder, and makes the commute pass by much faster. Traffic can be really loud, and headphones help a lot. But it’s not safe! You can’t hear cars coming! Look: just be mindful and cycle in a straight line. Be aware of traffic, and you won’t have any problems.


Part 3: The Commute

First, consider your range. Anything under 4 miles is absolutely do-able in any weather conditions, and even if you’re tired. Just go slow. 15 to 25mins. 4-8 is a moderate distance, and 8 can be rough on a down day(50mins). Daily commutes of 10miles+ are for experienced cyclists in my opinion.

Tip: Don’t jump onto curbs, unless you can bunny-hop them cleanly. You will bend your rear axle, and you will snakebite your tubes.

Mapping out the route: The first tool is the “measure distance” on Google Maps. Measure out your potential commute. The second tool is knowing your area. Do a trial run at a slow cadence, and explore the part for shortcuts and roads that aren’t busy.

Changing clothes: If you live in a warm climate(especially a humid one) you will sweat while cycling. The best way to arrive presentable is to shower at your workplace, and have a change of clothes in the pack.

On cold days this is a non-issue, and I feel fine walking in after cycling. On hot summer days it would be disgusting not to change into a dry set of clothes after arriving at your destination.

Weather: This depends on where you live. I’ve cycled through rain/snow/heat and it was often fun. A trick I use is wearing a rainproof jacket over my pack, which contains dry clothes. Arrive, and change, and it’s like there was never any rain.

Part 4: Benefits

Fitness: Cycling does burn calories and train the leg muscles. You can eat more, or eat less and lose weight, or maintain decent shape year round, just by integrating a short cycling commute into your routine.

Saving money: I’m not going to go into detail on this, Mr. Money Mustache has already written extensively on it. It would be redundant. Just know cycling is infinitely cheaper than driving. No insurance/Gas. Cheaper parts. Only sweat equity required.

Friends: Commuting by cycling only create a hidden benefit of making friends. Eventually you’ll need to go a distance outside of your cycling range(or something breaks down). That’s when you need a friend to give you a lift. Most people are willing to help you out if you are polite and later buy them lunch.

Alertness/Mental Clarity: I feel good after a quick ride. You arrive at work refreshed, awake, and ready to take on the day. It is especially helpful for staying awake while working graveyard shifts.

Part 5: Words of Caution

Flexibility: If you cycle frequently, it is possible to get really stiff and tight, if you don’t stretch and do mobility work. For me this manifested as constantly tight hamstrings. I would pull my hamstring anytime I would sprint. It took mobility and stretching exercises, as well as full range of motion on deadlifts and good-mornings to get them flexible and functional again.

Tip: Cycle with traffic, and don’t make any erratic turns.

Overuse injury: If you are cycling every day, as a means to get around, listen to your body(so cliche, but I mean it). Take a few days off if you need them. Avoid injury in the long term. Be smart.

Crashing/Getting Hit: This scares people. If you are careful, you wont crash. I’ve had a few times where I had to swerve to avoid a distracted driver or the occasional rock or piece of glass. Never had a disastrous crash like you see on Tour De France. I don’t go nearly as fast as the pro’s, and don’t corner as tightly.

Cycling has always felt really relaxed, and not scary, unless your are going 20mph+ or are on a VERY busy road. Bikes are versatile. Find places cars can’t go and cycle through there. Pick up your bike, lift it over the fence, hop over yourself, and proceed.

Tip: Have fun. Riding a bike can make you feel young again.

There’s all kinds of nonsense I’ve done on bikes, and the only people afraid for my safety were those who don’t even cycle.

All the Best.


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