I began bicycling in September 2010 for two reasons- the health benefits and to commute to work. Living in Madison has made commuting a great experience, and I wanted to share some of the lessons I have learned the past three years.
1. Before you begin commuting, ride your expected route at least once, if not twice. Look for bike lanes that you can use. If your route takes you down a busy street and you don’t feel safe, find a parallel side street that you can take. You should also find out if there are paved bike trails in your area. Finally, check out the WI Department of Transportation’s webpage with bicycle maps.
2. If you don’t remember what you learned about bicycle safety as a child, brush up by going to the WI Department of Transportation’s webpage for safety tips and rules for riding.
3. Depending on the distance of your commute, you might want to consider buying a pair or two of bike shorts. My commute is 40 miles round trip, and I learned the hard (and very painful) lesson of riding long distances without proper gear.
4. Consider buying both a headlight and taillight. This is especially important if you will be cycling in the dark. If you will not be riding in the dark, they still increase your visibility with automobiles, thereby making your commute that much safer.
5. As a teacher, I bring a lot of work home with me; therefore, I decided to buy a basket big enough for my backpack and laptop. I tried riding at first with my backpack on my back, but by the time I got home at night, I was uncomfortable. If a basket isn’t your style, you could always choose a cargo bag or pannier.
6. If you work up a sweat on your commute, make sure your place of employment has a shower facility and place to change. To decrease the amount of gear I need to take to work with each commute, I take a towel and a few days worth of clothes to work on Sunday. I have a cupboard in my classroom, so I can store my “dirty” clothes in there for the week until the following Sunday.
7. Finally, if you live in the Madison area, you might want to check out the Choose to Commute workshop put on by the Wisconsin Bike Federation.
There are many other steps you can take to increase the comfort of your commute, but the above recommendations should be enough to get you well on your way. Commuting really boils down to two very simple, but important, principles- the 6 P’s (Proper Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance) and SAFETY.