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Come Saturday Morning: Bike Travel, Part Two — Some Things I Missed

There was a tremendous response to my bike commuting post last month, but there was a whole bunch of stuff I missed, so consider this Part Two.

1) Even if you can’t commute with it, the bike still can be handy. Need to run down to the grocery store or convenience store, but it’s a bit too far to walk there and back in a timely fashion? Use your bike. It’s not as fast as your car, but it’s still faster than walking, even when you’re going uphill; if your destination is within five miles of your home, even the slowest cyclist can make the round trip in an hour or less. And before you say "but there are no stores within five miles of where I live", plug your home address into and check to see just what’s near you; you may be pleasantly surprised. You don’t have to spend a ton of money for panniers, either: The Banjo Brothers Grocery Pannier is $35 and it will easily handle dinner for two, among other things.

2) Remember: You are traffic. Yes, you are traffic, with all that this implies. Take your role as a cyclist seriously. Obey the rules of the road and remember that while you’re faster than a pedestrian, you’re slower than a car. Stay in the right lane until it’s time to move, then signal your lane changes. (This is why a helmet mirror is so important: It gives you the same thing you have when you’re behind the wheel, which is the ability to see what’s behind you at all times without forcing you to take your eyes off what’s in front of you.)

3) Don’t get ‘doored’. One of the biggest dangers a cyclist can face, especially an urban cyclist, comes from cars that aren’t moving at all when they hit you. A person exiting the driver’s side of a car can easily cause serious harm to a cyclist — the infamous "getting ‘doored’". If you’re riding alongside parked cars, try to ride at least two — preferably three — feet away from them. Claim the lane if you must. If this isn’t possible, be extra-alert for the presence of people in the parked cars: If you see any, make sure that they know you’re coming before you pass their parked car. (This is also a good time to remind drivers: Now that cyclists are getting more common on the roads, please be extra careful when getting out of your cars. Thanks!)

4) Be predictable – and visible. Don’t go weaving in and out of traffic just because you can. Remember: You are traffic. Signal, using your hands, your lane changes and your turns. Also, the more visible you are, the safer you are. Don’t habitually duck into the spaces between parked cars when riding; it’s harder for cars to see you (and to avoid you) when you do that, and you want them to be able to see you at all times. (That’s why many cyclists have taken to wearing light plastic mesh vests of the sort used by highway-department workers.)

5) Pick up a copy of The Art of Urban Cycling. This book, by a former Denver bike messenger named Robert Hurst, talks about bike safety in the city, but it does so in a very artful and philosophical way.

6) Pick up a copy of Roadside Bicycle Repair: A Pocket Manifesto. Just as cars occasionally have problems, bikes occasionally have problems. This is a good guide to fixing the most common problems a cyclist faces. It’s also small enough to fit in a handlebar bag so you have it for ready reference.

7) Carry a cellphone. Even the handiest cyclist — and granted, a bike problem is generally cheaper and easier to handle on one’s own than a typical car problem, especially in these days of computer-controlled cars — will run into situations where the bike breaks down and can’t be patched up on the spot; use the phone to get a cab to whereever you need to go, be it to work or to the nearest bike shop. You may also run into a situation where it is you and not the bike that needs emergency attention for whatever reason. For either reason, having a cellphone with you is a good idea.

8) Get a bike computer. This handy device tells you your speed, how far you’re ridden, and does just about everything but sing the national anthem. If you want a nice way to keep track of your bike mileage, or your overall speed on a trip, this is it. It feels good to look at the odometer and realize: "My legs did that! My body took me over all those miles! And it was fun!" CatEye and PlanetBike make popular models. (My bike-savvy spouse, looking over my shoulder, adds : "Get a wired bike computer, not a wireless one. Wireless bike computers suffer signal interference from LED lights, and LED lights are the wave of the future for bike lights.")

9) Thanks to Toby in the comments for this one: Bring a water bottle if you’re going more than a couple of miles round trip, especially if it’s hot outside. Don’t try to be Mister Macho on this — dehydration is nasty. If it’s really hot or you’re going to be on a long trip and are going to be away from places where you can easily get a refill, take two (or more). Electrolyte-replacement drinks are also good if it’s a really hot day.

10) PeteCO has some other handy tips:

A lot of people say they would like to commute, but are worried about sitting in an office all day with that “not-so-fresh” feeling. Hearken to my words; Baby wipes. Shower before you leave in the morning. This may seem counter-intuitive, but it isn’t sweat that smells, it’s the bacteria on your skin reacting with the sweat. Cleaner skin, less bacteria, less chance of smelly pits. Use a strong deodorant (duh). Wear proper bike clothing, not some old cotton tee-shirt. Bike-specific clothing wicks perspiration away from the skin, and helps you stay dry. Change when you get to work, and use baby-wipes to freshen those parts that need refreshing. Unscented, if you don’t want to smell like a small child. Pack them in a ziplock bag with your work clothes. I do this every day, and it seems to work. No-one has ever come out and called me a stinky git, and some of my colleagues would.

Don’t be surprised if you see another post on this – your feedback inspired this one, and if there’s a goodly amount of feedback to this post, there may well be a third. Get out there and see what your legs can do!

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