Bike Commuting 101: 7 Tips For Your First Ride

April 25, 2018
Filed Under: adventure tips clinic

We’re an office of bike commuters. The first thing you see when you walk into BioLite HQ is a rack full of bikes (no matter what time of year it is). With May being Bike to Work Month, we want to encourage our community to get out there too.

Bike commuting can seem daunting at first but once you get into it, it’s a fun, healthy, and environmentally friendly way to get around. We spoke with Justin, a friend of BioLite who just started bike commuting from Seattle 12.5 miles to his office in Bellevue, he says, “the best way to get into it, is to just start. After the first few times, you’ll look forward to your commute. It’s a great way to have time to yourself to reflect on the day and decompress.” We reached out to a bunch of cyclists and industry professionals to get their top tips for getting into bike commuting. Here’s what they said:

1. Determine Your Bike Type: Own, Share – Or Both?

Think about what type of commuter you want to be and weigh the pros and cons of each option. If you’re looking to incorporate biking into all aspects of your life - buying makes sense. Owning a bike means you can find one that fits you and customize it to your biking style. One thing to remember is that you’re responsible for maintaining it (and if it gets stolen, you have to replace it).

If you’re unsure if bike commuting is right for you or if bike commuting is all you want to do, sharing is a good alternative. With the rise of bike shares in many cities across the US, owning a bike is no longer a requirement to bike commute. You have the opportunity to use a docked bike share like Citibike in New York and Ford Go Bike in the Bay Area, or options like Lime Bike in Seattle that allow you to park your bike at any destination. Bike sharing programs give you more flexibility and mean you never have to bring a lock along with you. But, leave do leave you reliant on availability of bikes and docking space (and the bikes tend to be a bit bulkier). After considering each option, maybe you want to incorporate a bit of each style into your life. You can own a bike but also like the flexibility of using rentals when you know you have an event after work or if the weather forecast says it's going to be nice in the morning but hailing by evening.

2. No Matter Your Bike Style, Own This Safety Combo: Helmet + Light

When it comes to bike commuting, personal safety is paramount. It may seem like a no brainer, but always wear a helmet. A favorite around the BioLite office is the Bern Parker Helmet - it’s durable, comfortable, and doesn't feel like you have a nerf football on your head. Every cyclist should also have a reliable front and tail light that allows them to see, but importantly - to be seen.

We may be biased, but our Cyclist Kit is a great option. It includes two rechargeable lights so you’ll have a front and a tail light. The PowerLight Minis each come with an easy to install bike mount and the lights are rechargeable via USB so you never have to find a small bike battery again. They also double as power packs to charge your phone if you’re ever in a pinch.

3. Necessity is the mother of invention gear selection

Before you go on an expensive shopping spree for new gear, do yourself a favor and take bike commuting for a test drive. Take a month to live with your bike and see what's missing from your commute. By identifying pain points through experience, you’ll be able to find gear that you actually need and avoid buying unnecessary things. Rather than buying that brand new set of panniers, try ask your bike shop if they have any deals on back rack and cargo net. In the end, it might turn out that you want those panniers but at least you know for sure.

4. Learn How To Pump Air & Change a Tire

If you plan on adopting biking as a main mode of transportation, learning to maintain your bike is crucial. First things first, learn your way around an air pump. Learn the differences between a Schrader and a Presta valve and how adapters work. This is where befriending the folks at your local bike shop comes in handy. Employees can walk you through the process until you feel comfortable.

Keep spare tubes and tire levers with you in case of flats—and learn how to change a tire by yourself,” says Erin at Public Bikes. “It’s not a bad idea to bring along a miniature pump and a traveling tool kit with a multi-tool and wrench, either. That will allow you to make adjustments and address emergency repairs on the fly.” If you ever have questions, just stop in your favorite bike shop and ask for help.

5. Plan and Practice Your Route

"New York City streets can really vary in terms of bicyclist comfort, so plan your route in advance,” says Joe at Transportation Alternatives. Some streets have painted bike lanes separated from traffic and others might not have any markings at all, so familiarizing yourself with the different routes to and from work can help you get more comfortable riding.

Before you hit the road, use a route planning website (Google or Apple Maps both feature biking directions) or see if your city has downloadable bike lane maps. Once you’ve found a suitable route, learn it, and test it out on a weekend (preferably while it’s light out). If you think you’ll need more support, get an armband and play the route while you go. Don’t bike with headphones in, it will limit your senses and awareness of your surroundings. It’s totally okay to be that person who has Google navigating on speaker while you’re learning.

6. Cars and Buses Always Win. Stay Safe By Being Predictable

The reality of the road is that a 3,000 pound vehicle is always going to win. The best way to protect yourself from bad drivers is, “remain predictable,” says Gregory at Recycle-A-Bike. “Many auto-drivers aren't quite sure how to navigate alongside bicyclists and they need you to be predictable in order to ensure your safety. This means: ride in the same direction as auto-traffic and as far to the right as possible, use hand signals when turning or merging lanes (check behind you before actually turning!), and stay on the road in as straight of a line as possible (don't swerve in and out of parking lanes or on and off of sidewalks).

To avoid that ever-present fear of getting doored, remain alert and keep an eye out for parked cars turning their tail lights. That's a good sign someone is about to get in or out of their car.

7. Bikes Rule, But Always Have a Backup if Traffic or Weather Says Otherwise.

Whether it’s a surprise piece of glass or a sudden hail storm, cycling’s a little more unpredictable than driving,” says Erin at Public Bikes. “Anyone bicycling to and from work should have some backups in place to keep the process running smoothly.” If you know there will be construction or harsh weather on the way home, check your pride and find another route home. “You should always have some form of backup transportation, whether that’s a bus pass or a friend you can call up for a ride.

With these tips in mind, you’re well on your way to start commuting by bike. A fun way to kick off your commute is to start a bike pool - it’s like a carpool but for cyclists. It’s a great way to get more comfortable with your route and spend time with coworkers outside of work. Ask the more seasoned cyclists near you to join in - the bike community is always looking to get another set of wheels on the road. Happy cycling!

Ready to Start Bike Commuting? Here are our top gear picks:

  • Bike Lights: Get yourself a reliable set of lights to serve as your front and tail light so you can see and be seen. BioLite Cyclist Kit
  • A Helmet: Find a comfortable and durable helmet that fits you best and never go on a bike trip without it. Bern Parker Helmet
  • Storage: Pick up a basket or back rack for your bike from your local bike shop. You can then find a cargo net to hold all of your gear or if you prefer panniers, we recommend Ortlieb. Ortlieb's Classic Kit




We'll be adding new tips to The Clinic all summer long. Have a question you'd like answered? Submit below and it may appear in an upcoming post.

Your Question