July 23, 2014
Bringing you tips on bike commuting from one dedicated rider in Portland.
Photo by Danny Lyon via the U.S. National Archives
Bike commuting style
Of course looks matter. The bicycle you ride tells the world a little bit about what kind of person you are. But if you are going to ride that bike for miles every day commuting to work, you also need to think about these practical questions when choosing your ride:
Is it comfortable?
Different styles of bikes have very different riding positions: from fully upright on Dutch-style utility bikes to the extreme forward lean of road bikes built for racing, and everything in between. There are tradeoffs on both ends of the spectrum. Road bikes are fast but not everyone can handle the bent-over riding position – or the form-fitting Spandex biker drawers that are de rigueur. Upright bikes are easy on the back, and go well with street clothes, but they aren’t what you would call racey and they can be hard on your wrists and hands because the handle bars have only one position to grip.
Does it have room for fenders?
Not only are fenders not standard equipment, but also you can’t even put fenders on some road bikes. There’s not enough room between the tire and frame. You’ve probably seen fenderless rainy day riders with a wet brown streak up their backside. Less obvious but even more bothersome is the gutter water that pours onto your feet from the front tire when you don’t have a front fender.
Can you mount a basket or rack?
For commuting, you’re gonna need a place to sling your briefcase, change of clothes, lunch pail, or what not. A basket or pannier attached to your bike works better than a backpack. As with fenders, though, some bikes make it difficult to mount a rack or basket. Look for a frame that has built in mounts, or braze-ons, to make it easy.
Photo by the National Media Museum on Flickr
Is it up to the job?
That beach cruiser might work fine if your commute is short and on flat terrain. But for longer commutes with elevation, you’ll probably want a bike with narrower tires and plenty of low gears to make hill-climbing less of an ordeal. And don’t sniff at electric assist bicycles with a motor hidden in the rear-wheel hub that can give you a boost up hills. Newer models have smaller batteries and sportier and more diverse frame designs.
Photo by Lewis Wickes Hine via the Library of Congress
Bike messengers such as this one at work in Waco, Texas, in 1913, have long favored single-speed and fixed gear bikes because they are super reliable, low-maintainence performers, but they demand a strong set of legs.