Fitness Articles

A Beginner's Guide to Biking to Work

Get Fit, Go Green and Save Money by Biking

1.2KSHARES
It makes perfect sense. Instead of driving to work and back each day—which uses gas and does absolutely nothing for your rear or your stress level—you bike your way to work, miss the traffic, burn some calories, get an energy boost, and save the planet one pedal stroke at a time. Not to mention that you can actually get a $20 a month kickback from the Bicycle Commuter Act just by exercising your right to get to work on two self-powered wheels. Sounds glorious, right?

Biking does sound great on a 70-degree Friday when your boss allows you to dress casually for work, but what if the weather isn't cooperating? Or what if you have a big meeting and just can't risk getting your nice clothes all sweaty? As fantastic as bike commuting sounds, it can pose some challenges.

This is why we got personal advice from three SparkPeople members who bike to work with the best of them. These seasoned bike commuters shared their top tips, advice and personal stories to encourage you to try biking to work! Before we get started though, a quick note on safety. Obviously safety is of the utmost concern, so if you've never biked on the road, be sure to read these bicycle safety tips.

4 To-Dos Before You Begin Bicycle Commuting
  1. Find a seasoned biking buddy. SparkPeople member Tanya (RESIPSA99), who commutes 8 miles to the office (and back) in rain or shine, recommends that every first-time bike commuter befriend someone who regularly commutes by bicycle—whether it's a coworker, someone in a bike group or a salesperson at your local bike shop.

    "I was lucky enough to have a lot of coworkers who cycle-commute, and one of them shepherded me the first few days I commuted, showing me the best route," Tanya says. "It was a huge eye-opener for me, as prior to that, I had no idea that there was such a thing as designated bike routes. Once I told him that I was really nervous of traffic, he figured out the best route from my place to work, and parts of it I don't think I would have found without him."

    Tanya also recommends using Google's bike map directions to help you find the best path and make use of any designated biking routes in your area.

  2. Start simple. Just like an exercise, it's better to start slow and build over time. If it has been years or even months since you've been on a bike and your commute is a long distance, SparkPeople member Garrett (GRITSTER) says to do shorter rides closer to home until you have the endurance and confidence to commute to and from work.

  3. Do a test ride. Because you can never be 100% sure what to expect your first time out, SparkPeople member Michelle (KESTREL500) suggests that new bike commuters do a dry run or two on a non-work day to make sure they know how long it will take and how they will feel after the commute, taking any rush-hour traffic into consideration. "Then make any adjustments before you need to be there at a specific time," she says.

  4. Don't be afraid to take a day off. You don't have to bike to work every day, so if the weather makes you nervous or if you just don't feel like it, take a day off! Being a part-time bike commuter still does great things for your mind and body.
Bike-Commuting Essentials
  • A helmet! Protect your noggin at all times by investing in a quality helmet.
     
  • A bike in good working order (and tools to keep it that way). Michelle recommends investing in a bicycle that is in good working order, but not such an expensive one when starting out, unless you have a really safe place to store it. "Other than that, you should always have a tube, tire levers and a pump in case you get a flat," she says. "Oh, and knowing how to use these is a good idea. Depending on how much else you need to carry, you should either have a rack with a bag that hangs on it or some sort of a backpack or messenger bag. I use a rack and a bag that clips on to it and turns into a messenger-style bag when removed."
     
  • Lights and bright reflective clothing. No matter what time of day you're riding, you should wear some kind of bright, reflective clothing. That way even if you bike in the daylight to work, you stay safe on the way home when that meeting goes later than you expected! "Even if you are wearing your street clothing, pick up a reflective vest and some reflective arm/leg bands that won't mess your clothing and can be taken off when you arrive and stuffed in a pocket," Tanya says.
Avoiding Sticky (and Sweaty) Situations
One of the biggest reasons people don't like to bike to work is because they're afraid of not feeling fresh when they arrive at the office. However, many people solve this by just carrying their work clothes with them in a bag.

"I just leave my house in plenty of time, and I don't ride very hard," says Michelle. "I just kind of ride slowly and enjoy being outside, so I don't sweat. On my way home, I might push it or take the long way, but then I can shower when I get home."

If you do get a bit sweaty, Tanya swears by baby wipes, on-the-go pre-moistened facial wipes and extra deodorant. She also keeps extra shoes, an emergency set of clothes and a hair dryer at work so that if her hair or clothes get soaked (whether from rain or "glowing," as she calls sweating) she can look presentable.

Whether it's driving in, taking public transportation or hitching a ride with a family member, friend or co-worker, it's good to always have a back-up or someone you can call in a pinch if the weather is bad, you don't feel well, or your bike gets a flat that you can't patch.

While you should always follow basic safety guidelines, such as being predictable and signaling your intentions, Tanya also reminds that bike commuters always look around them, rotating where you are looking so that you cover all areas in your field of vision every 5 to 10 seconds. This includes looking underneath and in the windows of parked cars for pedestrians or drivers coming out, taking your time at intersections, coming to a complete stop and always being focused. Also, never assume that a driver sees you, she says.

Michelle says it's also important to ride on the correct side of the road and adhere to all traffic laws as if you were a car.

"When cyclists don't respect the rules of the road it makes us all look bad. Plus it is dangerous," she says. "I am aware that motorists are not always respectful of our right to ride on the road, but, if we are to deserve this right, we need to use it responsibly."

What to Wear—and What Not to Wear
Tanya says gloves and sunglasses aren't just for the elite cyclists or to look cool. They actually serve a purpose.

"Gloves not only reduce the vibration on your hands, but they are critical if you fall," she says. "If you don't have gloves, you are less likely to put out your hands if you are falling, which then results in an injury more serious than a hand scrape."

And the glasses? Basic safety or biking glasses are a must for protecting your eyes from bugs and risk of other debris from a passing car. They're also helpful in the rain and cold as they shelter your eyes from the "misery of pelting rain or eye freeze," Tanya says.

When it comes to apparel, you have to check the weather and be prepared. Moisture-wicking layers are key, as are a few cycling-specific pieces if you're really committed to biking in non-sunny weather conditions. While Garrett and Michelle weren't fans of biking in rain or other severe weather if they can help it, Tanya regularly bikes in rain and the cold.

"I bought a rain-proof cycling jacket that is bright yellow with full side vents and reflective tape, breathable but rainproof bike pants and waterproof shoe covers," she says. "I have different types of gloves for all seasons: fingerless for the summer, full-finger for the spring and fall, and lobster (like mittens, only split in between the middle and ring fingers) for the winter. In the winter, I have a cap for under my helmet, and sometimes will add a scarf if it is below freezing."

And remember, keep changing weather conditions in mind throughout the day so you're prepared for the ride home, too. Weather can change rather quickly in many climates.

Why You Should Give Bike Commuting a Try
Your health. Turning your usual commute into a bicycle workout can burn calories, improve your cardiovascular health and help you lose or maintain your weight.

To save money. Aside from saving gas money, many of our bike commuters cited saving big on parking fees and even car maintenance. Garrett even got rid of his car!

Stress reduction. Instead of getting stuck in traffic and fuming, you could be biking on paths and back roads for an enjoyable start and end to your workday.

"I can leave work after the most aggravating day, and five minutes into the ride I'm feeling more relaxed, even in the pouring rain," Tanya says. "On a beautiful sunny day, it's heaven. I love the feeling of being self-propelled, on my own, enjoying the weather and, when I'm on a side street, enjoying the birds singing in the summer or holiday lights in the winter."

To make the world a better, greener place. Every little eco-friendly initiative helps and bike commuting is definitely a step that makes a difference in reducing your carbon footprint.

It can save time. You might think that biking will make for a longer commute to and from the office, but Michelle found that she could leave her house half an hour later because she didn't have to look for parking. Also, if you bike fast enough to get your heart rate up, you can turn your commute into your cardio, biking right past the gym—talk about multitasking!

Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
  You will earn 5 SparkPoints
Page 1 of 1  
Got a story idea? Give us a shout!
1.2KSHARES

Member Comments

  • I enjoy biking, but don't feel safe with the route I'd have to bike to work.
  • I need to buy a bike so I can go riding with my lil man
  • I don't think biking to work is a good idea. Biking any other time would be ok. The idea that something could happen and make you late isn't good.
  • ALYCIAVEN
    I am confused as to why this article mentions no traffic twice. In most US cities, adults must ride their bicycles in the street, not on the sidewalk. You absolutely deal with traffic!

    I do like the photo that accompanies the article. She actually looks like a normal bicycle commuter, not some nervous wreck decked out in gloves and reflective gear. The more normal you look on a bike, the safer it is because the cars will give you more room. If you make bicycle commuting into something dangerous, no one wants to do it!
  • It's not practical for me to cycle to work at the moment, but I often cycle home when husband is on the same shift as me. Bike goes in the back of the car and I change after my shift. It's 9 miles from home the direct route or 40 or so the pretty route :)
    Sometimes I take a helmet, sometimes not depending on whether I chose road or trails. It's not a legal obligation here as it is in some countries. I always wear cycling mitts (or gloves in the winter), I always wear glasses and always cycling shoes.
    If I'm cycling in Holland I never wear a helmet. The Dutch think cycle helmet wearers are bone fide weirdos! Also, Holland is a cycling paradise with a complete cycling infrastructure. It's bliss

    Sure I have had some close passes. The law states give cyclists 1.5m of space when passing. Sadly some car drivers are self obsessed, self important muppets. Most are not though
  • Biking to work isn't feasible for me, but there are some great tips in here. Maybe rethink the photo paired with this article though!
  • I call those split things "glittens", (glove/mitten) and I love them.
  • GALINUO
    One of the problems I was faced with is that drivers often yell at a bicycle riders when they are passing by (awful close)!! This is really dangerous and mean! Either they think they are better than bicyclists or just being ass..s , in any case it ruins all good intentions to safe the planet risking your life in the same time.
  • I don't know how it is in the rest of the country, but here in Massachusetts, drivers will actually swerve to hit bicyclists while blasting their horn. The stress is unbelievably high. What is your advice to combat this situation and to bike safely under such conditions?
  • Skirt and heels, holding onto the briefcase at her handlebars and no helmet -- really?!
  • I commute by bike as often as possible. I also pick up groceries and run errands by bike. As with any new endeavor, there are plenty of excuses why I can't. Overcoming those excuses can be difficult. This article provides a good method of easing into it. Even if you just commute once a week, that is a good start.

    I find that when I ride to work, my day is less stressful. I consume less coffee and my mood is better. When I ride to work, I arrive with a smile. That doesn't always happen when I arrive by car.
  • I would love to be able to ride a bike to work to squeeze in some exercise while saving a little on the ozone layer, however the roads just don't permit neither do the occupied minds of the vehicle drivers.....
  • My pet peeve is when people are biking with with earbuds or something that blocks outside noise. That said, I loved biking.

    When I lived in Florida, I would ride everywhere. I was hit by a car twice, once by a distracted driver who went off the road and hit me where I was STANDING, the second time by an Expedition that ran a stop sign. I spent a month in the hospital,but I still love it. In Florida, you have so many options and if you ever get tired, you could put your bike on the city bus and ride home. Now, I live in the rural parts of Virginia where I only have a highway.

    Maybe a biking vacation would be fun.
  • Might be difficult since the only direct route is 20 minutes on the highway and it gets below freezing in winter!
  • I've been bike commuting for a few years, and I love it. I live about 4 miles from my office, which is about a 20 minute ride on my commuter bike. It's sometimes actually faster to bike to work than it is to drive, because I ride through neighborhoods and on a bike path, so I get to skip a lot of traffic. The building's bike rack is in a covered parking garage, so my bike is locked up out of the elements while I'm working.

    I absolutely love my commuter bag, which hooks into a rack attached to my bike's seatpost. I bought it at a local bike shop and I'm so glad I did. It holds lunch groceries, clothes to change into, an extra bike lock (I have a bike lock that stays locked to my office's bike rack), snacks, tools - being able to change a flat is crucial.

    Not only do I live close enough for a bike commute to be manageable, my office building has a locker room with showers. During the hot months, I bike in an hour early and shower at the office. It's really a fantastic setup - I can't believe mine is usually the only bike in the rack!

About The Author

Jennipher Walters Jennipher Walters
Jenn is the CEO and co-founder of the healthy living websites FitBottomeGirls.com, FitBottomedMamas.com and FitBottomedEats.com. A certified personal trainer, health coach and group exercise instructor, she also holds an MA in health journalism and is the author of The Fit Bottomed Girls Anti-Diet book (Random House, 2014).

See all of Jenn's articles.

x Lose 10 Pounds by September 2! Sign up with Email Sign up with Facebook
By clicking one of the above buttons, you're indicating that you have read and agree to SparkPeople's Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy and that you're at least 18 years of age.