Commuting on a bicycle 20May16 | 1
A rough collection of thoughts based upon twelve months of commuting through four seasons in Pennsylvania…
The machine. It’s ergonomics and upkeep are the most central and crucial aspect of your entire bicycling endeavor.
‘Flat-free’ Tires. Some folks are fancy, and they live fancy carefree lives. I am not those people. I sure as hell am not going to get a flat on my way to work, because screwing around with pumps and tubes on the road is not an option. Essential gear.
Fenders. These keep water off of you when you ride in the rain. And it’s going to rain. Essential gear.
Lights. A nice generic flashlight mount lets you keep a few (you don’t want a dead light when riding at night) LED flashlights on hand for quick swap out for front illumination. A blinking LED taillight keeps folks from rear-ending you. To keep from destroying your budget on alkalines, get a small set of Enerloop (or other LSD / low self discharge NiMH) batteries and a good charger. Essential gear.
Rack. This gets a backpack off your back, because it lets you hang bags off of it! Backpacks feel like sweaters when it’s hot out. At least one rear rack, and one simple rack bag are highly recommended.
Seat. Unless you’re very fortunate, the seat on your bike probably isn’t comfortable for long rides. There are a wide range of leather saddles that will be comfortable after a few days of break-in, but the length and width are important. They offer rubber seats that don’t need covered in the rain that seem highly regarded. The seat is the last thing to worry about, because the rest of the ergonomics must be in place to find out how comfy the seat actually is: position up and down, front and back all need to be correct before you’ll have your ‘actual’ weight on the seat. Only then (after a dozens of miles of time in the saddle, and many adjustments to find what fits your body) will your sit bones be where they want to be…and a saddle is going to need to appropriately cradle those sit bones! Optional, but recommended gear.
Aerobars. You’re going to want to change positions to shift your weight around at some point. Or get your upper body down out of the wind (headwinds are demoralizing). Clamp on aerobars are a hell of a lot cheaper than a new bike, and easier to install than swapping out a conventional handlebar to a dropbar…but they’re pretty dangerous until you’re used to getting into and out of them unless you were a punk as a kid and are used to riding without your hands on the bars. Optional gear.
No cotton. Well, maybe cotton shorts or jeans, but only if you’re not going to sweat in them too much. Cotton is for dry conditions, and for keeping you warm. It retains moisture and heat like mad. If you’re going to need cotton for wherever you’re going, pack it with you or keep a set at your destination.
Comfort is all about layers and effort. Thin polyester up against your skin (base layer), with additional layers on top as necessary. Windbreakers. Insulation. If you’re too hot and can’t take anything else off, ease up on the effort. If you’re too cold and can’t put anything else on, PUSH IT.
Base layer – micro poly tee or long sleeve, no cotton
Thin insulate – Patagonia R1 or R3, long sleeve thin poly
Wind breaker – Patagonia Houdini
Thick insulate – Vest / parka / long sleeve thick poly
Waterproof top – rain coat or nylon shell top
15’F and under – everything isn’t enough to keep you warm, especially hands and face. Sock liners, glove liners, every layer you’ve got and then some…
25’F – heavy layering, especially hands and head
35’F – basic layering, hat really helps
45’F / no sun – gloves, 2x base poly tee, 1x cotton tee, poly leggings, jeans, windbreaker = barely ok once you’ve got some wind in your face for a half hour…
55’F / no sun – 2x base poly tee, jeans = barely ok
65’F – 1x poly tee, shorts = usually OK
If it hurts now, it’s probably only going to get worse. Adjust seat, position, feet for least pain and most power. Butt off seat when you need to push: tighten lower abs, lean forward, cantilever torso, keep your force pushing down on the pedals and keep it off the ligaments of your knee as much as possible.
Start slow. Slow down to speed up. Build strength, endurance, and THEN push. Be mindful not to spend your reserves at the bottom of a hill, unless you’re looking to beat your muscles up. You’re going to be biking every day, some days you need to go relatively easy on yourself. If you get a heart rate monitor, aim to always have your heart above 130BPM.
Again, if it hurts now, it’s probably only going to get worse. Deal with sources of pain. Muscle pain will pass. Ass pain may or may not pass. Knee pain isn’t likely to pass: fix your form and ergonomics. Numbness in hands isn’t likely to pass: add positions you can move to on your bike, increase core strength to cantilever better, adjust ergonomics of the bike, add gloves or ergo grips, etc.
It’s going to rain. It’s going to snow. Very, very occasionally…it’s going to be impassable. You’ll need a backup plan, but you also will be commuting in weather most folks wouldn’t think of biking in, on days when impassible ‘actually isn’t’. Gaiters and rain pants are great for dealing with driving rain and snow kicking up. A pair of waterproof shoes are in order, or at least a backup set at your destination. Keeping ‘everything you might need’ in the bag on your bike in case that beautiful spring day turns into blowing wind and snow showers in the afternoon…the weather can be the most delightful, delicate part of the day or the most miserable…