Guide to Bicycle Commuting

Commuting by bike is simple, quick, and most importantly - fun. This simple guide will help you plan your first trip for a great ride into work.

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Introduction

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Bicycle commuting in the Roanoke and New River Valleys can be challenging due to a variety of natural and cultural conditions. Vagaries in the weather, mountainous terrain, and an apparent lack of bicycle accommodations all serve as barriers to the novice cyclist who is looking for commute alternatives. However, there are some tips that can make bicycling a healthy, viable, and efficiency mode of transportation in the region.

This guide presents common-sense solutions for the casual rider. It addresses the special concerns of bicycle commuters, who are generally using city streets and face special challenges of safety and visibility during peak traffic times. This guide is a product of Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission planning staff.

If you are interested in making your workplace a friendlier place to commute to by bike, encourage them to participate in the League of American Bicyclists’ Bicycle Friendly Business program.  RIDE Solutions can assist an employer with free consultations and program support, including application assistance, for those interested in pursuing the designation.

Type of Bicycle

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What type of bicycle is best for bicycle commuting? The short answer is any bike that is available. Factors such as commuting distance and route, cycling experience, cost, and personal preference will determine the type of bike a given bicyclist will use. If your commuting route is entirely on-street and/or you have a considerable commuting distance, a road bike should be considered. If you intend to utilize on-street and off-road, multi-use trails and greenways or alleyway in your commute a mountain bike or hybrid style bike – with street tires sufficient for light off road use – may be a better choice. Regardless of the type of bicycle, it should be in proper working order and well maintained. Moreover, potholes, damaged shoulders, debris, and various other conditions present potential hazards for cyclists. Cyclists should watch for these and other obstacles as they can increase the changes of an accident and equipment failure (i.e., tire puncture).

Riding Gear

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The amount of “gear” that you carry with you on your bicycle commute will be based on many of the same factors considered when selecting your bicycle.

Essentials: The following items should be carried at all times:

  • Bicycle helmet
  • Tube repair kit
  • Identification
  • Money/change
  • Bike pump
  • Bicycle tool kit (chain tool, tire tool, allen wrench(es)
  • Lights – front and rear (required by law if riding at night)

 

Other items to consider:

  • Bicycle lock
  • Cell phone
  • Lightweight wind breaker/rain suit
  • Tube repair kit and/or extra tube
  • Reflecting vest or clothing
  • Water bottle
  • Fenders/mud guards

 

How to Dress

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If you decide to become a regular bicycle commuter, one of the first items you must address is clothing – both while on the bike and while at your destination (i.e., work). Clothing requirements may vary greatly depending on your work dress code, commuting distance, terrain, weather, and riding style. However, require several tips to make doing so a much easier experience.

Cycle In Your Work Clothing: For bicycle commuters with short commuting distances and/or more casual work dress codes, bicycling in the same clothing that you work in is an option. However, you should always have a tool kit and other essential item previously discussed. However, for many commuters, cycling in his or her work clothing is not a realistic option. However, there are options and techniques available to address the clothing issue.

Carry Clothing In Advance: If your employment environment permits, on a day that you do not commute by bicycle, take a couple of changes of clothing to work to wear on days that you bike commute. Include clothing to create the greatest number of combinations and cover any work dress occasion. A few well-chosen articles can make a surprisingly diverse wardrobe. To avoid the need to continuously transport articles between work and home, if possible, leave selected accessories such as shoes, belts, ties, and personal hygiene items at the office to use on bicycle commuting days. Additionally, clothing may be laundered near your place of employment. Small items such as undergarments can easily be transported on bike commuting days. Clothing combinations should be rotated and updated as needed.

Sample clothing list:

  • Dark suit with tie
  • Blue and black sports coats
  • White dress shirt (more than one if needed)
  • Colored dress shirt
  • Pair of kakis
  • Extra pair of black and brown dress shoes (both if possible)
  • Extra black and brown belt (both if possible)
  • Several all-purpose ties
  • Dark socks, underwear, T-shirt (can be transported daily)

 

Personal hygiene items (if your workplace does not already provide):

  • Hand towel
  • Washcloth
  • Hand soap
  • Antibacterial wipes
  • Toothpaste, toothbrush, floss, mouthwash

 

Carry Clothing During Commute: If you need to pack clothes from home, there are several options available. The most common options include using a backpack, bike rack, or panniers. The least expensive method is using a backpack or courier bag to carry your work clothes and other items. As previously discussed, you should always carry essential gear (i.e., tool kit) in your backpack, thus care must be taken to ensure work clothing remains clean and relatively wrinkle-free. One method is to roll your pants and carefully fold your shirt and place them in another bag with other articles. To reduce the overall time your clothing is folded in your backpack, you can wait until morning to pack your clothes. Also to decrease wrinkling, if possible try to leave plenty of space for your clothing to avoid stuffing the clothing in your bag.

Dressing at Work: Most bicycle commuters in the area do not to have shower and/or changing facilities at their destinations and therefore must improvise. If you do not have a shower at your place of employment, consider bathing at home in the morning prior to your commute and “freshening-up” upon arrival at work. If you are fortunate enough to have an office or a staff locker/dressing room, changing from bicycle attire to work attire can be easy. If not, the staff restroom may suffice. As previously discussed, if you have already brought and keep clothing and personal hygiene items in your office, the process is simple.

Some area fitness centers such as the YMCA will allow non-members to use their showers for a small fee.  Bicycle commuters with destinations in Downtown Roanoke, for example, can contact the Kirk Family YMCA for rates and information on shower usage.  Check with a local gym to see if they offer similar deals.

Inclement Weather

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As previously discussed, the climate of our region includes four distinct seasons, with precipitation distributed throughout the year. If you can avoid riding in the rain or other inclement weather (e.g., snow, severe heat/cold), do so. Alternatives to bike commuting include transit service, carpooling, or working from home. As a bicycle commuter, you have access to the RIDE Solutions Guaranteed Ride Home benefit so long as you are registered with us and commute by bicycle at least twice a week.

Although weather can be a deterrent to bicycle commuting, proper dress can reduce the inconveniences presented by weather. Of course bicycling attire will vary depending on the season, daily weather conditions, personal preference, and other factors. However, layering a few article of clothing can cover a wide range of conditions.

Bicycle Commuting in the Rain: You can spend as much money as you want on bicycling raingear. If you are riding a short distance, an inexpensive raincoat and rain pants are usually sufficient. A rain guard over your wheeld will keep water from splashing onto you as you ride. Be sure to park your bike in a covered location if possible; if not, dry your bike as soon as you can at the end of the day to avoid rust and other degradation.

Bicycle Commuting in the Heat: Summertime heat can be quite intense, especially during prime commuting times (i.e., 4-6 pm). As such proper bicycling attire and accessories can reduce the negative impacts. For such conditions, lightweight shorts and a t-shirt work well. However, protection from the sun is needed. A good sunscreen and/or light over shirt as well as sunglasses are useful items. Depending on the temperature and the distance of your commute, you should carry sufficient water to avoid dehydration.

Bicycle Commuting in the Cold: Bicycle commuting in cold weather can also present challenges in selecting the proper attire. As with many outdoors winter activities, a layering system is the best approach to proper attire. Consider a windbreaker, fleece, light gloves, and ear bands.

Bringing Your Bike on the Bus

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It is not always possible or wise to bicycle the entire length of your commute, particularly if you must travel on high-traffic roads with little in the way of bicycle accommodations, or your fitness level is not ready for a long-distance ride. If this is the case, consider combining your bicycle commute with public transit use.

Most regional buses have bike racks capable of holding up to two bicycles securely. Some older Valley Metro buses do not have external racks, but their policy is that bicycle are welcome, provided there is sufficient space. Bus drivers are happy to assist in securing your bicycle if needed.
 

Choosing Your Route

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Planning your route ahead of time is an important part of commuting by bicycle. Keep in mind that the route you take in your vehicle may not be the best route to take by bicycle; narrow lanes, high traffic, and steep inclines may all serve as obstacles. On the other hand, commuting by bicycle might provide more direct access to your worksite via greenway, alleyways, or other routes that would not be accessible by motor vehicle. Note, also, that marked bicycle lanes are not the only sign of generally safe bicycle travel. Look for signage, such as “Share the Road” signs, that make drivers aware of the presence of cyclists. Wide roads and paved shoulders, sometimes striped as parking lanes, also provide safe bicycle accommodations. In some neighborhoods, consider using alleyways as alternatives to on-street travel.

If you can, ride your planned route on a non-work day and take note of hazards such as potholes, uneven pavement, roadsides with a large amount of litter and refuse (particularly glass), blind intersections, and other concerns. Time your route so that you can plan your new commute schedule accordingly. Pay particular attention to any steep hills that you may face; inclines you wouldn’t even notice in a car can be daunting when you’re traveling under your own power, particularly if you are a novice cyclist. You may want to consider starting off your bicycle commute slowly, only one or two days a week, as your fitness level increases.

Be sure to use the RIDE Solutions Interactive Bike Map as a starting point for planning your route.

Have Fun!

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Bicycle commuting can be a healthy and enjoyable way to take advantage of all the benefits of clean commuting. Though it requires some dedication and some additional physical fitness, it doesn’t have to be all hard work. Some tips for making your bicycle commute more enjoyable:

  • Consider a Biking Buddy: Riding with a friend or coworker not only livens up your ride, it provides additional incentive to keep you from jumping in your car at the last minute. Using the same technology we use to find carpool partners, RIDE Solutions can help you find a bicycle buddy. Simply register with us as a bicycle commuter and let us know you’re looking for a buddy.
  • Track Your Progress: Register with Map My Ride to keep track of your commute. Map My Ride will keep a record of the distance you travel, the calories you’ve burned, your average speed, and other information. Give yourself weekly goals and check your progress to see if you’ve attained them.
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