Monday, November 8

Cycle Commuting – Ten Steve Rules

Hmm, somehow I missed the initial post over at Commute by Bike about ten rules of urban commuting, but Dottie at “Let’s Go Ride a Bike” flagged it. Unable to resist a real or imagined challenge, I think my own version of “Ten Rules” is somewhat different than the one that Dottie felt missed the boat. Here goes:

Plan Ahead – Bike commuting is not high tech, but planning ahead can greatly increase your enjoyment of the commute. If the commute isn’t enjoyable, you won’t keep doing it. A good plan, incorporating the other rules, is the cornerstone of an enjoyable commute that you’ll come to love. Besides some of the obvious things such as clothing, bike equipment and such, decide what you do when something goes wrong. Like really wrong. Even the most experienced bike commuter can get a flat tire in the rain, or have a chain break, or brakes that suddenly don’t work right. If the plan is to call for help, make sure help will be at the other end of that phone line. There is no AAA for urban bike commuters.

Plan Your Commute
Run Tests – Assuming you have access to a car; urban bike commuting need not be a giant “all at once” commitment. For example, just taking clothing as an example, you can ride in work clothes, you can ride with “cycling comfy” clothes of various sorts, and while doing the latter, you can either bring your work clothes along or bring them to work separately. Try the various approaches to find what you think works best for you. Try different routes – drive the route candidates at the proper time (imagining you are cycling it while you drive), ride it on a weekend or after work, and experiment. Use Google “Streetview.” Testing commute elements will give you the experience you’ll need to focus on the task at hand without getting stressed out. Remember, cycling should be fun and safe!

Test Various Clothing Combos
Maybe not all at Once, However
Don’t Overbuy Early – Some people, having made a plan, will start buying all sorts of stuff for their bicycle commute. Panniers, packs, fancy lights, tool kits, special cycling clothing, special commute bikes, and so on. I counsel stinginess. The problem, buying all this stuff, is a lot of it will not suit your own particular commute requirements and approach, but there will be OTHER stuff that you WILL find helps the commute experience. Wait. Don’t buy more than the basics (you really DO need lights if you’ll be riding in the dark, but don’t buy expensive ones). One advantage of deferring commute-related purchases is you don’t have to lug all that stuff around until you really understand how you’re going to use it. Maybe you will discover you don’t NEED those tires that are impervious to pot holes. Maybe you’ll discover that the $1500 commute bike is not for you and your existing bike actually works better, especially after a few small additions.

Hold Off on Buying a Lot of Stuff at First

Get Smart – Of COURSE you know how to ride a bike, and how to adjust it, and so on. Still, keep in mind professional cyclists benefit from coaching. Come to think of it, professional cyclists use education far more than “regular” bike riders. Take a Bike Ed course, even if you’ve been riding for years. Trust me on this, you WILL learn something that will help you get there safer, and easier, and with less in the way of unexpected failures. Your coach will see things you can improve that you will NEVER see. My coach found bike adjustments that helped me after I’d been riding for many years, and found simple things that help me daily on the street. The added confidence will help that ride be just a little safer and a little more fun. Little things really DO mean a lot. Looking at it another way, if you are already “practically perfect in every way,” you’ll confirm it. If not, why delay?

Get Smart, Get Educated!

Start at a Good Time – Don’t make your first commute on the hottest or coldest day of the year. If I had to pick a “best” date, I’d pick late spring, after the schools have let out for summer, when there’s lots of light, on a dry day, and before it gets hot. If you’re having a good time commuting, you can always figure out how to deal with tougher situations afterwards when you have the basics nailed. For your first commute, if you’ve planned and tested, make that run based on the results. Keep in mind that driving part of the distance and riding part way can lower the threshold of that first commute even further. You want success.

Don't Pick a Morning Like This for Your First Commute

Be Flexible – Once you start commuting for real, you’ll quickly discover that some of your plans and test results don’t turn out as you expected. Maybe there’s a traffic light that won’t change. Maybe it takes longer than you expected. Maybe you can’t park the bike where you expected. Maybe you get sweatier riding in work clothes than you expected. Maybe they started construction work on your route. Well, all these things have solutions. It’s your job to find clever solutions that are consistent with your cycling being fun and safe. Commuting is always the same until it changes, but it changes often.

Perhaps a Route Change is in Order

Optimize – A corollary to flexibility is the principle that there is almost always a better way to make a given commute. If your commute is more than a couple of miles, you will see alternate routes and short cuts. You’ll find clothing combinations that work better. You’ll want to get there just a little quicker. You’ll find a route variant that is simply nicer. You’ll be able to deal with more weather situations. I’ve been making my “new” commute for well over a year and it is a rare week I don’t find some way to make it a little better. I find tweaks that reduce traffic stress. I redo my clothing arrangements. It’s always something. I can’t BELIEVE how ignorant I was a year ago, much less two years ago.

Dutch Says LISTEN to
Other Commuters, But VERIFY

 Join the Club, but Take a Few Grains of Salt – If you work at a workplace of any size, or live in an urban area, or read blogs, you won’t be the only one who commutes by bike. Your fellow bike commuters are sources for profound and wonderful knowledge, and a smart commuter will take advantage of the wisdom. While each commuter’s experience will differ from yours, listen carefully to what they say, and apply your own experience to combine it with the things you have learned on your own. In the words of Ronald Reagan; “trust, but verify.” Everyone’s experience differs a little.

Diverge and Digress – Cycle commuting, particularly if you have a longer distance to ride, can represent a large portion of the time you devote to cycling. What’s more, if you are doing it properly, it can become routine. I’ll freely admit that developing a more reliable way of triggering a traffic signal in the dark may lack a certain devil-may-care cachet, but it breaks up the routine. To spice things up, make a point of doing non-commute cycling, “just for the fun of it.” That can be as simple as taking the long way home, or taking up some sort of trail riding, or whatever else keeps all this fresh for you. If you lack inspiration, I suggest cyclocross. Mud and guts and tossing your cookies and all that. On second thought, maybe cyclocross isn’t for everyone.

Cyclocross Can Make Your Commute Seem Even MORE Relaxing!
 Traffic is a Many Splendored Thing – Some people think you can only cycle on bike paths, or bike lanes, or in some special circumstances. If you cycle commute, you’ll almost certainly hear comments along these lines – mostly from people that do NOT cycle commute. In the real world, a transportation/utility cyclist will deal with many different situations over time. Apply your own road experience from driving and you know that motorists are trained not to run into things. YOUR JOB, as a commute cyclist, is to make it easy and un-dramatic for motorists to apply their training and experience. Similarly, YOUR JOB is to learn how to make it easy for people in parked cars NOT to have to say “OMG” due to you hitting a door they just opened in front of you without looking. Similarly, YOUR JOB is to learn how to not hit an unlit jogger or skunk on that path in the dark, or the clueless dweeb riding a bike the wrong way in your bike lane. Build on your experience and follow the other rules, and this will, perhaps, be the simplest rule of all to follow.
Do NOT Run Over an Unlit Stinky in the Dark!


danc said...

Hit's all the high points. Good job! Thank you!

John Romeo Alpha said...

Good list, Steve. I particularly go along with Run Tests, Be Flexible, Optimize, and Traffic is a many splendored thing. Since I was disturbed by the scofflaw spirit of the IP at CBB, I think I am also a little disturbed that your rules are not anti-scofflaw, but that may just mean I am disturbed, period.

Steve A said...

Scofflaws don't follow rules, which makes the IP at CBB ironic.

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