Bike Commuting in the Bay Area and beyond - Tips/Tricks and More
Bike commuting is great for many reasons, you stay healthy and fit, you get to enjoy time outside and you don’t waste your life away inside a car in traffic.
I’ve been commuting with a bike in the Bay Area for three years now (all weather) and I collected a bunch of tips/tricks and beyond that might help you with your journey towards it.
First, I would like to say, biking to work ***is possible, and it is a viable option. I found it to be better than driving and much better than Lyft/Uber.
First, let’s establish the baseline.
I live in San Jose (off of Saratoga/HWY85 area), I work in Menlo Park. I switched jobs around 18 months ago but my new office is a mile from the old one so my commute hasn’t change a whole lot.
The most direct route to work for me is 19mi, and it looks like this:
This route takes me just under an hour including all the traffic light stops. Depending on the red/green role I get.
Now, we’ll dive into the tips/tricks.
No bag on your back
Most people carry a laptop for work, they carry it to the office and back home. I find that carrying a backpack with a laptop or anything in it makes the commute much harder. It hurts your shoulders, you don’t breathe as easy and it accelerates sweat and fatigue.
Personally, I ride a road bike, and I commute on the same bike I race on. My position is definitely not friendly for a backpack but even in a more relaxed position, carrying a bag is very annoying and discouraging. The secret to persist with commuting on the bike is to remove friction as much as possible. You want the bike to be connected with enjoyment, not with sore shoulders :).
I found two solutions for this:
Bag stays at work
My solution is to not take the laptop back home. I have a Mac at home and I can VPN into the network whenever I want.
On Saturday / Sunday, I drive to work with a big bag of clothes, I put 2 pants, 4 underwear, 4 shirts, socks, wet wipes, towels, and bags for laundry.
I take back the previous bag for wash. Rinse a repeat.
Bags on the bike
Another viable solution, if you have a more commute friendly bike is to carry bags on the bike. Solution like this:
Or anything else from here: https://www.rei.com/c/panniers will work. (You of course can find these on other sites as well).
If you can’t put a bag at work and have to carry everything with you. Some of these are waterproof and will carry your laptop safely and any other equipment you need.
Dress for the occasion
I don’t ride in casual clothes, I don’t ride with a T-Shirt, I ride in my kit.
During the winter, I also wear a wind jacket, arm warmers, knee warmers, a warm jacket, rain jacket, gloves and any other equipment that I need.
The winter brings other challenges, mainly keeping dry, during the winter, my bag will include a full set of kit that I can wear if the one I took to work is soaking wet.
Blinking light on your bike will make sure you are visible. Notice I didn’t say drivers will see you, it often feels drivers see through you, but it will make it harder to miss you on the road.
One good tip I can give you is not to put the light on your bike but on your helmet. The higher the light the better. This way the car directly behind you and the one behind it can see you.
Front blinking light is excellent in a low light situation. It is a way to tell drivers you are coming and they tend to notice you much better.
I use these products:
Riding with the sun in your face
The most dangerous time of the day is when the sun is in your face. The drivers can’t see you.
I try to avoid riding during that time and I change my routes (see routes) to avoid it.
Change it up
Doing the same route to work and back can be extremely boring after a while, changing up the routes is crucial to keep enjoying your time out.
For me personally, the 19mi route is the one I do the least, it’s way too boring and there are too many traffic lights.
Fortunately, I have many options:
There are other options as well, but you get the drift, changing it up will make you enjoy the ride more. It’s on the rarest of occasions that I take the same route to and from work.
If you have a shower at work, that’s great. You don’t need anything.
If you don’t have a shower at work, it’s not the end of the world and you should not let that keep you from riding in.
Shower before the ride will keep you fresh for a long time. I know this seems counter-intuitive but the fact is it will keep your body fresh.
Develop a routine
Biking to work is part of my routine, developing a routine helps with making sure you do it every time.
My routine includes:
- Put the bike computer in the charger
- Refill water bottles
- Making sure the kit is ready for the day
In the morning, all I have to do is get dressed and get on the bike. If I start searching around it takes forever.
Know the dangers
Any experienced cyclist will tell you, you have to assume everyone is out to kill you. You need to know and recognize the dangers and avoid them.
The most common one is when you go straight and the bike lane is on the way to a right turn, drivers will accelerate inches from you to make the right turn and not wait for you. They will cut you off violently because they can’t calculate how fast you are going.
EVERYONE is on their phone, I wish this were’t true. The slower the traffic the worse it gets. Everyone’s face is down on their phone and they’re not looking in the mirror for you. Make sure to keep your distance.
This is seriously overlooked by so many cyclists. Be kind to other road users. Waving for thank you goes a long way. If someone let you in, gave you the right of way, gave you extra space, thank them!
Don’t be an asshole, don’t blow through stop signs, don’t scare drivers, don’t surprise anyone with your turns. Be a responsible road user.
During downhills for example, you have to take the whole lane in most cases. If there’s a car behind you, brake, wave them through and continue after. In most cases you lose only seconds and they will thank you for it.
Find a group
Having a group of friends that commute together is great. It will motivate you to do it more often.
Strava Flybys are a great way to meet other commuters on the road. If you find someone doing a similar route, you can message them and try to schedule a joint commute.
Enjoy the extra vitamin D, put sunscreen on, put a helmet on and enjoy.
Cycling can be very tribal, don’t listen to the nay sayers, something is better than nothing and even a 3mi commute is great. Don’t feel excluded if you’re not a hard-core leg shaving, color matching cyclist. Have Fun!!!