Bike commute problems can put people off riding to work but most have pretty simple solutions.
Having gone through just about every issue faced by bike commuters, I wanted to share my solutions to just about every bike commuter problem, firstly in the table below:
|Rain||Start in good weather, build up wet weather gear over time|
|Distance||Drive part the way, ride the rest – build up slowly|
|Sweat||Avoid a backpack and hills; leave more time|
|Riding at Night||Maximize your visibility, get powerful lights and take it easy|
|Fitness||Start slow, build it up over time|
|Motivation||Get back on the bike!|
|Clothing||Cotton or polyester best; keep it light|
|Bad Bike||Service it your local bike store; pump tires properly; save to get a better used one on Craigslist|
|Comfort||Buy a better bike seat|
|Busy Roads||Change route or times depending on rush hour|
|Air Pollution||Use an anti-pollution mask|
|Fatigue||Have natural protein and carbohydrates before riding|
|Starting Costs||Go with what you have, build up slowly; buy used wherever possible|
|Bike Theft||Invest in a quality lock; leave it somewhere busy and visible|
OK, that’s the points in brief, so let’s now go into a little more detail on these common problems for anyone on a bike commute and how to overcome them.
The simplest thing here is to start by bike commuting only in good weather. This will allow you to get more familiar with the whole process while also giving you time to get some funds together to invest in waterproof gear for your ride to work.
You will want to get full body coverage in terms of waterproofs, including waterproof pants and shoe covers; there is something about the riding position that makes the lower parts of your body extremely susceptible to getting soaking wet in a way that just doesn’t happen when walking.
Remember that you can build up wet weather gear over time, which is what I did and it took me a while! However, I’m glad I was patient with it as I’ve now been bike commuting constantly for the last 4 years and quite frequently for 7 years.
To overcome any kind of problem relating to distance on your bike commute, the secret is again to take it easy to start and build up to the full journey over time.
If you are already driving to work, then you can drive part the way, ride the rest. This might actually save you money immediately in terms of things like parking and gas, while also helping you to get ready for riding a longer distance over time (see more on the breakdown of these savings in this specific article on that topic!).
No car? No problem – many types of public transportation will allow you to take your bike on so you can also travel that way, too.
Whichever type of motorised transport you use along with cycling, just remember to travel a little bit further whenever you are ready to step it up. This way, you can build up to even a long-distance bike commute.
Nobody wants to be the sweaty person at work, especially not at the start of a long day, but you don’t have to be sweaty after bike commuting.
The main point I’d say to any bike commuter is to avoid wearing a backpack and get a pannier bag (or set) instead. Not only do backpacks make your back sweaty very easily, regardless of how expensive or well designed they might be, but they are not great for your back, either.
As for hills, have a look at different ways to change your route to cut out some of the hills or just to make them easier.
You can probably zig-zag your way up a hill to make it less strenuous (and thereby sweaty)
You can also just aim to leave a bit earlier to give you more time for riding to work at a slower, less intense speed. This solution might sound a little simplistic but trust me, it sure is effective; the times I get myself into
If you don’t have a shower at your work, then check out this article I wrote on how to deal with the day of work ahead.
Riding at Night
The safety issues around riding to or from work at night can be reduced by maximizing your visibility when on your bike. The key point here is to add reflective items wherever possible.
For instance, I have a helmet with reflective detail, a jacket with a lot of reflective detail, a bag, pants and gloves that also have this. A nice addition to the garments and accessories mentioned are spoke reflectors; these are super cheap on Amazon and give off a huge amount of reflected light, a definite win for anyone bike commuting at night or in low-light conditions.
To go along with the items above, get powerful bike lights to make sure that you can see everything you need and also be seen by other road users. Having a front light with at least 400 lumens and, if riding on stretches of road without any street lighting, go for a minimum of 600 lumens in your front light.
Last but not least, take it easy when riding at night. Going full speed and trying to do everything at your normal rate is not recommended as it will make you more likely to have an accident. I say this because it is harder for other road users to see cyclists at night so, by slowing things down a touch, you will be giving them a little more time to see what is coming.
If your fitness is a problem that is stopping from your bike commuting, then again this one comes down to thinking about the long-term. As mentioned in the points about distance above, you can start by driving or taking public transportation part the way and build up from there.
Remember that there is zero pressure on you to start cycling the whole journey to work in one day, or even on a regular basis. You can, and will, get fitter over time from bike commuting, so just remind yourself that every time you do it you will be making progress.
You can also look at using an exercise bike or taking a spin class to help you build up the specific fitness for cycling, although it is not exactly the same since you won’t be out on the road in the elements, so there is that added element of psychology to consider.
There are days when every bike commuter questions whether they should ride, be it from tiredness, weather, lateness or just repetition.
But it’s always better just to get back on the bike than it is to slip back into your old habits.
If you’re really struggling with motivation, try to identify what it is that’s putting you off. Once you can pinpoint the exact issue that’s making you want to skip your bike commute, address it immediately. It might be a lack of sleep, in which case go to bed earlier; equally, you might be constantly, so try changing your diet, etc. – the list goes on but you get the picture.
I know the weather used to get me down sometimes, but then, once I found the right waterproof gear, I realized that I was actually drier than if I had gone any other way (even by car and walking from the car to the office), and I had a lot more fun riding.
If you’re lucky, you might be able to persuade a friend to join you and have a riding buddy with whom you can bike commute. This might be easiest if you travel to whoever’s house is best located and start your ride together; it’s a lot harder to say no to someone else than it is to say it to yourself!
The main problem with clothing for bike commuting is that the wrong clothing can make for an uncomfortable, hot and sweaty ride. The first solution here is to look at the materials of the clothes you are wearing that make you feel that way; chances are they will be low-quality synthetic materials.
If so, then look into wearing things like cotton shirts, although polyester also seems to work (despite its synthetic nature!).
You can also look to riding in a layer less than you might normally wear in colder months. For example, I frequently wear just a shirt with a vest under it beneath my bike commuter jacket and pack a sweater in my bag. This is because I generally get quite warm when riding so I need to allow myself some room to heat up.
Another tip for bike commuter clothing is that it should be soft and a little loose. This means that you should feel comfortable at all times when riding and can ride properly.
Super tight work clothing on a bike can restrict your movement and make riding less comfortable, so give that some thought, too.
If you think your ‘bad bike’ is the main source of your problems for cycling to work, then there are a few easy things to do.
The first is to take it to your local bike store to service it. Why not do it yourself, I hear you ask? Well, if the poor quality of the bike has been stopping you from riding it, chances are that 1) you are not going to fix it anytime soon or 2) it’s actually a bit too hard for you to fix it so you’ve left it gathering dust (and rust) somewhere.
The great thing about your local bike store is that, just like with servicing cars, they can usually give you a quote when you get there, helping you to gauge whether it’s worth the spend. They can also work on your bike while you are out at work, meaning you can get it done while doing your day job and simply collect it later on, another nice win.
If, however, you think you can handle doing a bit of servicing, the first thing I’d recommend is to pump the tires up properly. By ‘properly’, I mean using a floor pump with pressure so that you know exactly how inflated the tires are before you ride. I’d also recommend doing this a few days before riding as older tires might deflate so if this happens, it’s either new tires or down to the bike store.
The last thing is to get a bit of bike oil on the chain and give it a few pedals, be it stationary or around the block; go up and down through the gears and see how it feels. Most bikes just need a bit of ‘TLC’ to get them back to a working condition so you might find that this is enough, as simple as it is.
If you’re convinced that the bike is a write-off, let’s say after doing the above and/or speaking to your local bike store, then look to get a better used one on Craigslist for cheap. Used bikes are abundant and usually a good deal; just be sure to test ride it first and also think twice about buying a used e-bike given that they have the added technology, which is also the most expensive part and hardest to fix if there is anything wrong with it.
Continuing in a similar vein from the points above about having a bad bike, having an uncomfortable bike is a problem that will put you off riding regularly.
Given how often you might want to commute, doing it in comfort is essential, so here are a few tips on how to do it properly.
The first is to buy a better bike seat. I can’t tell you how many hours I spent on an old bike with a saddle that was hard in all the wrong places and caused me no small amount of agony. For some reason, it hadn’t dawned on me that simply spending a few dollars on a gel seat for extra comfort might actually make my riding experience a pleasure. And so it did! I got a new saddle for about $15 and immediately felt the benefits, particularly when going uphill.
The second solution for an uncomfortable bike is to try adjusting the height of your saddle. I suggest this because I see so many people who have a saddle that is far too low for them! This makes their legs push out to the sides, which not only looks like poor form but also means more effort for less distance to travel, not a great situation.
My main tip would be to raise the saddle to a height that looks almost too high for you at first but trust me, this will likely give you a lot more pedal power. You want a bike saddle that means that your leg is almost (but not quite) vertical when your foot is at the bottom of the rotation.
If you want to go one step further on the comfort, you can also look into getting gel handlebar grips. These can support your hands when riding and make the bumps and everything else along the way a lot less jarring.
The problem of busy roads is another common one for bike commuters. To solve this issue, or at least mitigate it, here a few things to try.
Changing your route according to the traffic means that you can avoid at least some of the usual bottlenecks and spend less time weaving in and out of traffic as well as not breathing in as many fumes. You’ll probably know where the main pinch points are on the route so look to see if you can find a shortcut, or just a diagonal cut, to avoid the worst of it. Back streets and alleys might help here so it pays to try things out and see what works.
If bike commuting in rush hour is a major problem for you, then try varying the times at which you ride to beat some of the worst of it. By this, I mean leaving a bit earlier or even later to get to work at a time when the traffic is a little bit less intense. Perhaps you can go in early and finish early? Or just go a little later and finish later? I know this is a bit ‘ideal world’ scenario but I know that just a 20-minute change in my usual journey time can make a world of difference in terms of the traffic on my route; it might mean a similar difference for you, too.
If, like me, you are becoming more and more conscious of the air pollution in our cities and on our roads, then you might also be concerned about breathing some of this in when riding to work.
To reduce the impact of air pollution when riding as a bike commuter, you can try using an anti-pollution mask.
Good quality masks come with an N-95 or N-99 filter, meaning that they will filter out 95 or 99% of all ‘nasties’ (!) in the air. Not a bad rate of return for a face mask.
If you want a little more on these kinds of masks, check out this detailed post I wrote about my experiences with a premium anti-pollution mask for bike commuting.
Feeling tired before or after a bike commute can be seriously off-putting, especially if it kicks in right as you get to work or just after you get home with nothing in the fridge!
The main solution for this problem is to choose a few good foods to eat before, or even after, your ride to help you stay feeling energized through and after your ride.
Try looking for a natural protein source to eat before your ride; I often go for hard-boiled eggs as I can make these the night before and they travel well if I want to take one to work. A tin of tuna is another option that, although it does not sound appealing, will keep you full for a long time. If you are a vegan bike commuter, then try a good whole-protein alternative.
I’d also recommend adding in some unprocessed carbohydrates to go along with this protein. Of late, I’ve been going for a quarter of a banana as I don’t want to fill up but whatever your choice of unprocessed carbohydrates it should do the trick.
Just remember to give yourself a little time to digest these before riding as trying to hunch forward on your bike with a full stomach can be an unpleasant experience, especially if riding in a hurry in work clothes on a hot day – take it from me!
Perhaps the starting costs involved with bike commuting are an issue that you’re not sure how to get around. Well, it’s not as bad as you think.
In the first instance, just ride with what you have and you’ll be surprised at how far you can go on even basic cycling equipment. To make this easier, I’d suggest again riding in good weather to start off to keep things simple since waterproofs that work for cycling can be expensive.
From this humble starting point, build up your collection of bike commuting gear and accessories slowly. The easiest time to start is probably in the spring since you can get away with lighter clothes and the good weather through spring, summer and the start of autumn gives you maximum time to save for some more expensive all-weather accessories further down the road. If unsure about riding in the rain, here’s an uber-helpful guide I prepared to give you all the info you need on the topic.
You can again look to places like Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace to save big-time and buy used gear wherever possible
Another big issue for bike commuters is the fear of bike theft, and it’s certainly a valid one. I say that because I once had a bike stolen (well, it was my brother’s actually but I was out on it!) and I know that sinking feeling well.
To solve the issue of worrying about bike theft when commuting to work, I’d first recommend investing in a quality lock. This is because only a U-lock will really hold up when tested by bike thieves. If you go for a cheap-o cable lock, you may as well kiss your bike goodbye. Remember that you will be leaving it outside in a usual spot for hours at a time, so leaving it with a poor quality lock really is not an option.
To get the right lock, I’d recommend spending anywhere from 5-10% of the bike’s value on a lock. This is because the more expensive the bike, the more appealing it will be to thieves, the better quality of lock you will need! If you want more information on this, check out my insightful post on how to make your bike theft-proof when bike commuting.
The last point here is to try and leave your bike somewhere busy and visible. This is because the social deterrent of having people around and eyes on the bike will add a valuable level of protection to your locked bike that will, although not making it completely safe, at least add to your peace of mind when working.