Bike commuting for total beginners

Apparently it takes 6 weeks to form a habit. Well, I am 5 weeks into my bike commuting adventure so it’s pretty much a habit now, right?

First of all, I am not a biker. Yes I have a bike but it has been sitting unused in my house for the last 3ish years. It made a brief appearance last summer for some commuting but it was pretty much incompatible with marathon training. After being diagnosed with my stress response back in October I biked to work a couple of time but then winter happened. But now that spring has sprung I’m hoping to bike my butt to work at least twice a week.

My ride:

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I bought this bike a couple of years ago when I thought that I might want to start mountain biking. Well, it turns out that I much prefer being on two legs rather than two wheels when I am in the mountains. The bike itself is a pretty standard beginner mountain bike – although it has disc breaks which are totally awesome. The frame is pretty heavy (no carbon fiber here) and back in November my husband swapped out the bulky mountain bike tires for some smooth commuter tires. Honestly, I had no idea that (1) you could do this, and (2) that it would make such a huge difference. These new tires made the ride so much easier (big, bulky tires take more energy to travel along the road). He also put on a rear mud guard and we fitted it with some blinking front and rear lights.

Gear:

Besides the new lights and bike lock I added a couple of things to my wardrobe. The one major difference between running clothes and biking clothes is the need for wind-proofing. When I run, once I’m warm I know that I’m pretty much guaranteed to stay warm for the rest of my time outside. With biking you have to think about things like wind, speed and wind-speed. You can get pretty damn cold biking fast downhill on a cloudy day. This week I finally got to try out some wind-proof bike pants (amazing – and definitely worth buying) and am eagerly awaiting the delivery of my new Pearl Izumi biking jacket. I also got a biking-specific commute bag. It fits perfectly, has plenty of space and some added reflective panels.

th PZI01389_509462 Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 9.15.27 AM Now these additions are all pretty cool but I managed to bike in my running tights and jacket with a regular hiking day pack before I decided that I wanted to invest in some biking-specific clothing. You might notice that I don’t wear bike shoes and I don’t clip in. Mainly because that is terrifying and at heart I am a big scaredy-cat.

Traffic:

So how does a nervous rider come to terms with biking during rush hour? Easy: find the safest route and bike it. Luckily for me Salt Lake is a great biking city. There are a ton of recreational bikers on the roads for pretty much the whole year, so drivers are used to them. Most drivers – there are still those who get a little too close. FYI: you should give a biker 3 ft of clearance when you pass. Our mayor is also an avid biker so we have a ton of well marked bike lanes criss-crossing the city. For my commute I am mostly on quieter residential streets and bike lanes. The other trick is to take as much room as you need. If the edge of the road is not bike friendly don’t be afraid to take your space. With biking I feel that you have to be a little assertive. Your safety is the number one priority so don’t be afraid to take a longer route to get to your destination in one piece. I have a couple of intersections that are a little nervy – they involve crossing traffic for a left turn. If I don’t feel safe I’ll take a side road and double back to get across safely. But the main thing to do is just get out there and get used to being part of traffic. It does get easier.

Work:

I’m in an interesting position where my work attire is amazingly casual. I don’t have to look put together in any way. I throw a change of clothes in my bag (along with my lunch) and some makeup. My workplace has a shower (that is surprisingly nice) with lockers where I keep a towel plus shampoo/conditioner. I can have a quick shower and spend as much time on hair/make-up as I need to (usually 2 minutes max). We also have access to bike lockers inside the building for extra security. I still use a lock but it’s one less thing that I have to worry about.

Cardio:

Whenever I am injured my doctors always recommend low impact cardio. Swimming worked just fine in winter but once the weather gets nice I want to be outside. Biking gives me about 30 minutes in fresh air with just my thoughts, and lets me start the day chilled out and ready for whatever is waiting for me at the office. The ride itself is pretty tough. A little under 4 miles each way but all uphill in the morning. It feels like a pretty good workout but you can make it as hard as you want by switching up your gears.

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I’m not going to lie the first time I biked in I thought my heart was going to explode. I was in pretty good running shape but that didn’t seem to transfer over to biking especially when the steepest sections is right at my house. I was in my lowest possible gear for nearly the whole way in, and when I got off my bike my legs were incredibly wobbly. But like anything cardio-related it gets easier with time. I’m hoping that it will help with my running. My husband managed to complete his marathon training while biking to work everyday and he qualified for Boston. So then I should be able too?

Other points:

We are a little spoiled with weather in SLC. It’s a mountain desert so we don’t get a lot of precipitation making bike commuting a more pleasant experience. I’m not sure I could cope if I was still living in Ireland or Scotland. The other main bonus is that I’m no longer constrained by my bus time table. I can leave when I’m done! The bus is a great back-up because I still haven’t figured out how to change a flat. And our local buses all have devices on the front where you can load up your bike if you need it.

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I am signed up to take a bike maintenance class at REI next week so hopefully I can figure out what I’m doing then.

Any bikers out there?

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27 thoughts on “Bike commuting for total beginners

  1. I biked EVERYWHERE one summer and it was great! I loved it! Especially because I was only 2-3 miles from everything I did. I would like to get back into biking but now I’m a lot farther from everything (and somewhat lazy because I don’t want to bike 6 miles one way, ha!)

    Props to you for keeping this up!! I hope you continue to do so 🙂

    • That sounds amazing! I’m so lucky that I’m able to do it now so I’m totally going to take advantage before my commute gets crazy long or I’ve turned into some kind of Mom taxi or I get a job where I have to look put together everyday.

  2. Wow, it sounds like everything is really helpful for you commuting via bike. My company, not so much. We have new lockers rooms with showers, but no fancy bike lock-ups. Plus the route I would have to ride is not conducive to biking unless you want to get run over.

    • SLC is 50:50 Mormons:crazy active people. I also think we have limited parking so they want people to find other ways to get to work. I can’t complain – not sure I would do it if I lived anywhere else.

  3. charissarunning says:

    That’s awesome that you’ve incorporated biking into your daily routine! I wish I were a better biker but I’m really so uncoordinated with it and I would not feel safe biking around my town – there are no bike lanes and people drive pretty crazy sometimes :/

    • I am not the best biker – always getting passed by everyone but you have to start somewhere. And your commute is maybe not ideal for biking – although I think they have the bikeshare scheme in NYC now?

  4. I’m not much of a biker but my husband is. I kinda want to get more into it but don’t have the road confidence (or good bike). For now, I’ll be happy teaching my girls how to ride their bikes and then going on trails with them soon!
    PS – anyone that bikes (or uses active transportation) to get to work is hard core in my eyes.

    • You are too kind! I was so scared to learn to ride my bike I had to have my best friend show me how to use my own bike. It’s a definite advantage living somewhere so biker friendly – I know not everyone is that lucky!

  5. This is awesome! I miss biking so much. I used to bike everywhere when I lived in Southern California. It was so convenient to just ride to work every day. Then when I moved back I sold my bike because I didn’t have space and have yet to replace it.

  6. Jessica @ VEGGIE RUNNING MOMMA says:

    That is so awesome you’re able to bike to work.!! So impressive. I don’t even have a bike. haha. and my commute is usually 20 min long with huge hills. soo.. I might die if I try it. haha. maybe someday if I live closer to work though.! Cute cute gear.!

  7. Love your bike. I’m the same way. I really want to like biking. I bought one last summer. But it doesn’t come out much. Perhaps when I get so big I can’t run this summer it will reappear. It is just so much more fun to run and I feel safer too.

    • I definitely prefer being on two legs rather than on my bike but it’s a nice way to get around town. Not sure pregnancy is the best time to get on a bike! But maybe you could get one of those kid trailers? I actually got passed out today by a guy bringing his kid on his commute!

      • Funny enough I started biking a bit this week. And I just saw that there is a race going on tomorrow right where our group meets for their training run. I think I am going to plan on biking down and not fight for a parking spot. It’s not too bad with the belly yet!

  8. I biked to work a few times last year. It’s a longer ride for me, like 7 miles. No showers at work so I just wiped myself off and changed. Kinda gross so I only did this on casual Fridays. I really enjoyed the experience though. I’m very biking ignorant–I think my bike is a mountain bike because it has thick tires and I’m not really sure how to best change gears. Biking always feels hard and I’m not sure if that’s because of my lack of knowledge or the fact I’m primarily a runner.

    • I get so sweaty and gross after any kind of workout that I need to shower for the sake of my coworkers! I know nothing about bikes at all – luckily I have some biking friends who know everything you could possibly want to know. I guess they are the equivalent of running-nerds! Biking has gotten easier for me but some days I need to get in that Granny gear to get up a hill!

  9. +1 for the cycle commuting. I’m on it every day and it’s the fastest way to commute for me. 5weeks is great. I’m sure it’ll be a habit before long. 4yrs for me now!

  10. So I just totally bought myself a super cheap $90 bike last weekend and it is SO HARD to ride! I thought I’d be fine since I can run 13.1 miles but no, I’m not. I realize it’s because my bike is so cheap and heavy but I’m also super weak and afraid of crashing so it’s pretty intense. I also might sign up for a bike maintenance class at my REI because I have no clue what I’m doing and will probably have to abandon my bike if I ever get a flat. Congrats for being so awesome and biking to work each day! It’s good to know I’m not the only one struggling with learning how to ride better.

    • That’s so exciting! Biking definitely works a whole different set of leg muscles that running does not! I’ve also learned from my biking friends that anything that makes your bike heavier is going to make moving it anywhere so much harder – better cross-training!?! It took me about 15 minutes to figure out how my pump worked so I am going to need some bike education to avoid disaster!

  11. It’s awesome that you do this. In theory, I would love to bike commute. In reality, my bike has sat in my apartment for the past 3 years (I live 3 miles from campus, but I think I was afraid of it getting stolen). If I work somewhere with a shower, maybe I’ll give it a try

  12. Awesome! I was commuting via bike pretty much every day last spring and summer, but then we moved a lot further away from the office and it wasn’t a viable choice anymore. Also, my bike was a piece of junk :/ If we move back to town this summer, I’ll probably invest in a new bike and ride whenever possible.

  13. I’m really enjoying cycling, but am still very much a beginner. Sadly I can’t commute by bike as it’s just too far and I wouldn’t be able to get showered or anything when I arrived. Maybe in the future if I work nearer to home.

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