How to Commute to work by bike

Plan a better way to get to work. Avoiding congestion and saving some dollars have the added bonus of improving fitness and health. Cycling is worth approximately $6.2billion to the US economy, with a growing adult participation rate. Becoming part of the commuting club makes you part of a wider and growing community of non-recreational cyclists. Make sure you have the right plans and essential commuting gear in place to own your next trip to work.

Key tips for cycling to work

  • Don’t over-commit, aim for a couple of commutes a week to start out
  • Think through your cycle route ahead of time
  • Prepare a spare set of cycling clothes to stash at work
  • Consider a good used bike rather than new
  • Plan for showering or other ways to freshen up after your commute
  • Decide in advance if you will commute in wet weather, plan for the commute home after work too
  • Travel light, carry only what you need and store what you can at work
  • Keep track of your accomplishments either on a mobile app or journal

Riding bike to work benefits

Cycling to work brings a range of health, financial and efficiency benefits.

At a mostly aerobic level of activity (you could still hold a conversation), cycling builds foundational fitness without releasing cortisol, adrenaline or leaving lactic acid build up in the muscles. Aerobic activity helps build and maintain health. Anaerobic (high intensity) activity breaks the body down. The body needs rest and recovery time to spring-back from anaerobic exercise. Aerobic activity releases endorphins into the body, stimulating mental health as well as physical health improvements.

Cycling is an efficient, low impact activity which helps develop health and fitness. Most of us are running a little short of meeting World Health Organisation exercise recommendations. The daily commute should tip the balance in our favour! Cycling promotes awareness, focus and proprioception while having fun and through purposeful exercise. Many companies have formal or informal cycling groups, making cycling a social activity too.

The initial outlay can be a barrier to starting to commute, though the ongoing savings return on the initial cost. Bikes aren’t maintenance-free, and you should budget a little each month for wear and tear as well as replacing clothing. We came across this fascinating comparison of cycling to the most frugal approach to car ownership.

Used bikes are a smart move for a commuter. If you don’t feel knowledgable enough to purchase from eBay or Craigslist, check out your local bike specialist. Many will stock used, trade-in bikes, or are likely to be in the know of a good bike for sale.

Local bike-shops are usually happy to help, seeing the opportunity of an ongoing customer. They are usually bike enthusiasts too, who are more than willing to help someone join the cycling community.

A good used bike will sell at a fraction of its new value, a reasonably maintained bike will allow you to start out with a much higher quality frame and bike components than new.

Sadly, you also don’t want your commuter bike to look too shiny and expensive, making it attractive to thieves. An old beater looking bike that hides a great lightweight frame is a smart choice.

Cycling to work can prove to be time-efficient as well as financially efficient. Cycling to work or the gym can save on workout time and reduce those after work shopping sprees!

Biking to work without sweating

This one is hard to avoid, especially in summer. With the right clothing and a more aerobic, leisurely ride, sweat can be minimised. Sweat is a sure sign you are doing it right, getting out there amongst it.

More breathable performance cycle wear is worth the investment if perspiration is a concern. Having a showering option at work or a pre-planned way to freshen up is the most you can do.

Bicycle commuting gear

Getting the right clothing contributes to a much better commuting experience. Decide on budget upfront. We suggest doubling up. For example, if you have $50 for shorts, get 2 $25 shorts instead. The flexibility of doubling up makes preparation and dealing with bad weather much less of a hassle.

Gloves

Depending on climate and preference, a pair of fingerless or full-finger gloves are essential. It’s worth getting cycling-specific design with padding in the palms. The padding makes holding the handlebars more comfortable over time and importantly adds protection if you take a fall, your hands will be the first thing you put out to stop your fall.

Cycling gloves will also keep your hands warm in colder months. In warmer months, remember to wash them regularly to avoid them stinking up! Cycling gloves are the most over-looked item of clothing for regular biking to work, a good pair of cycling gloves will add a lot of comfort and protection to your ride.

Upper body

We’d go for a layers approach here. This gives maximum flexibility to deal with different weather. A wicking sports top as a base-layer will help minimise sweat. Aim for a snug fit that doesn’t interfere with movement. Make sure the top is long enough to cover your lower back when in a riding position. Cycling-specific tops tend to be longer at the back. They may have an elasticated bottom to help stop your top riding up your back as you ride.

A lightweight outer cycling jacket with long sleeves is great to cut out any wind-chill. Again grab a snug but non-constraining fit. Check for added extras such as high-visibility reflective strips or convenient pockets.

Lower Body

Decide if you want to ride in shorts or full leggings. We don’t need to become full-out lycra gods and goddesses to enjoy a commute to work. Check out mountain bike style cycling shorts that are comfortable and having padding in just the right places to make your cycle to work comfortable.

Helmets are a must, check your local State or Country regulations. Meta-analysis of the effects of helmets and injury, 55 research papers were analysed, surfacing these key highlights.

  • Bicycle helmets reduce head injury by 48% and serious head injury by 60%.
  • Bicycle helmets reduce face injury by 23% and do not increase cervical spine injury.
  • Bicycle helmet effects are larger in single bicycle crashes than in collisions.

How far can you commute by bike

The limit on how far you can comfortably cycle to work is mainly based on time and endurance. A 12 mile (20km) commute is reasonable. You can go further if your fitness, time or the terrain of your city allows. Hilly commutes are obviously more tiring than long flat rides into work.

We’d start with a goal of cycling to work a couple of times a week to start out. A 10 mile each way commute, 5 days a week is pretty tiring until your base level fitness builds up.

If your current fitness is a concern, then look for options to bus or ride part way.

Electric bikes (ebikes) are an excellent opportunity to extend the range of your cycling commute to work.

What is the best bicycle for commuting to work

Best commuting bike is entirely subjective. Understanding how you will ride the bike is essential to know upfront. If you will be exclusively using it on roads or also using it for some off-road trails at the weekend is an important consideration.

When comparing bikes evaluate the overall package. A mid-range mountain bike may need some fenders and slicker tires adding to make if a good commuting bike. A similarly priced commuter bike may already come with all those components and also some lights for good measure.

Stick to well-known brands, avoid ‘bike-in-a-box’ deals from big retail stores. They are designed to look like a great bike, but are often low-quality frames and hide low-end generic components. The shifter on the handlebars may say Shimano, but the gears are likely a generic or unbranded affair. A ‘bike-in-a-box’ option will lead to months of frustration and endless maintenance, usually resulting in a beginner giving in biking. Also, read more on our thoughts on bike-in-a-box reliability.

Local knowledge is an excellent resource too, if there are commuters at your workplace, ask for advise and also which local stores have an excellent reputation. Caveat: make sure thier riding style matches yours. Someone who routinely rides 70 miles+ every weekend for recreation might have a different perspective on the ideal bike.

Tips for bike riding to work

Plan ahead. Think how to transport your work clothes, are you going to carry them in your backpack? Or drop them all in at work on a Monday drive-in.

Keep a spare set of cycling clothes stashed at work, as well as two or so replacement inner-tubes for your tires.

Showering can be a challenge if there are no showering facilities at work. Read our article on avoiding the commuting stink for more ideas on freshening up and keeping your commute clothing smelling sweet!

Plan your route, are there any roads or intersections you’d want to avoid. Are there any of-road park or trail opportunities. Are there any places where you think its safer and more efficient to jump off the bike and cross with pedestrians?

Consider where to keep your bike once you arrive at work. Some buildings have specific areas to safely store your bike rather than the higher risk of locking it up on the street. Be smart here. You’re unlikely to win an office popularity award if you trail wet bikes through the office or damage corridor walls with your bike.

How to cycle to work in the rain

Preparation is key here unless you are in the midst of a severe weather warning cycling to work in the rain is relatively painless. The first thing to bear in mind is you are going to get wet. When biking to work in the rain, comfort and safety are the aspects you can influence.

Equipping your bike for rain

Fenders are your friend from a comfort and safety perspective. There’s a large variety of bike fender designs around from ultra-lightweight, clip-on and more permanent designs.

We use more permanent fenders. In good weather, a fender can stop road debris and stones from flicking up into your face (it happens!). Having them attached to the bike also means one less thing to remember, carry or hurriedly install if the weather turns bad. Convenience is vital for commuting.

Bike tires pick up and a great amount of water on the road surface in order to keep rubber in contact with the ground. Beginner cyclists often plan for the water that’s ‘falling down’, but not the water that is flung upwards from the tires.

Rear wheels fling this water under the seat and up your back with a reasonable amount of pressure.

A rear fender has a massive impact on your comfort. Water accumulating around the bike seat is very unpleasant and can create chafing. Water driven from below can also be a severe test of the waterproofing of your backpack!

The front tires throw water upwards through the bike frame at low speeds. At higher speeds, momentum keeps the water in contact with the tire for longer. At this point, the water is thrown ahead of the bike. Depending on your speed, the water is at the perfect height to hit you in the face and eyes.

Gritty, oily water hitting your face is unpleasant and reduces your own visibility.

Front fenders are an essential wet-weather commute item for your bike. A set of clear of low tinted eyewear helps make the ride more comfortable, avoiding heavy rain or water dripping from your bike helmet from going into your eyes. Check the glasses aren’t too tight-fitting as you need some airflow to prevent them from fogging up.

Good bike lights are a great idea in the rain too. Driver visibility is reduced. A good set of bike lights, particularly in blink mode, can help make you stand out amongst the traffic. We like to add a helmet-mounted headlamp to make you stand out further and be able to make your presence known at intersections.

With a bit of planning and will, your trip to work can become enjoyable and rewarding. If you considering commuting, are new to cycling or an experienced commuter, let us know your stories below.

2 thoughts on “How to Commute to work by bike”

  1. Lots of great info here. Thanks. Back when I was a serious, everyday commuter (come hell or high water) my commute was 7 miles each way –combo of bike paths and urban roads. That was a delightful distance when the weather was nice. In the dark, the rain, the snow, 20 degrees, etc it seemed like a pretty long commute. I think there are some commuting environments where a 12 mile ride might be OK, but that strikes me as pretty long for a day-in, day-out commute. Now, I work a mile and a half from home and I have a hard time getting myself to ride. I’m not sure what my problem is. Lazy probably.

    At the end of your post, there were several ads for rear wheel fenders. I recommend jury rigging one out of a piece of hot wheels track. Mine is bright green and it matches the paint color scheme on my fixie. Of course I’m as cheap as they come.

    • Thanks for the great feedback, your 7-miler sounds ideal. I’ve seen the hot wheels track approach – lightweight too! I’ve made fenders for the front from plastic milk cartons as a lightweight fender/mudguard on my mountain bike before too. That 1 1/2 miler sounds like its screaming for some cycling commute action!

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