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bike commuting for dummies

Updated on February 18, 2016

If you decided to start commuting to work using a bicycle congratulations: the planet, your wallet, your health all will thank you sooner or later.

Now the hard part comes: how is it done?how much will it cost?what do I need to know?

Well is not easy and you`ll face a herd of information coming your way at full speed but just relax and lets focus on the essentials.

I started pedaling to work some 2 years ago and although is pretty much routine now I still enjoy everyday I put my helmet in the morning.

If you want to start riding your bike to work I`ll share a few tips so lets focus on the four most important things: bicycle, safety,clothes and maintenance.


There are many different types and brands of bicycles and at this moment you may or may not already have an idea of what you want to buy, so lets just focus on the most popular options.

Road Bike-good for long and fast commutes ( over 10 miles) in decent asphalt eventually with light trail shortcuts, main disadvantage is the lack of mudguard clearance, rack-mounts and more prone to flats

Mountain bike- good for short distances in town with traffic, trails, can handle a lot of beating and usually have good mudguards clearance and eyelets for rack-mounts; main disadvantage is weight "thievery appeal"

Hybrids-for those who are unfamiliar these are flat handlebar road bikes with a more relaxed frame design and posture so more comfortable and slow than road bikes but way faster than mountain bikes; they usually have everything set to be a great commuter ( mudguards, rack mount, lights, etc) and offer a great compromise between speed and comfort.

How much?

If you already have a bicycle and its a heavy steel old road or mountain bike that's fine as you just need to spend a little in some upgrades to make it a decent commute machine.

If you are planning to buy a new one anything around 400$ is great and will serve you well for many years if you do some regular maintenance.

Most valuable upgrades ( if you have an old bicycle and don't want to spend a ton):

-Tyres: good puncture proof slick tyres will improve dramatically your speed and comfort

-comfortable saddle: with 20 or 30 dollars you can have a nice quality saddle with plenty of cushion

This list can grow a lot if you think about lighter handlebars, higher quality chain, light wheel-set, etc, however after some point you way better buying a new bike than upgrading your old one.

A good rule of thumb is if to spend 70/80% of your budget ( bike not included) on things that you can use on any bike: a good helmet, a quality set of lights,a sturdy rack mount bag, etc., as these will stay forever with you while the upgrades you make on your bicycle will only last until you buy a new one.

Bike commuter in Lisbon, Portugal

Everyone needs a helmet :)


Now that you have your bicycle its time to shop around for accessories that can ultimately save your life.

There are two types of gear and apparel that you must get for a safe ride:

-gear than can save your skin in case you crash: Helmet, gloves

-gear than can avoid accidents: lights, reflective clothing

You can buy a decent Helmet for $50 and a nice pair of gloves for as little as $20, make sure you use them all the time as I see many cyclists carrying them in all places but head and hands :)

As for lights I truly advise you to get the best ones you can find and avoid cheap ones as these are the most important kit on your bike specially if you ride at night or early in the morning . A good light set can be found at amazon for $60 but if you have deep pockets options can go until hundreds of dollars. If you find yourself on a tight budget buy a great tail light ( I use the planet bike superflash turbo-its very bright and sturdy).

You will also want to get a reflective jacket or vest as this is crucial for other drivers to see you at night or even during daylight. Here you can save a lot as you can buy a simple reflective vest for $5 that will do the job of a $100 jacket made specifically for cycling.


Clothes are meant to keep you confortable and here we have two options:

-dress like you are going to work

-wear bike gear and then change to your working clothes at work

Both options have their pros and cons so and its up to you to choose wich one better suits your needs.

Your dress code is your bike code:classy

3.1 Ride wearing your usual clothes

If you opt for this all you need is to put your helmet, unlock your bike and you`re ready to go for work. Basically you ride like if you were using your car or public transport so no need to dress specifically to ride your bike.


-no need to change wear at work

-leave home ready for work: no need to wear bike clothes

-more suited for short inner-city commute


-less comfortable compared to bike riding clothes

-you may get dirty or damage your clothes

-you end up sweating more

this is the real deal in NYC

3.2 Ride wearing sport/bike clothes

This option is the best for long commutes ( more than 20 minuets) as its way more comfortable and allows more efficient movements so your medium speed will increase-less time spent commuting. All you need to do is wear your bike kit before leaving home and bring your working clothes with you using pans, a backpack or ( my favourite) leaving them at work the day before.


-way more comfortable than the 1st option

-you will ride faster and without fearing getting wet/dirty

-you will be more visible to traffic

-ideal for long comutes


-you will need to change clothes at work: more time spent

-you will take longer leaving house in the morning

4. Bike Maintenance

The final step on your bike commuting adventure is maintenance.

You don`t have to do a over the top maintenance routine as you won`t stress your bicycle as hard as a Road/Mountain bike rider, however some basic cheking is needed to make sure you ride safe.

Everyday Maintenance

The most important maintenance you will do is a quick 5m check before and after you ride your bike.

All you need to do is:

-check brakes: do they stop the wheel from spinning? If not check for debris, malfunctioning cables/disks or if they need to be changed.

-check your tires: are they well inflated? Are they loosing air for some reason? If so try to identify any holes putting the wheel on a water tin.

-check your direction: is it well fixed to the frame? Are there any cracks or strange noises? If something`s feel wrong take your bicycle to a mechanic as serious accidents can happen because of this

This will take you a maximum of 5 minutes , make it part of your routine before you leave home and before you leave work at the end of the day.

Weekly Maintenance

Once per week you must spend some time checking your bike and do some more detailed maintenance. One hour will usually be enough for this and it will guarantee you will have a good ride for a long time.

Washing your bike

Once per week you should wash your bicycle with water, ordinary soap and a sponge. Make sure you remove all the dirty, lube and visible stains.

Usually cleaning the frame, wheels and the steering direction is enough so don`t overstress about tiny inaccessible parts.

Warning: do not use a power washer as water will get into your wheel mechanism damaging its parts.


Your chain, breaks and gear cassete are the areas that need to be lubed regularly ( once per week) to allow for a smooth ride and durability.

You will do fine with any lube at the market as long as you don`t choose the cheapest one.

Finish line is a popular brand as has a good price: you can`t go wrong with them.

Final Words

I wish this small guide will help you on your commuting journey.

Riding a bike to work is a highly rewarding experience for your physical/mental health, for the planet and your wallet too. At the beginning it may feel too much information and things to do, but after a couple of weeks trust me it will be second nature for you.

Just don`t over stress about which bike/helmet/gear to choose: pick anything within your budget and just do it. As time goes by you will have a better notion of what you need or can skip for your commuting.

Wish you all the best on this adventure that can truly make you a better happier person.


Have you ever considered riding a bike to work?

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