Ten ways to build a bicycle commuting habit

Bike-To-Work Day tips from the Rails-To-Trails Conservancy

According to the Rails-To-Trails Conservancy (RTC), there are 10 basic preparations to enjoy your bicycle commute, as US bicyclists gear up for National Bike-to-Work Day May 16:

1. Functional Bike – If you don't have a bike, or if it's been collecting dust in the garage for some time, be sure to visit your local bike shop. Staff there should be helpful in getting you set up for bike commuting on virtually any budget.

2. Helmet – A helmet can save your life. Your local bike shop should be able to fit you with a quality helmet if you don't already have one. But never buy a used helmet, because small micro-cracks that aren't visible to the naked eye can still compromise their safety. Even if a helmet has been kept in excellent condition, it should be replaced every few years; helmets lose efficiency over time (check with your helmet manufacturer for details).

3. Lights – If you'll be riding after dark, be sure you have lights on your bike so motorists can see you. LEDs (light-emitting diodes) are inexpensive and ideal for providing bright, low-energy light. Some LEDs won't light your path, but they'll make sure others can see you. They are good to attach on the front and back of your bicycle, as motorists can approach you from either direction.

4. Gear – You won't need a full racing suit or jersey to make your bike commute. But if you are wearing jeans or slacks, it's a good idea to roll up your pant cuffs or stuff them in your socks to avoid getting caught in your bike chain. A helpful trick is to wear reflective ankle straps, which increase your visibility to passing cars and keep your pants protected. Also, be sure to secure loose shoelaces.

5. Safe Route – Many communities publish maps of bicycle-safe roads, roads with separate bike lanes, and trails. Otherwise, consider using an online mapping tool like Bikely. Riding quiet residential streets that parallel major thoroughfares allow for a safe and enjoyable commute.

If you want to step your cycling habit up a notch and make a more permanent switch to bike commuting, here are a few other elements to consider:

6. Find a Friend or Riding Partner – Sharing your commute with someone can boost your enjoyment and improve your visibility. It's not always easy or wise to chat while riding around traffic, but company can help keep your biking habit more regular and rewarding.

7. Rain Gear – Once you're addicted to bike commuting, don't allow a few raindrops to prevent your daily dose! By waterproofing yourself, you can make sure that you—and your change of clothes—arrive at the office in good, dry order.

8. Safe Place to Lock Your Bike – When you're pedaling in a city, you can look for a range of options, from formal bike racks to a street sign to actually bringing your bike into your office. If you can't find a suitable rack, you can suggest that your employer provide a place to lock your bike.

9. Panniers, Bike Bag, Backpack or Bike Basket – These handy carriers will make toting materials to and from work a breeze, and the right fit will ensure that you are neither over-laden nor unstable while you ride.

10. Water Bottle – Staying well-hydrated is always important, but particularly during hotter summer months or when your commute is longer than a few miles. Dehydration can lead to headaches, loss of mental capacity, cramps or heat exhaustion. Most bike shops sell bottles that can easily be secured to a bottle cage that attaches to your bike frame.

Alternately, "hydration packs" allow cyclists to carry water in a pouch on their backs and drink from a plastic tube, removing the need to reach down for a water bottle while pedaling.

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