The Ultimate Urban Bike Commuting Guide & Checklist

The Ultimate Urban Bike Commuting Guide & Checklist

City dwellers know all too well how hectic morning traffic can be. That’s why more and more people opt for other transportation alternatives. One popular option is urban commuting or cycling to work.

It’s an economic and eco-friendly option for many, but is it right for you?
Below are what I consider to be the most important things to keep in mind when it comes to urban commuting. Take a look and decide for yourself if biking to work is for you.

Important Urban Biking Tips to Remember Before Hitting the Road

Safety is the first priority. Below are some crucial safety tips to keep in mind when pedaling through the city.

1. Obey Traffic Rules No Matter How Late For Work You Are

Alternative commuting can be dangerous if yo don’t follow the traffic rules. Yes, even people who bike to work need to follow traffic rules.

Depending on the location of your commute, cities might have different rules from one and to the next. Most commonly followed biking rules are:

  • you must signal when going from left to right with your arms.
  • you must follow the traffic lights. Many urban locations will have special lights for bikers but this is not always the case,
  • you must treat your bike like a car, don’t ride on sidewalks

2. Pay Attention to Bike Lanes and Remain Aware of Your Surroundings

This is probably the most broken “rule” that urban commuters do not follow. If your city does not have bike lanes, do not start riding your bike on the sidewalk.

Depending on traffic, you as a biker can ride your bike on the edges of the right lane. If a bike lane is provided, ride your bike on the bike-lane.

This is for safety reasons and to limit traffic caused by bikers who are riding in the car lane. If you need to turn to the alternate side of traffic, safely stop at a traffic light, get off your bike and become a walking pedestrian.

Wait for a crossing signal and walk your bike to the other side of the road. Do not ride your bike when you are crossing roads and never walk your bike in bike lanes.

If for whatever reason, your bike breaks or you get a flat tire, walk your bike on the sidewalk. Do not use bike-lanes to walk your bike. I have seen people riding with dogs in bike lanes and this is very dangerous and certainty illegal. Leave that kind of riding for parks.

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3. Watch the Road for Obstacles, As They Come Out of Nowhere

Urban commuting has its pros and cons but this is probably the most dangerous aspect of a bike commute.

Bikers need to be aware of their surrounding, especially when riding in heavy traffic or rush hour. Taxis, cars, or buses don’t usually check their blind spots before stopping on the road. It is important for bikers to be beware of their surroundings, and not get hit by the next law breaker.

Also, the street may not be in the best condition. Be on the lookout for potholes or other obstacles in the street that may cause an accident.

4. Wear a Helmet Like Your Mom Told You

You are not superman. I don’t understand why bikers don’t seem to wear a helmet, especially in urban areas. Sure, it can ruin your hairstyle for your next interview, but you can at least arrive safe and sound.

Helmets save lives, this is a fact.  Wearing one will project you if an accident occurs which is more important that fashion or appearances.

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5. Get the Right Urban Biking Gear for Your Commute: Bike, Accessories, & Apparel

Think of your bike as your personal car, you need to maintain it and make sure that it is safe to ride in in the street. Urban commuting requires bikers to have special break or signal lights that flash every few seconds.

This is to prevent cars from crashing into you when you are commuting at night.  Do not make the mistake of riding in all black clothing with no lights. It makes it harder for drivers to spot you.  Get the right equipment, and be safe on the road.

It is also important to have equipment for different weather conditions. Special tires, the best commuter backpack you can find, clothing, and many other accessories that protect you and your bike from the elements.

How to Pick a Commuter Bike: A Simple Guide

If you’re looking for the best bike for commuting, but you’re not really sure where to begin your search, here are some guidelines to help you get started.

First, you need to know the types of bicycles there are to choose from. There are basically seven categories of bikes, each with its own strength and weakness. I’ll briefly summarize each bike and its features, and end it with the three main options that I recommend looking at.

pick-bike-for-commute

Commuter bikes that don’t make the cut, in my opinion

  • Folding Bike – from road to public transit; may not be the most comfortable ride
  • Electric Bike – greater distances and uphill assist; not necessary in a flat city
  • Road Bike – fast and light frame; not suitable for potholes of a city
  • Mountain Bike – durable and heavy; not fast enough for a city

Best urban commuting bikes for day-to-day travel to and from work

  • Fixed Gear – minimalist & low maintenance; fast and agile; you’re likely to exert more energy; a bit unstable
  • Hybrid – affordable; easy to handle; comfortable ride; practical for city and off-road use; needs maintenance; not as robust as mountain bike; not as fast as road bike
  • Town Bike – Smooth and relaxed riding; perfect for riding in quiet streets and cycle paths; classic design; lasting materials and durability; cheap maintenance; not as agile as hybrid; heavy; best for moderate distance rides; not great if you’re in a hurry

Features to Look for in Urban and Commuting Bikes

Beyond just looking at the style, there are other features of a commuting bike that you should consider before you make a final purchase.

Bike bars: Flat bars vs Drop bars

flat-bar-drop-bar-bikes-commuting

Deciding between flat bars and drop bars really depends on each person’s preference. Trying and testing out each one is the best way to know which one is better.

But if want some help in deciding, here are a few claims that people have made about both options:

  • Flat bars can cause shoulder problems after a few miles of use unless you adjust the height to lessen the strain.
  • Flat bars allow for easier maneuverability and control to move around potholes or make sudden turns.
  • Drop bars allow for more hand positions.
  • Flat bars allow for a more upright sitting position, which is better for the lower back.

The general consensus is that flat bars are best for commuting and drop bars are better for racing/touring. Again, the best course of action is to try your hand at both.

Bike Frame Material: Steel vs. Aluminum vs. Carbon Fiber vs. Titanium

Another feature that might be interesting to look into is the frame and fork material of your bike. Each material has its own advantages and disadvantages, depending on how you plan to use your bike.

Below I’ve categorized the four main materials that you can choose from, along with the pros and cons for each. This is just a general breakdown of each material, but I encourage you to do additional research if it’s something you’d be interesting in learning more about.

bike-parts-commuter

Steel

  • Flexible and good bump absorption
  • Affordable
  • Durable
  • Suitable for rough use (potholes, curb jumping)
  • Needs maintenance (rusting)
  • Heavier

Aluminum

  • Lighter than steel
  • Affordable
  • Solid ride
  • Less durable than steel
  • Doesn’t absorb vibration well

Carbon Fiber

  • Ultralight
  • Very responsive
  • Smooth ride
  • Less durable than steel

Titanium

  • Lighter than steel
  • Durable
  • Rustproof
  • Suitable for rough use (potholes, curb jumping)
  • Good bump absorption
  • Expensive

More about these materials and how to make a decision

If you’re still not sure how to choose, think about what it is you need from a bike:

  1. Light and fast – For racing, aesthetic (aluminum/carbon fiber)
  2. Heavy and durable – Practical, versatile (steel)
  3. Light, fast, and durable – Expensive but worth it (titanium)

One factor of aluminum and carbon fiber that you should know is that they don’t take impact as well as steel. Carbon fiber has been known to crack, whereas steel dents. Same goes with aluminum; it’s quite stiff. While repairs have become more affordable in recent years, just expect it to be more costly than steel repair.

While carbon fiber and aluminum may not be as durable as steel, with proper care they can last you a long time. They are both affordable options if you’re looking for a light bike to carry up and down an apartment complex.

Still unsure? You can’t go wrong with a steel bike. It can handle bumpy urban terrain and is the most affordable of the group. Unless you plan on carrying your bike or racing, the weight won’t make a difference to you.

If you’re not tight on budget, however, a titanium bike seems to be the holy grail. Of course, I recommend researching more before dropping that much money on a bike.

A few last things to note about bump absorption in bikes

pothole-shock-absorbtion-bikes

If you plan on riding your bike for long distances, bump absorption is an important factor to keep in mind.

When I say bump absorption, I’m talking about your bike’s ability to absorb shock while in motion. A bike with good absorption ability can dampen the impact on your body when you go over bumps or cracks on the ground.

If there is little to no absorption, your body will take most of the impact and as a result become more fatigued. There are a few things that factor into a bike’s ability to absorb bumps. The frame material is one.

Materials that are rigid and stiff, like aluminum and carbon fiber, have less give which means less absorption, typically. However, that’s not to rule them out completely. One person said that their bike is a combination of both an aluminum frame and carbon fiber fork, which gives a smooth ride. Another has commented that carbon fiber bars proved to be the best for lessening shock impact on hands.

Finally, the last two factors that help with bump absorption are full suspension frames and making sure tires have low air pressure. These three factors can lessen shock on the body.

Best Bike Commuting Backpack and Other Accessories

Once you’ve got your bicycle and helmet, you can start looking at other accessories for your commute. This includes gear and apparel that will come in handy once you start commuting in less than agreeable weather conditions, or at night. While it is not crucial that to have everything mentioned, there are a few things that I highly recommend purchasing.

Why a Commuting Backpack Is My First Choice When it Comes to Biking

bike-commuting-backpack

One accessory I highly recommend for urban commuting is a commuter backpack. From my previous experience with shoulder bags and pannier bags, I personally find backpacks offer more security than single strap shoulder bags, and they require no unloading like with panniers. For those reasons, after careful research, I bought a commuter backpack because I felt it was the most worth it. I’ll share with you how I went about making my decision, and what you should be looking for when picking a bag for bike commuting.

What to Look for in a Commuter Backpack?

So what does your backpack need to have? Here are the five criteria that a backpack needs to  function for your commute:

#1 Your Commuter Bag Needs to be Waterproof and Weatherproof

If you live in a city that experiences different weather conditions year round, you’re going to need a backpack that can handle it all. Now, don’t worry, there are many rainproof options that don’t sacrifice style. Even if you live in an area that doesn’t receive much rain, a waterproof backpack can also be used for camping or any other outdoorsy activity. Better to be safe than sorry.

#2 Make Sure There’s a Sternum Strap for Back Support

bike commuter backpack sternum strap

Now, this point is debatable. Some people claim that the sternum strap gets uncomfortable while biking, which I can see if it’s not fitted properly. But I find that unless I have a strap, all of the weight goes to my lower back, which isn’t good. A sternum strap helps distribute that weight to my shoulders and upper back.

#3 Padded Shoulder Straps for Comfort Is a Must

Speaking of comfort, padded shoulder straps seems sorta obvious. This prevents a heavy backpack from digging into your shoulders.

#4 Breathable Back Padding Helps Prevent Back Sweat

If you ring a change of shirt, back sweat shouldn’t be a problem. But if you ride for a long time, and you don’t want to bring an extra shirt, back ventilation is necessary. Commuter bags are good as creating airways that let your back breath. But if you work if an environment where B.O. is okay, then break a sweat.

#5 Above All Else, Ensure That It’s Fairly Priced

It makes no sense to spend up to $300 on a bag (cough, cough Tumi). You know your financial situation best, so make the right call.

Other Useful Bike Commuting Accessories to Consider

headlights bike

Here are some commuting accessories that I’ve heard about, some of which seem really helpful:

  1. Attachable handlebar turn signal blinkers/ blinker gloves.
  2. Light up vest/ reflective vest.
  3. Headlight.
  4. Rearview mirror armbands.
  5. Fender.
  6. Mini air pump.
  7. Toolkit.
  8. Anti-theft lock.
  9. Cell phone mount.
  10. Mounted speakers.
  11. Bar mitts.

And for those who have everything, here are some accessories that are more for laughs. For instance:

  1. Handlebar cup holder.
  2. Beer saddle bags.
  3. Breakfast tray with cup holder.
  4. Bottle opener under the seat.

What Kind of Urban Biking Apparel Do You Need to Bike?

We’ve covered bikes and biking gear. Now, what about clothes and shoes for bike commuting? The good news is, you can pretty much bike in any wardrobe, save a skirt or dress.

The only time you may want to consider proper commuting apparel is if you have to wear business clothes at work and bike a long distance. If that’s the case, it might be best to roll up your pants, dress shirt, and suit jacket in your backpack. I know it seems that this will cause wrinkles, but if you roll it tightly you’ll reduce those chances.

The other alternative is to wear moisture wicking professional clothes, which does exist. These clothes are also good at masking odors if that’s a concern for you. The best thing to do, however, is to bike with enough time so that you’re not out of breath by the time you get to work.

But if you work in a more casual environment and just want to find appropriate clothes for biking, here are some suggestions.

Urban Commuting Shoes You Can Get Away With Wearing

urban bike commuting shoesYou can with pretty much bike with any shoes or no shoes. However, that doesn’t mean you should use any shoes. You need to take into consideration what type of environment you’re biking in. General shoes to stay away from include:

  • Thong flip-flops
  • Open toe sandals
  • Sandals without heel straps

Not only is there a risk of sandals slipping out, but there’s a likelihood that your feet will get dirty.  Instead, stick with these safe choices:

If you wear shoes that are ankle short, you may want to get yourself a pair of reflective socks for nighttime riding. Just one more measure of persuasion.

Urban Biking Pants and Tops that Look Good

Same as shoes, you can wear any clothes when biking, so long as it doesn’t get caught in the chain of your bike.

One trend that’s been on the rise and that is perfect for biking is athleisure. This type of style falls somewhere in between athletic and chic. Not only will you be comfortable biking, but you’ll look good afterwards, too.

If athletic-chic is too casual for you, trousers always work. Guys can get away with khakis or some dark blue denim jeans. Women have a few legging options, some with wide leg openings for that work pants look.

As for your top, you want to minimize the amount of back and pit sweat. Wearing breathable materials like cotton and linen, as opposed to polyester and other synthetic fabric, will help with this.

Urban Biking Jacket Perfect for Rainy, Windy Days

You can never predict that the weather will stay consistent. That’s why a simple windbreaker or poncho is a good idea to have on hand. There’s even a rain poncho that can go over your handle bars and cover your backpack. Both options are easy to store in the bottom of your bag.

Final Words From This Bike Commuter

Thanks for sticking around. I hope this has answered all your questions about commuting by bike. It’s not as hard as it seems, trust me. If you’re still feeling anxious about biking, just remember that it’s a phase and you’ll soon grow out of it. Have fun biking!

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