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Cyclist biking to work

Biking to work Q&A | 11 tips and tricks for bike commuters

When it comes to your daily commute, you have a few options. You could drive, and inevitably end up sitting in traffic and suffering from serious road rage. You could take the train or subway, where you’ll likely be crammed into a tiny train car next to a million angry commuters, all of which are likely to sneeze a little too close for comfort. Or you could bike to work.

You don’t have to be a superstar cyclist to consider biking to work. Tons of major cities now offer appealing (and affordable) bike share programs, and getting to work on two wheels not only gets you a few bonus miles for the day, it’s also more likely to have you showing up to the office feeling refreshed – and far more germ-free.

Ryan Starbuck, a 2:47 marathoner, is an avid bike commuter who recently moved from New York City to Denver, CO. During his time in NYC, Starbuck biked to work every day, only making exceptions for the occasional run commute.

“I made it a point to never take the subway to work, and I stuck to it,” Starbuck says. “The commute to work on the subway took around 40 minutes. By bike, it only took 15, so it was definitely the better option.”

Here, Starbuck shares everything he’s learned about biking to work – including how he’s managed to rack up hundreds of bike commuting miles over the years.

1. What is your number one tip for biking to work?

The best return on investment you’ll ever get is a good pair of windproof gloves and a jacket. Whether it’s four miles or 14, you’ll do OK biking in a pair of jeans and boots if you just have flat pedals. But, if your hands are cold for the entire commute, you’ll be miserable.

A windproof jacket goes a long way because as your body heats up from the ride, you can stay warm inside. I have worn just a sweater and a windproof running jacket down to the single digits during commutes in NYC. Ski helmets and goggles also work for those super cold days!

2. What about a backpack? Do you rely on one for your bike commutes, or do you plan ahead and stash a change of clothes at the office?

If I take my laptop home, I commute with a Patagonia messenger bag. I’ve had it for six years now and it’s held up perfectly. It keeps things dry when it downpours, it’s comfortable in the summer and winter, and it has lots of handy pockets for stashing your phone or a pair of sunglasses. But, I don’t usually commute with too much except for the occasional clothes rotation at work.

2. So how do you plan for the “clothes rotation” when you bike to work?

I have half a wardrobe at work, basically. I keep spare clothes to change into if needed, but sometimes I just commute in what I’ll wear to work that day since I don’t get too sweaty on the ride. I also leave a couple pairs of shoes at work because those are the most annoying things to have to carry.

4. What about helmet hair?

I have no idea what to do with my hair, to be honest. It’s just always crazy at work. I have a brush at my desk and some hair gel, but lots of times I forget about it until halfway through the day when I see my hair going in all sorts of directions. The fact that it’s sort of long and sticks out of my helmet doesn’t help.

So yeah, I would love some advice on this, actually! I don’t think there’s anything I could do besides just showering at work every day.

5. What weather won’t you bike commute in?

Ice, snow, and severe thunderstorms. I’ve had a few cases of surprise snow on a ride, and that’s the worst. I’ve  had to catch a ride home with coworkers who live nearby.

6. Do you commute with your own bike – the one you train on – or a commuting-only bike?

I usually just ride my road bike to work. Most of my ride is on paths, so I don’t have to worry about damaging it anymore than if I were just riding it for fitness. But in NYC, I mostly commuted using the CitiBike bike share.

7. Have you ever gotten a flat during a bike commute?

Tons! I have a spare tube on my bike at all times, so I’ve been able to fix it on the go. I can proudly say a flat has never caused me to be late for a morning meeting!

8. Serious question: Do you log your bike commuting miles on Strava?

Of course! I love it because Strava actually uses data from bike commutes to help better plan cities. It’s also nice to be able to see if I was faster or slower on a specific day, and to try and beat those times.

9. Do you ride the same route every day? And do you choose the most direct route or the most pleasant and scenic one?

I’ve switched it up a little over the past few months as I’ve found faster routes, but I generally take the same trail when biking to work. I have a more direct route to work on the way in, and my ride home is more scenic and avoids more roads.

10. Speaking of safety, what’s your best safety tip for bike commuters?

Lights! Get so many lights that you think it’s overkill. Cars can see blinking lights a lot easier than the normal ones, so I make sure to have a couple of those on in addition to my main beam.

Rechargeable ones are good, too, because you can recharge at work and not have to worry about batteries. And always stay in the bike lane and follow the rules of the road. Obviously.

11. Why do you bike to work?

I think biking to work is much nicer than sitting in a car or on a bus. It’s more sustainable, more fun, and sometimes quicker.

Given rush-hour traffic, biking to work is only 10 minutes or so slower than driving, and it gives a much more pleasant start to your morning. I like the added fitness you get from riding, and I like how fun it is to bike fast. Riding a bike is just as fun now as it was when I was a kid, so I try to do it as much as I can.

If you liked this post, don’t forget to share so that others can find it, too.

Please note that the information provided in the Polar Blog articles cannot replace individual advice from health professionals. Please consult your physician before starting a new fitness program.

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