Switching from driving a car to work to riding a bicycle to work is not as easy as it sounds. It takes a lot more than just a desire to be environmentally friendly. There are the obvious considerations, such as wearing the proper clothing for the weather or navigating rush-hour traffic, but there is also a slew of other things that don’t come to mind until you find yourself in the situation.
This is the story of how my former road bike made its transition into a commuter bike.
One of the first things that you miss when you start riding a bicycle to work is the ability to haul things…anything. How am I going to get that gallon of milk and loaf of bread home from the grocery store? What if I want to take my lunch to work? Where do I put my jacket that I needed in the cold morning, but is way too heavy to wear in the afternoon? The typical bicycle isn’t equipped with a back seat or a trunk. At first, I tried using a commuter bag. That’s a large over-the-shoulder messenger bag. It worked for a while, but when it’s hot outside, I didn’t want a heavy bag on my back. Plus, it wasn’t big enough to haul larger pieces of cargo like packages from the post office. That’s when I put a rack on the back of my bike, and bought a trunk bag. I had looked online for a while and finally found a rack and trunk bag that I thought would work. The rear rack and trunk bag were made for each other and the bag locked into place on the rack. That gave me the room I needed to haul around my bike lock, a rain jacket, spare tube and tools, and a couple of bungee cords, thus getting the messenger bag off my back. But that wasn’t enough cargo space if I needed to stop by the grocery store and pick up a few things on the way home. So, I tried adding panniers to the rear rack. That didn’t work out so well for me. My big clown feet kept bumping into the panniers when I would pedal. So, I tried metal folding baskets that attach to the rear rack and those seemed to work out better. I put a pair of those on the back rack and now I can pretty much haul anything (within reason) by strapping it either into or on top of the baskets with bungee cords.
The next thing that I wanted to change about my road bike was that I was using the special clipless pedals and shoes. This was fine when I was using my road bike strictly for recreational road riding, but now this bike was turning into more of a utility vehicle. With the clipless system, I had to bring my street shoes to work so I could change when I got there. Not convenient. Bye bye, clipless pedals. Hello platform pedals. I got some platform pedals that had some good traction on them and I no longer needed to bring two pairs of shoes with me to work every day.
It was somewhere around this time that I started looking up local and state regulations about bicycle safety. It was a bit of a shocker to find out that I was breaking the law. If you ride a bicycle on the streets of Carson City, you are required by municipal code to have a bike bell that is audible for a distance of 100 feet. You read that right…a bike bell is required by law. And if you ride a bike after dark you are required to have a rear red reflector that is visible from 300 feet away in a car using low beams. I was surprised to find out that a rear-facing red light does NOT preclude the requirement for the reflector. You are also required by Nevada State law to have either side reflectors or side lights when riding at night. The only law that didn’t surprise me was the requirement to have a front facing white light. So, I made a trip to the local bike shop and got all the necessary accoutrements needed to be in compliance with the applicable laws. In fact, I strongly recommend that if you are riding a bike at night that you go above and beyond the minimum legal requirements and add a few extras like that rear red light. I even went as far as to buy a helmet that has lights embedded in it.
A rear-view mirror is another piece of equipment that has proven very useful. Some people (myself included) have a hard time perfecting the art of glancing over your shoulder without weaving all over the road, so the rear-view mirror becomes an essential safety feature to spot upcoming traffic.
My road bike had the traditional skinny tires that most road bikes normally have. Since this bike had been delegated to a commuter, I decided to go with the widest tires my rims could accommodate, and I chose a tire that had some tread to it since rolling resistance was not as big of a concern anymore. If you commute by bike long enough, you’re going to end up riding on wet roads. Without fenders, that translates into a very wet back. As you roll down a wet street your tires throw a rooster tail of water that ends up covering you from the top of your head to your seat. The best way to avoid getting the skunk stripe is to get some fenders. After my first wet ride, that’s exactly what I did.
The most recent piece of equipment to be added to my commuter bike is a kickstand. Most serious athletic cyclists will cringe at this, but to me it was a matter of convenience. If you’re riding a mountain bike you don’t want one because it’s something to get caught up in brush or debris and cause you to lose control. If you’re on a road bike, you don’t want the extra weight. But on a commuter bike neither one of these issues are a concern and a kickstand makes perfect sense.
I’ve got a few more ideas for my commuter bike. But for now, she’s getting me back and forth to work, the doctor’s office, post office, grocery store, bicycle shop, public meetings, and pretty much anywhere else I need to go in town. I haven’t gone 100% car-free at this point, but I’m not going to rule it out for a future consideration.