Links & content from my lightning talk at Windy City Rails 2013:
As a community, software developers have some bad habits that could use changing. We have jobs and lifestyles that are often sedentary, we spend a lot of time indoors, and we don’t usually get enough exercise.
Bike commuting is a way to address all this.
Time spent commuting in the USA in large cities is stunning – sometimes an hour each way, sometimes longer.
I love to ride bikes, so I go by bike. I’ve been doing it year-round since 2007.
Well it’s not even a commute for me anymore. It’s just how I get around. It’s the opportunity to ride my bike twice a day, every day. Sometimes it’s cold, hot, wet, snowy, icy, but if you can do it in a car you can figure it out on a bike.
I think we all know the benefits, but here they are anyway:
- OK just kidding
- better physical health
- more alert to start the day at work
- clear head before arriving at home
- better for the environment
- role model for the next generation
- no traffic (YMMV … significantly)
Enough about the why – I want to talk a little bit about the what, and the how.
Most people are intimidated by the thought of bike commuting. I get it. Drivers can be jerks; cars are big and they move fast; 10 miles sounds like a lot.
Even bike shops don’t make it easy; they have a reputation as unfriendly, and some are.
But bike commuting is rewarding and actually pretty easy and I want to talk to you about how to get started.
Here’s what you need to buy:
1 – a bike
2 – pedals
(really – they are not included)
A bit more seriously ….
You want a hybrid or “‘cross” (short for “cyclocross”) style bike for commuting. Larger tires, better brakes, and beefier bits that will hold up under the demands of commuting. You do not need a suspension system and you do not need carbon fiber or titanium anything.
I’d recommend a Surly Straggler. Wide range of sizes, big tires, disc brakes, and it comes in sparkly purple or basic black.
You want a set of pedals. If you’re sort of new to cycling, get flat pedals and upgrade later. If you’re already a cyclist, consider Shimano’s “SPD” pedals and shoes – they’re very awesome and very affordable. The PD-A530 pedals and M088 shoes are great choices.
As an aside, SPDs are what are called “clipless” pedals. You might be surprised to learn that you “clip in” to clipless pedals. Naming things is hard outside of software, too.
You want a helmet. All helmets sold in the USA meet the same safety standards, so more money does not buy a safer helment. Buy one that fits you well and you like the look of. Bonus points for picking a color that complements your bike.
You want a lock. Most bike thefts are thefts of convenience – don’t make it convenient. Buy a Knog Party Frank lock in a fun color to match your iPhone 5c.
You want to carry your clothes and lunch. Buy either a backpack or a rack & “pannier” (pronounced pan-year). SwissGear makes great backpacks with laptop sleeves; Surly makes a rack to go with their bikes, and Arkel makes the completely awesome “Commuter” bag.
You want lights. Planet Bike makes affordable lights that are great for being seen – check out the Blaze headlights and Superflash blinkies.
A note on lights – batteries are cheap. Use your lights even when you feel a little silly using your lights. Getting run over will make you feel really silly.
You want fenders. Planet Bike makes very durable, decent-looking plastic black or silver fenders that are easy to install. Go with those.
You want spares. You need a saddle bag with a spare tube, tire levers, a patch kit, a pump, and a “multi tool” (think Swiss Army Knife for bikes). Buy a Banjo Brothers medium seatbag, a tube made for your size of tire with the right kind of valve (Presta is fancy-schmancy; Schrader is like what’s on a car), a Park Tool lever set and patch kit, a Lezyne Pressure Drive pump, and a Crank Brothers M17 tool. Or just carry a phone and call your life partner when something breaks. That should work at least twice.
You want clothes. They’re required by law in most places. This might be the hardest part of the whole deal; a lot of non-cyclists hate the idea of tight Spandex and/or looking like a neon circus clown. Generally any shirt will work – technical fabric is desirable. With shorts or pants, take care, as padding and chafing are considerations. Shorts made for mountain biking these days have a different look from a Tour de France racer, but they still take care of your soft bits.
For cold weather, any coat or jacket will do, though you will find that an insulated one is overkill in most cases. For your legs, there are leg warmers as well as tights, or any pants with velcro straps at your ankles will work. A fleece beanie goes under your helmet and snowboarding mittens keep your fingers warm.
So, that’s eveything you need … but you haven’t left the driveway yet.
Getting started is the hardest part. You have to just do it.
Look around your office and figure out where you can park your bike, and where you can change. Most buildings have somewhere you can lock up inside if you ask. Most bathrooms are up to the task, with some care (have I dipped my shirt sleeve in a toilet? Yes. Yes I have.)
Scout your route ahead of time. A weekend morning is a great time for a practice run, but always be imagining what it will be like with traffic.
Ride on bike paths or lanes where you can. Ride on side streets where you can. When you have to ride on a busy road, take the lane. You are a vehicle, with all the rights and responsibilities that entails. You are more visible, and cars are less likely to squeeze past you, if you have taken the lane.
Be courteous and respectful. Follow traffic laws, and expect that the cars will do the same. DO NOT use your cellphone while riding.
Commit to one day a week at first, and build from there.
Finally, have fun. Once you’ve gotten comfortable with the basic commute, explore a bit. Check out restaurants, bars, and coffee shops on the way. Start to check out cycling events – there are as many ways to enjoy cycling as there are to enjoy coding – not all are hardcore packs of Spandex and sweat turning circles at 35 MPH.
Any questions, ping me: @Capncavedan
See you on the road.