Bicycle Commuting 101 – The Benefits

All week, we’ve shared great information about commuting to work by bike.  Today, we thought we’d give you some reasons why it’s all worth it.  It’s no secret that commuting by bike saves money, is better for your health, and lowers your carbon footprint, but the numbers may surprise you:

According to an article published in Forbes Magazine, the average bike commuter reported they paid an initial $500 to $800 for a bike and commuting related accessories, and had an annual maintenance cost of around $100.  Compare that to the average cost of a vehicle today.  It’s very easy to spend upwards of $10,000 to $20,000 to purchase a car, and then factor in the cumulative costs of commuting by car: $2.41/mile as calculated by Commute Solutions, which takes into account everything from gas prices to insurance to road repair costs.  Say your average commute is five miles round trip and you work five days week.  Within a month, you’ve already spent more than the average yearly costs of riding your bike.  And with the uncertainty of gasoline prices, that number could easily increase.

Another benefit of riding a bike is better health.  Our mechanic lives two miles from the shop, and commutes the 20 minutes to work and back daily.  That’s 20 minutes of increased heart rate daily, which any doctor would tell you is beneficial.  Plus, exercise in the morning has been linked to increased awareness and productivity throughout the workday.

Lastly, we all know it’s better for the environment to commute on bike.  How much you ask?  Shreya Dave, a graduate student at MIT, recently concluded that an ordinary sedan’s carbon footprint is more than 10 times greater than a conventional bicycle on a mile-for-mile basis, assuming each survives 15 years and you ride the bike 2,000 miles per year (or slightly less than eight miles per weekday).  That’s a lot of trees saved, a lot less gas used, and way cleaner air for us all to breathe.

Still not convinced?  Give it a go for a week.  See how you feel, experience the feel of the wind in your face on your way to work, and how much happier you are during your work day.  We’re pretty sure your stress will be lowered not having to deal with driving in the morning rush, and you’ll be way happier looking at your bank statement every month.  And if you find it’s not for you, we urge you to still get out on your bike a few times a week and reap the benefits they provide from a recreational standpoint.

Happy riding everyone!

Bicycle Commuting 101 – Rules of the Road

Since you now know what gear you need to hit the road for your work commute by bike (found in yesterday’s blog), today we’re going to cover everything you need to know about safely and legally sharing the road with other cyclist, motorists, and pedestrians.

As found on the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s webpage, the general rules of riding your bike on the road are as follows:

  • Ride at least three feet from the curb or parked vehicles or debris in curb area and in a straight line. Don’t swerve in and out around parked vehicles.
  • Always ride in the same direction as traffic.
  • Sidewalk riding for bicyclists past the learning stage and being closely supervised by adults can be more dangerous than on the road, obeying traffic laws. It is also illegal unless the community has passed an ordinance specifically permitting sidewalk riding. This can be age-restricted, location-restricted or based on the type of property abutting the sidewalk.
  • Obey all traffic laws.
  • Be predictable! Let other users know where you intend to go and maintain an understood course.
The key to riding safely on the roads is to be seen!  It’s a great idea to wear bright colors to make yourself more visible while on your bike, and clothing and accessories with reflective material are an added bonus!

Finally, a few reminder to motorists:

  • Bicycles are vehicles. They belong on the road.
  • Cyclists need room to get around potholes, sewer grates and other obstructions.
  • Leave at least three feet when passing bicycles, more room at higher speeds.
  • Change lanes to pass any bicycle traveling in a narrow lane.
  • Train yourself to scan for fast moving (it’s hard to tell speed) bicycles and motorcycles in the opposing lane to you when turning left, and scan sidewalks and crosswalks for pedestrians and bicyclists using the sidewalk and crosswalk as a pedestrian. Always scan to your right-side sidewalk before you leave a stop light or stop sign, and to the left- and right-side sidewalks when on a one-way street.

Bicycle Commuting 101 – The Gear

Think you need to break the bank to get into bicycle commuting?  Think again!  Most people already have a bike sitting in their garage, so as long as it’s in proper working order, it’ll certainly do the trick.  Then, add a few key items to make your ride to work a safe and enjoyable one, and you’re all set!

Below is a no-nonsense list of all the equipment you’ll need.  Depending on the length of your commute, you may only need a few things listed or you may need them all.  Whatever you needs, make sure you get yourself the first three on the list – we consider them must-haves when hitting the street on your bike.

1. Helmet – Likely the most important piece of cycling equipment you’ll ever buy, helmets are a no brainer.  Don’t take chances with your head; it’s just not worth it, especially since today’s helmets are very inexpensive, fit great, and look good too!

2.  Lock – Most people don’t have the luxury of parking their bike inside while at work or school, so good lock is a must.  Unfortunately, bicycle theft is a problem that isn’t going away, so protecting your bike with a secure lock is a great idea.  Locks come in all different shapes and sizes, with combination or keyed locks.  And for prices as low as $9.99, buying one is a pretty easy choice. 

3. Lights – With commutes sometimes starting in the early morning hours and ending when the sun is setting, keeping yourself visible is a must!  At the minimum, riders should have a white blinking light at the front of their bikes with a red flashing light in the back.  Headlights are a inexpensive add-on, and greatly increase visibility while riding in darker conditions.

4. Fenders – Don’t let a little rain stop you from hitting the road in the morning on your bike. Fenders do an amazing job of keeping water and road grime off you and your bike.  With prices starting as low as $10, fenders are an easy add-on that go a long way to making your ride to work loads more enjoyable.

5. Basic tool kit – Just like cars, bikes sometimes break down.  Unlike cars though, fixing your bike is usually quick and easy when you have the right tools.  A simple multi-tool, flat tire kit (tube, patch kit, tire levers), and pump/co2 pump are usually all you need to get your bike back up and running.

6.  Rain gear – Like a bike, most people have a rain jacket in the closet.  Perfect!  Use that!  There’s no need to purchase bike specific outerwear for a short commute.  As long as what you wear fits snuggly and doesn’t impede your ability to ride a bike, it’ll be great.

7. Backpack / bike bag – Almost everyone has stuff they need to bring to work, and finding a way to carry it all on your bike is actually pretty easy.  There are hundreds of different bags, racks, or packs you can outfit your bike or yourself with to get your personal items to work.  Our shop mechanic Pete even found a bag to carry home his weekly selections of new vinyl records from the Inner Sleeve!  From lunches to laptops to business suits, theres a bag out there to carry your items while on your bike.

Think you’re ready to give it a try? Hop on your bike tomorrow morning!


Recommended Bike Commuting Gear for Rookies

The Wausau area just got a little bike friendlier with the recent introduction of a community-wide system of 622 bicycle route signs. Finally!  Perhaps you’re thinking that a bike could replace some of the miles you log in a car each day.  So do you need any special gear to make commuting a genuine part of your routine?  There are a few pieces of equipment that are absolute necessities.  And a few more to up the convenience and comfort factor.

The necessities

Bike – Obviously.  While there are some seriously cool commuter-specific bikes available it doesn’t really matter what kind of bike you have as long as you’re comfortable. You want to ride a titanium frame racer? Great! A dual-suspension downhill mountain bike? Good for you. A beach cruiser? Cool! As long as you are comfortable riding the bike, ride what you want. Just make sure the bike fits you well, is comfortable and in good working order.  If shopping for  a new bike makes sense, proceed with caution with regard to department store bikes. Some brands you will find at department stores use lower level components which are not easily exchanged or upgraded. Other brands, however, can be upgraded with new parts and easily customized to make your commute comfy and efficient.

The Diamondback Insight is a hybrid with a host of features that commuters really appreciate. Shep’s price is $ 449.99

Find a reputable bike shop (preferably locally owned and operated by someone who rides where you do) and speak to someone who can explain the benefits of different bicycles.

Helmet – This is a non-negotiable item. Consider this a very inexpensive insurance policy against head injuries. A helmet is not a magic wand that will keep you from sustaining any injuries, but it can protect you from potentially serious injury that will ruin your day, commute, and possibly much more. Shepherd & Schaller’s adult helmets start at only $35.  The investment is worth the price.

Lights –  Lights are a must in twilight hours, not to mention in the dark. Unless you are able to commute both directions in daylight, and the weather is never dark or stormy where you live, you need lights.  You should have a good bright white light for the front, and at least one red light in the back (preferably one that can be set to flash to be better noticed). Some commuters swear by two lights up front; one bright fixed beam and one flashing LED. The flashing lights are supposed to draw a driver’s attention to the fact that you exist. Some communities, including Wausau, WI, even require lights between dawn and dusk, or longer.

Basic Repair Tools – A patch kit, spare tube, tire irons and an air pump (make sure it’s appropriate for the valves on your particular tubes – Presta or Schroeder ). Having these things with you, and knowing how to use them, will allow you to get yourself going again quickly after a breakdown. Forget them, and you may find yourself hoofing it.

Something to carry your stuff – Backpack, messenger bag, rack and panniers, basket on the front or back of the bike, trailer. Really, it doesn’t matter. There are many, many options out there.

A rack with panniers is a great way to carry gear while keeping your weight balanced.

Many backpacks, panniers and messenger bags are made to be truly waterproof, which could be important as well as convenient.  Be aware that how you carry your gear may affect your balance and the overall ride. If you can test options out with your typical load it will help you decide how to best carry your things.

Lock – Unless you have a place that provides secure storage for your bike, you’ll want a good lock.  Cable locks and light chains come in different weights and will make a thief’s task difficult.  Invest in a heavy-duty (and heavy) U-lock such as those made by Kryptonite if your bike is especially attractive to thieves to further reduce risk.

Knowledge of traffic laws applicable to cycling – Most are the same as the rules that apply to motorists, but there are some differences. Know them and follow them. You can be given a ticket for breaking them.

Optional Items

Special clothing – You can ride in your work clothes. In fact, if it’s a short ride, it may be preferable. If you have a longer ride, bike specific clothing will add comfort and performance, and doesn’t always fit like a glove or glow in the dark (although reflective features are a really good idea, if only on your shoes.)  Padded bike shorts are often the first thing commuters add to their shopping bag.

Rain Gear – Something to keep you dry from the outside, and preferably something that vents well to keep you dry on the inside as well.  Most rain jackets and pants roll-up or stuff into a self-pocket for storage that doesn’t take up much room.  Again, reflective hits on rain gear make you visible to motorists.

Fenders – These are great to keep the road muck off your clothing in the rain. If you choose to commute in your street clothes these may move into the necessity category if you hope to avoid going into that business meeting or classroom with a stripe of mud up your back.

Water bottle or “hydration system” – A ride of just a few blocks probably won’t require this, but it’s always good to have something to satisfy your thirst as you ride. For longer commutes, it will become more of a necessity.

Bell – Or a horn.  It’s not only polite to let pedestrians and other riders know you’re coming up behind them, your bell can improve your safety.

With so many resources at your fingertips, bike commuting may be the easiest new habit you adopt.  If you have more commuting questions or concerns, is your next stop.

Shepherd & Schaller’s professional bike shop specializes in customization and will install your bike new accessories for free. (those you buy from us) Plus, meet with Pete for fit adjustments and one-on-one advise to plan your commute in all the weather that Wisconsin offers.