Getting Into Commuting

Welcome to the world of commuting. Be it on a saddle, skates or foot, come on and join the self-propelled revolution! By reading this, it means you are interested in taking the first steps towards using your bike or other physical modes for fun and transportation. We think that's awesome, and we're here to help you go for it.

We know there are lots of reasons you are considering commuting:

  • Rising gas prices
  • Getting in shape
  • Doing your part to be more "green"
  • Breathing some fresh air
  • Reducing your stress level
  • Seeing your environs at a slower pace
  • This all sounds great, but let's get real for a minute. Most of us have found plenty of reasons NOT to start commuting.

Let's take a look at your concerns:

Biking requires too much gear? Really, the basic necessities for biking are just you, a bike and a helmet to protect your noggin'. You don't need fancy biking gear to ride a bike. Of course, some accessories are nice to have, but that can come later. Just get on a bike and go.

Getting Into Commuting

Biking takes too much time! Reality: It does require a little extra planning to ride, but, depending on distance and traffic, it might actually take less time to bike than it does to drive. Plus, remember you are getting in shape, burning calories and can run a few errands while you ride.

Biking is too dangerous! Reality: Most cyclist ride for years without mishap. Acting like a driver, being predictable, wearing bright clothing, being aware of your surrounding, anticipating driver behavior, making eye contact with drivers, having hands ready on the brakes, watching for car doors opening, following traffic rules and claiming your lane will help improve your safety.

I'm too out of shape to commute? Reality: Get started and your bike will help you get back into shape. The more you bike, the easier it will get.

You can't carry much stuff on a bike! You'd be surprised how many groceries or work items you can bring on a bike. Start by wearing a daypack or messenger bag or add a rear rack and carry your things in panniers or attachable bags.

My clothes will be all wrinkled! Bring clothes with fabrics that are less prone to wrinkles when packed or on those days when you are driving, bring your clothes to work so you don't have to carry them on your ride.

I'll get sweaty! Reality: Of course you will. Make plans to shower and get dressed at your work. If they are serious about your wellness, they will have accommodations for you to store your clothes, bike and be able to get ready for work. If not so lucky, a "birdbath" will work in a pinch or consider just riding home when it doesn't matter.

It's too far for me to commute to work! Well you can always ride just part of the way or only one way. Drive to a different starting point to reduce the distance. Catch a ride to work with someone and bike home. Or take the bus — most have a rack in front for bicycles.

Pick a Safe Route
It may be easy on which route you want to ride, but if you're not sure you can ask a fellow cyclist. If there is a co-worker who already bikes to work, talk to him or her. Contact a local bike club or bike shop. Go on-line and map your route using: or pick up a Brown County Cycling Map at the planning office downtown or a local bike shop. When selecting your route consider road construction, heavy traffic, dogs, hills and whether or not the streets have a bike lane or shoulder. You don't necessarily want a route the shortest distance, but the safest. Stay off streets that have heavy traffic, no bike lane or lined shoulder. For example: Don't ride on Riverside Drive or Webster Street when you can ride on Libal Street or East River Drive. It just makes safety sense.

Take a Practice Spin
On a weekend before your first commute, you might want to bike to your workplace to get a feel for the ride and how long it will take you. Remember the traffic will most likely be heavier during your commute hours. You may want to consider trying it one-way in the beginning. Take a bus or have someone drop you and your bike at work in the morning, and then try biking home when you don't have the pressure of getting to work on time.

Riding in Traffic
Maybe you're one of the lucky ones who can ride on the Fox River bike trail or have a marked bike lane, but at times or at some places, you'll probably have to ride in traffic. It's really not that scary. In general, bicyclists follow the rules of the road as car drivers. Just pretend you're driving your car instead of your bike.

  • Go with traffic, not against it.
  • Follow traffic signals, signs and pavement markings.
  • Yield to pedestrians and other vehicles.
  • Don't pass on the right.
  • Watch what is happening behind you. To make it easier, wear a helmet-mounted or eyeglass mirror.
  • Ride straight and don't swerve in and out of traffic.
  • Look back over your shoulder, especially when changing lane or making a turn.
  • Wear something bright; don't expect drivers to see you.
  • Make noise — use a horn, bell, whistle or yell.
  • Watch for vehicles coming out of driveways, they may not see you.
  • Semi-trucks have a blind spot when they are turning; stay out of the blind spot.
  • Be ready to brake, keeping your hands near or on the brake levers so you can stop fast.
  • Watch for drivers who forget to signal.
  • Be predictable.

Lane Position
This is a common discussion among cyclists and here are our thoughts: Stay to the right when lanes are wide and there is a lot of room. This allows vehicles to pass you most easily. Claim the lane when the road is too narrow for cars to pass you safety; when parked car's doors are opening; where there are sewer grates, uneven shoulders and debris; or if you're moving at the same speed as the traffic. This makes you more visible and more likely to be passed ONLY when there is enough room.

Riding Hazards

  • DO NOT use headphones. (We shouldn't even have to say this). Listen to your surroundings.
  • Watch and listen for car doors opening. Don't ride closer than 4 feet to a car and listen for hints of movement.
  • Watch for ground hazards like drain grates, and cracks in the cement that can catch your tire.
  • Don't follow a vehicle so closely that you have a blind spot.
  • Watch for debris or rough roadways.
  • Try to cross railroad tracks at a 90 degree angle to avoid catching a tire.
  • When passing other cyclist or walkers, ring a bell or announce “on your left” so they don't swerve into you.
  • Keep space between you and other cyclists.

Darkness and Bad Weather
You want to see and be seen at all times, but especially when visibility is poor.

Use a white front light and a red, flashing rear light.

Consider a headlamp or helmet-mounted headlight to give you more light and to help gain a driver's attention.

Have reflectors on both the front and rear of your bike. New bikes come with them, but you may want to add more for extra visibility.

Increase visibility by adding reflectors or reflective tape on moving parts of your bike.

Wear bright clothing.

Wear a reflective vest, jacket, wristband and/or leg bands.

The Bus and the Biker
Some bike commuters do a combination of cycling and taking a bus. Most buses have a front rack to hold bicycles. While there are usually instructions printed on the bike rack, it is up to you to load your bike properly. Bikes with child carriers or no-spoke wheels usually cannot be put on the rack. Some bikes with wide handlebars or long wheelbases might not fit.

Prepare the bike for loading before the bus arrives. Remove all loose items (pumps, helmets, water bottles, etc...

Do not step in front of the bus until the driver sees you.

Load your bike in the spot closest to the bus or in the next open position.

Lift the support arm and hook it over the front tire. Make sure the support arm clamps the tire, not the frame or fender.

At the stop, remind the driver you will be unloading your bike before you exit.

Remove the support arm, lower it into place and remove your bike. Fold the rack up if it is empty.

Step onto the sidewalk and wait for the bus to leave.

Park and Locking Your Bike
No matter where you ride, it's a good idea to secure your bike.

If commuting, try to keep your bike in your office or other secured area.

If you are parking outside, use a bike rack or some other secure, unmovable object and ideally lock BOTH wheels and the frame to it.

Always lock it to something — don't lock just the bike — as it is easy to pick up and carry away.

Remember, aluminum or wooden posts, trees or chain link fences might look secure, but they can be cut by determined thieves.

Check with the local police department for rules where bikes can be parked and locked. Some places may be illegal.

Use either a cable lock, a U-lock, one of each, 2 U-locks and/or a combo lock. The more time and trouble it takes a thief to attack your bike lock, the less likely it will be taken.

Try and lock it in a well-lighted, well-traveled location.

Some parking lots offer a place for bikes at a reduced parking rate.

Unfasten and carry with you any parts that can be easily removed – the bike bag, pump, computer, lights or quick-release seat.

Even if you don't need to lock during the workday, have one with you in case you stop somewhere along your route.

Do not use a lock larger than you really need. A tight-fitting lock makes it more difficult for thieves to get their tools into position to try breaking the lock.

If you have a tubular pin-tumbler-style lock made in 2004 or earlier, you should replace it. Thieves have figured out how to disable these locks.

Bike Maintenance & Flat Tire Repair
It is inevitable, you will get a flat tire! We don't believe in calling someone to get you when you can fix it all on your own and continue your commute. We do believe in carrying a flat repair kit and learning how to a flat tire from a friend or a local bike shop.

Flat Tire Repair Items:
Spare tube
Tire patch kit (Just in case you make a mistake. Please don't patch tubes.)
Tire levers
CO2 cartridges and adapter
Metric Allen wrenches in 4mm, 5mm & 6mm

Clothing & Accessories
For casual rides or short commutes, you may want to just wear your casual/work clothes. For longer rides or commutes, we suggest you wear cycling clothing for greater riding comfort. You can change at your workplace or destination if necessary.

Here are our recommendations:
Bike shorts with a pad — oh so important!
Moisture-wicking bike jersey or t-shirt
Padded bike gloves
Lightweight, synthetic socks to help wick moisture away from your skin
Jacket or vest for unpredictable weather conditions
Cycling shoes & clipless pedals for more pedal efficiency
Bike booties for over your shoes on cold days
Helmet scull cap or headband to wear under your helmet on cold days
Tights, pants or leg warmers for cooler days
Sunglasses (tinted and clear)
Water bottle to fit in cage on bike
Cell phone

Dress in layers so you can add or remove clothing as the weather and you warm up.

Bike Accessories:
Bell, horn or whistle
Rear Rack
Rack bag or basket
Clip-in pedals and cycling shoes
Bike computer

How to Carry Your Gear
This is a personal preference and depends on how much you want to take with you.

Under Seat Bag: For your repair flat kit that stays on your bike.
Rear Rack: Nice bags are made to fit directly on top and hold enough small gear for many riders.
Panniers: Attach to the sides of the rear rack. They are a great solution for laptops, few groceries or work clothing.
Messenger Bag: Has a long strap to sling over your shoulder and you can carry your clothes and work stuff.
Handlebar bag: Attaches to the front of your handlebars and can carry small items for easy access.
Baskets: Come in versions that can attach to the handlebars or rack on the back.

Arriving at Work or Your Destination
Cleaning Up:
If you're fortunate enough to have showers at your workplace, you have it easy. If not, you're not completely out of luck. Try these suggestions:

The "birdbath" option: Just use a wash cloth, small towel and a bathroom sink to freshen up.

Pre-moistened towelettes can work in a pinch.

Join a nearby gym. Some gyms will even sell you a “shower only” membership at a reduced rate.

Keep your cleaning and primping supplies at your workplace or gym so you do not have to carry them on the commute, too.

If you can't wash up as much as you'd like, consider a carpool with someone from work, or taking your bike on the bus, and then bike home after work when it doesn't matter if you get sweaty.

Dressing Up:
You can either carry your work clothes with you, or you can shuttle a supply of fresh clothes to your workplace on non-biking days. If you do not have a locker room, try your desk, a closet, behind a door or even between partitions for storage.

Try to use clothing that is less likely to wrinkle.

Keep extra shoes at your workplace.

Keep a set of clean undies, socks and accessories at your workplace in case you forget one day.