Posted by: bikenwalk | March 8, 2008

Paul Dorn’s Bike Commuting Tips

Here is a great resource for the person just starting out as a bike commuter.


Just about any bicycle will work for commuting. I’ve traveled to work on a mountain bike, a road bike, a hybrid, and even a fat-tired cruiser. The important thing is to get a bike you feel comfortable on. Find a reputable bike shop, consult with the sales staff, think about how you might use the bike, how far you’ll be going, what you might need to carry, what conditions you’ll be riding in, and so on. My present commuting bike is a hybrid, which I’d recommend for most everyday urban riding needs.

Image of a Breezer commuting bikeIn much of the world — in such countries as Japan, China or Holland — the bicycle is valued as a utilitarian vehicle. And bikes sold in those countries come equipped with fenders, bells, lights, kick-stands, racks, and, very important, chainguards.

In the US the bicycle is generally considered a toy, a recreational device, or as exercise equipment. Something you load on top of your car, like skis or a surfboard, and travel to some remote area to “play.” That’s why bike shops are filled with mountain bikes. They thrive on selling the “sport” of cycling. Travel they leave to other vehicle retailers, i.e. auto dealerships. This is a big mistake.

Don’t buy a mountain bike just because the sales person has lots of them to sell. Mountain bikes are fine for many things, even commuting. However, most people never get near a trail with their mountain bike. Those fat knobby tires may really dig into the dirt on a stretch of fire road. But they add lots of rolling resistance on pavement. (They might suggest that the knobby tires are more “flat resistant.” Don’t believe it. I can tell you from experience that large glass fragments, nails and pushpins can puncture mountain bike tires too. As you’ll see later, flats are really no big deal.)

If you think most of your riding will be done on asphalt streets, then consider a hybrid, touring, or a road bike. They’re generally made with larger, easier rolling wheels, with street “slicks” or other tire made for riding on pavement, and offer a longer wheelbase for a more comfortable ride. The bike pictured here, inspired by European commuting bikes, is set up well for everyday travel.

If you’re considering buying a new bike to begin commuting, here are my suggestions for factors to consider; here are my bicycles, complete with reasons and rationalizations. Minnesota cyclist John Faughnan has a great article on the advantages of using touring bikes for everyday commuting. Many cyclists also happily enjoy commuting on recumbent and fixed-gear bikes; I don’t usually recommend either for new cyclists. But for many people, the comfort and ease of a recumbent or the simplicity of a fixed-gear would be appropriate.

In short, my point is: get the bike that suits you. There’s no need to have the latest, the most exciting, the most colorful, the most expensive bike.


Cartoon image of cyclist. A big reason why many people don’t commute by bike is because they think like motorists. As drivers, they know that the quickest way to get from Point A to Point B is by Route C. Unfortunately, Route C features abundant high-velocity traffic, plenty of potholes and rough pavement, a few steep hills and several dangerous intersections. Not very attractive even for a seasoned cyclist, let alone a beginner. (Not very attractive for a motorist, for that matter.)

However, there just may be a Route D that runs parallel to Route C. Route D features slower – and thus less abundant – traffic, and is flatter with good pavement, more trees, interesting scenery and many smiling pedestrians. When I began bike commuting I would travel for part of my trip on Lombard Street, which is exactly like Route C described above.

Thousands of speeding cars pour onto Lombard off the Golden Gate Bridge, each vehicle filled with an impatient commuter from Marin County. Just past the intersection with Van Ness Avenue, Lombard climbs about a 15 percent grade to the top of Russian Hill. Idiot that I was, I’d dismount and push my bike all the way up, arriving at the top as a soggy mass of perspiration, only to “enjoy” a terrifying descent down the other side to my workplace.

Eventually I learned that if I went one block north I could bicycle comfortably on Chestnut Street, which is a slower neighborhood street running parallel to Lombard. Instead of climbing the hill, I learned that I could easily ride around it on Bay Street and avoid the sweaty ascent and white-knuckle descent.

When considering your route, don’t think like a motorist. Think like a cyclist. Pick the most pleasant route. Consult Google Earth or Bikely to research your trip. Ask your local department of transportation if they have a bike route map; often these are provided at no charge. Inquire at local bike shops, or your local bike club. Look for streets with attractive scenery. Find the friendliest espresso stop.

Part of the charm of bike commuting is that the pace and ease of parking allows you an opportunity to stop and smell the roses.




  2. I think there is definitely a market for this in the US. You would probably want with more bike-friendly cities, like Portland, OR and probably bigger cities too, like New York. On thing I have to ask, would your back get sweaty with a sport coat attached to it? If I am not visualizing the product correctly I am sorry. Anyway, great idea, I think it definitely has a lot of potential!

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