Bicycles for Transportation

Schwinn Speedster

I'm a bit of a cycling fan. Not fully over the edge, mind you, but I'm enthusiastic about bikes. I know that biking is inexpensive, great exercise and one of the most fun ways to get around. But not everyone I know is completely sold on the idea of bikes as a form of transportation. Here's a look at ways to make cycling a practical mode of transportation.

Pick your bike:
I love bikes, I really do, and I own a few. I have two mountain bikes, a road bike, and a "new to me" vintage town bike. Each of these bikes has its own relative strengths and advantages and I choose one to ride depending on where I am going and what I want to do. For riding to work or down to the store I take the town bike.

A good town bike should have (at a minimum) fenders, a rack, gears to match the terrain and your fitness, flat pedals, a kick stand, and a lock. Fenders are vital on a rainy day or just after a shower for keeping you clean and dry. A rack, or panniers (saddle bags), can make any bike much more practical allowing you to carry groceries or assorted sundries to and from home. Pay attention when loading your bike as a heavy or uneven load can make for unpredictable bike handling. Gearing is as important as your town is hilly. The wider your gear range, the easier it will be to climb hills and maintain a comfortable pedaling effort.

I highly recommend flat pedals for a town bike instead of specialized "clipless" pedals. Not having to change shoes to ride your town bike will encourage you ride more than any efficiency gained from clipless pedals and cycling shoes. A kick stand, while a no-no on a racing bike is practical good sense on a town bike. Lastly, buy and use a lock that provides sufficient security for your neighborhood and the value of your bike.

I strongly suggest going to a real bike store to purchase your bicycle. Department store bikes, while they may be cheap, have a well-earned reputation as being the "Yugos" of the bicycle world. You can buy a good quality new bike for $300 or more dollars and a good used bike for less. Bike stores can also help make sure you get a properly sized bike and will usually provide an initial check-up service for free.

Plan your route:
Choosing a bicycling route is often quite different than the route we would drive in a car. I avoid roads with 4 or more lanes as they tend to have a higher speed limit and more traffic which isn't bicycle friendly. I suggest using a map of your city and familiarizing yourself with the quieter side streets that connect to your destination. Side streets may be slow to drive in a car, but can be the fastest and most relaxing route for a bike. Of course, you should take advantage of any bike lanes and multi-use or cycling paths in your city. For short trips around town a bicycle can be just as fast or faster than a car, especially in traffic. Just remember that bicycles are vehicles and have as much right to the road as any car or truck, so please stay off the sidewalk and ride with traffic.

Choose your clothes:
Cycling on a cool day is one of the most invigorating things I know of. But, when the weather is either hot, cold or raining you have to plan your wardrobe to suit the conditions. First off, dress lightly or in removable layers as cycling is good exercise and you will warm up within the first mile of your ride. In hot weather light, breathable layers will let the breeze keep you cooler as you pedal along. In colder weather I choose wind-resistant layers and focus on keeping my hands, feet and torso warm. For wet weather I have a well-ventilated rain jacket made specifically for cycling. Lastly, a rubber band around the cuff of your right pants leg will keep it out of the bicycle chain.

Let's go ride bikes!
A few last notes before we head out the door. While helmets are not perfect, they can significantly reduce the danger of brain injury in an accident and I recommend wearing one. Secondly, stay alert and ride defensively. As you know, other drivers can be careless or distracted, which is dangerous in a car and more so to a cyclist. At intersections I make sure that I have eye contact with other drivers before I proceed even when I have clear right of way.

Now, kick a leg over and let's go ride bikes!

Further Reading:
Bicycles are the most efficient form of transportation

League of American Bicyclists

Ken Kifer's Bike Pages