How-To: Ride Your Bike to Work

A two-wheeled commute primer

May is National Bike month—that wonderful time of year when America forsakes its addiction to cars and takes to the streets in droves to celebrate freedom, fitness and pedal power. Or, you know, a couple hundred people make an effort to drive less. But bike commuting need not be a once-a-year affair, nor the sole domain of a few fearless souls in DayGlo spandex. Sure, you can probably think of a few places you’d rather bike to than work. But as long as you’re headed in that direction anyway, you might as well get there in a relaxing, eco-friendly manner.

Here’s how to get started:

Plan your route in advance.
Try MapMyRIDE, or use the bike directions on Google maps. Once you think you’ve chosen a route, ride or drive it on a weekend to check on factors like traffic, road conditions and giant, soul-crushing hills.

Check the weather.
And then ride anyway. Keep gloves, rain gear and fenders in a designated spot, so they’re easy to grab on cold, rainy days. The less time you have to think about your crummy-weather contingency plan, the less likely you’ll be to back out.

Learn to change your own flats.
This is the best thing you can do to take the anxiety out of a commute. Here’s a step-by-step guide to getting started. And when the gods of roadside debris curse you again and again, take solace in the fact that practice makes perfect.

Pack a tool kit.
Carry a small bag with front and rear lights, a spare tube, a patch kit, tire levers, a small pump and a multi-tool (like the excellent, affordable Topeak Alien II).

Give yourself extra time.
Get out the door early enough that you won’t fly into a panic if you have mechanical problems or need to stop for an emergency donut.

Obey traffic laws.
Ride with traffic, and obey the same laws as drivers if you want them to respect your place on the road. Try to get over the mentality that you’re in a race, and stop at traffic signals—even bike messengers have enough time to do this.

Be visible and predictable.
Hold a straight line. Don’t swerve in and out when you pass parked cars. Take the lane if you have to, but always signal your intentions, make eye contact with drivers and ride defensively. Watch for doors opening into the bike lane, and always assume that drivers can’t see you unless they’re actually leaning out the window, high-fiving you.

Rise above road rage.
If motorists are giving you guff (my polite way of saying “the middle finger”), just respond with a breezy thumbs-up, and continue on your way. You’re cooler than they are, so act like it. There’s no reason to instigate U-lock combat over a right-of-way.

Leave extra clothes at work.
Shoes, too. Even if your commute is short and pleasant enough to manage in work clothes, you’ll still want a spare shirt and pants for those days your chain eats your pant leg and a bird uses you for target practice.

Take a hobo shower.
Obviously, if your office has the facilities, you should take a real shower. But if you don’t have access or time for a full-body dousing, keep baby wipes at work to wipe off sweat, and clean up as well as you can in the bathroom sink.

Perform regular weekend maintenance.
Keeping your bike in good shape is easier than you think. Every Sunday night, air up your tubes, inspect your brake pads and check your tires for wear. Get a small bottle of Tri-Flow and lube your chain every other week, so the rest of us won’t cringe when we hear you coming. Here’s a one-minute guide.

Don’t make excuses.
Think bike commuting takes too long? Consider the time you’ll save at the gym. Hate feeling sweaty at work? Find a nearby health club and ask if they have a shower-only rate. Cut out all your excuses, and biking will become a go-to habit and the best non-lunch part of your workday. Oh, and wear a helmet, knucklehead.