If you want to save money, time, improve your fitness, and add enjoyment to your trip to work, commuting by bicycle may be the answer. Here are some tips to get you started:
Trips of four miles or less are good candidates for commuting by bicycle.
A typical commute of 3 – 4 miles takes approximately 15 – 25 minutes and may actually take less time door to door than traveling by automobile. For longer trips you might combine commuting with recreation/fitness by using your bike for part of the trip. Drive part of the way with your bike in the car, then cycle the last few miles. You can gradually increase the distance you cycle and may eventually find yourself biking the entire distance, or use your bike to cycle to access transit and pick it up on the way home. If there are no bike lockers or bike racks at the stop or station, you may be able to make arrangements to part your bike at a nearby lot or rent storage space.
Do some exploring to find the best route.
You may discover that the best route is not necessarily the one with the least traffic. Other considerations are directness, smoothness of pavement, absence of hazards such as blind intersections, stream flow type sewer grates, railroad tracks, number of signals or stop signs, terrain, amount of truck or bus traffic, the existence of paved shoulders, the availability of designated facilities such as bike lanes, signed routes or shared use paths, and the width of outside lanes. If the outside lane is wide enough to accommodate both a car and a bicycle, that road may be better for bicycling than a narrow street with less traffic.
Know how to ride your bike!
If you are a bit rusty, get out your bike and practice. Develop your riding skills so you will be able to confidently handle more difficult riding situations.
Obey the rules of the road.
In New Jersey, as in most states, bicyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as drivers of motor vehicles. Ride with traffic, never facing it. Observe signals, stop and yield signs. Remember: sidewalks are for pedestrians.
Watch for cars pulling out of driveways or making turns. Where there is parking, watch for car doors opening. Be alert for road hazards such as sewer grates, potholes, glass and other debris. Don’t ride out to avoid these unless you’ve checked to see that no traffic is overtaking you on your left. Cross railroad tracks at right angles or your wheel might get trapped in the flangeway. Don’t foolishly assert your claim to the right-of-way. Use discretion.
Select proper lane position for the situation.
- Between intersections, keep as far right as practical. Don’t “hug the curb” where debris collects or where you won’t be visible to motorists. Move left to pass slow traffic or obstacles (but check for overtaking traffic). If the outside lane plus shoulder (if available) is too narrow for side-by-side sharing with motor vehicles, move toward the middle of the lane (i.e., “take the lane”) to indicate that motorized traffic must change lanes to pass safely.
- When approaching and at intersections, determine your lane and position within the lane by the direction you want to go. Position yourself so your intentions are clear. If there is only one lane for travel in your direction, approach the intersection in the part of that lane that corresponds to the direction you are going. When you have a choice of lanes to use, ride in the right-most lane that goes in the direction you want to go.
- If you want to make a left turn and you sense that conditions are too difficult for your skill level, you may make a “pedestrian” left-hand turn by riding to the far side of the intersection and walking your bike across when conditions permit.
Signal your intentions to other traffic.
Use traditional hand signals to indicate turns. Use over the shoulder look and eye contact with drivers to negotiate a lane change.
Wear a helmet.
It’s as important as wearing a seat belt in a car. If you have an accident, a good helmet will usually protect you against serious head injury. (Note: Those under 17 are required to wear a bike helmet.) Cycling gloves will protect your hands from road vibration and scrapes in case of a fall.
Wear comfortable, bright colored clothing.
Avoid tight fitting clothing that restricts movement or excessively loose clothing that could get caught in moving parts. Use pant clips or rubber bands to protect pants from getting caught or soiled. If dress codes are an issue, you might wear comfortable, casual clothes and bring business clothes to change into at work or keep some business clothes at work. For short trips, most people can ride in the clothes they wear at their destination.
Give yourself enough time.
For example, at least one-half hour for a four mile trip. Take your time and enjoy the ride. That way you’ll arrive at work fresh, not hot and sweaty; invigorated, not exhausted. A washcloth and hand towel should be all most people need to freshen up. If showers and lockers are available, so much the better.
Cool or inclement weather should not prevent you from commuting by bicycle.
There is a wide variety of clothing and equipment available to maintain your comfort. In cool weather, several thin layers over normal riding clothes will keep you warm and won’t restrict your movements. Wear full-finger gloves. For below freezing temperatures, shoe covers, toe clip covers, or cold weather riding shoes help keep your toes warm. In wet weather, fenders are desirable. They fend off the dirt and water keeping you and your bike cleaner and drier. A variety of waterproof clothing is available. Rain capes, chaps, gaiters and shoe covers designed especially for bicyclists will keep you dry all over, except for your face, and allow enough air to circulate to evaporate perspiration and keep you from overheating. Rubberized rains suits are sweatboxes and should be avoided. Remember that you don’t have to bicycle every day or in all conditions to enjoy the benefits of commuting by bicycle. Some part-time bicycle commuters avoid almost all rain by cycling only when the weather report predicts less than 50 percent chance of rain. If you elect not to ride in inclement weather, you should make plans in advance in the event the weather turns bad. You might arrange to be picked up, take transit or share a ride. However, cycling with some regularity helps prevent the psychological barriers and inertia, which come with infrequent cycling.
If you ride at dusk or after, make sure you are highly visible.
A white headlight and red tail light visible at 500 feet and rear red reflector are required by law in New Jersey. These lights should be supplemented by reflectors (pedal reflectors, wheel reflectors, etc.) and other devices such as arm lights, a rear flashing beacon, reflective tape on clothing and bike bags, bags made of reflective fabric, reflective tape on helmets and reflective vests.
Arrange for secure bike parking at work.
Bike lockers, if available, are best. A spot inside the building at your destination is also good (if permitted). A high-security bike rack, if located in a conspicuous or well-observed, covered area, will do. Unguarded outside racks allow bikes to be vandalized. Racks accompanied by a locking device are best suited for short term or indeterminate length parking.
Regular commuting can be hard on your bicycle.
Check it over often and keep it in good working order.
Carry basic maintenance tools.
Spare tube, patch kit, pump, tire irons, and few basic tools for emergencies. Know how to use them.
Carry some identification on your person, not on your bicycle!