In case you were wondering, bikes are NOT just for recreation! You can use your bike to ride to work, go get bagels, or pick up some gas for the lawn mower. Sometimes this kind of riding is known as utility riding. The majority of car trips in the US average out to a distance of about 3 miles, which is a very easy distance to cover by bicycle. And in many cases, it’s actually a bit faster to go by bike, plus you get a little physical activity into your day, which makes you a better, more relaxed and functional worker. But if you’re going to use a bike for transit or errands, see our “Basics of Bicycle Safety” page, and then check out these tips for making it easier.
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Choosing a Commuter/Utility Bicycle
You can turn ANY bike into a commuter utility bike just by wearing a backpack and carrying a lock. But if you really want to run errands and carry stuff to work, we suggest getting a bike you can set up with fenders and racks or baskets you can use as a dedicated commuter/utility bike. Nowadays, manufacturers are building sweet commuter/utility bikes that come equipped with racks, fenders, baskets, bins, lights—you name it. Expect to spend at least $300 for a new bicycle that is made and set up as a commuter/utility bike (although you can easily go as high as $4000!!). Buying a used bike, and fixing it up with racks, fenders, lights, (coffee holder?) to work as a commuter also provides you with some peace of mind regarding theft if you have to leave it outside. A used bike, plus repairs, racks and fenders, can cost as little as $200, total.
Bike Set Up
If you plan to use your bike as a commuter/utility vehicle, adding a rack, panniers, fenders and lights can make it easier for you to carry stuff, stay dry and be seen. Pannier bags, which come in great variety of sizes and shapes, hang on your racks and enable you to carry your briefcase, laptop, lunch, extra clothes, groceries, etc. Baskets, whether in front on the bars or in back like the old newspaper baskets are also a great way to increase your bike’s cargo capacity. You can also use trailers for the big loads! It doesn’t have to be raining for you to love fenders—they stop any road wetness from being thrown up your backside. . . Blinking and steady lights on your bike can help you be seen by other traffic, whether it’s day or night.
Dressing for Commuting
If your commute is less than 5 miles, you may be able to ride in your work clothes. If your commute is over 5 miles, you may want to wear cycling clothing and change at work. Showers are NOT absolutely necessary (can we get over our phobia of a little perspiration?)—often a container of Wet Wipes and a change of clothes stashed in your desk are all you need to be fresh and professional looking after your ride in. If your commute is WAY over 5 miles, you may consider driving part of the way, and then riding the rest of the way. In any event—dress in layers that enable you to adjust how warm/cool you are. Synthetics usually dry faster than natural fibers. In cold weather, dress as if you were cross-country skiing. And remember—dressing “bright” for visibility and “tight” so nothing gets tangled in your bike is best!
How to Ride as a Commuter/Utility Bicyclist
- Route Selection The route you bike might not be the route you drive. Study some maps, and ride some possible routes on the weekend to find the best route for your commute in.
- Pacing Ride at a pace that doesn’t make you break a sweat—remember, this isn’t a training ride!
- Follow the Rules of the Road. Whenever you’re on the road, ride with traffic, generally in the right hand third of the travel lane, obey traffic signs and signals, and use hand signals.
Organize with your fellow workers to get showers, bike parking and storage, and commuter tax credits for riding to work!
The Maine Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Education Program offers worksite trainings to help build bicycle culture at your place of employment, and includes trainings on bike safety, choosing bikes and accessories, improving worksite facilities to support bike commuting, etc. For more info, contact the Coalition Education Director
In the Portland Maine area, a good commuter resource is http://www.meetup.com/Portland-Bike-Commuting/
For more info, check out www.commutebybike.com and other bike commuter sites.