Anatomy Of A Bicycle Commuter

Bicycle commuter anatomy

Bicycle commuter anatomy

Portneuf Valley Bike To Work Month is during the month of May!  Wooo!  Time to get into shape, save some money, and breath some cleaner air!  Let’s do it!

I have written this article to give a few tips to those of you who are brand new to commuting around town by bicycle.  At first, you may be apprehensive about cruising around Pocatello on a bicycle, but after you’ve done it for a month or so you’ll wonder why you haven’t been doing it all along.  In my 3 years of commuting by bicycle, I have observed that Pocatello is one of the safest places to ride a bike in the nation.  Motorists in this city are some of the most courteous I’ve seen anywhere, and most of them are happy and inspired to see citizens who are using an alternative form of transportation.

The image to the left shows a few items that can make your commute more comfortable, but you don’t need them all.  I drew this image as mostly a humorous addition to this article (the cyclist is my buddy, Travis).  Wear whatever works for you.

The following is a list of best practices that have worked for me.  But, as I have said, everyone has different preferences for their cycling style, so be sure to take a few weekends to get to know your bike and ride a few miles before you set out on your Monday morning commute!

Safety First!

One of the best resources for learning how to cycle in an urban environment is the booklet known as Bicycling Street Smarts.  You can read it online at, you can order a free copy from the Idaho Transportation Department, or I believe you can even pick up a copy at Scott’s Ski and Sports.  I highly encourage you to read it, and then practice what you have read.  At first, some of the concepts in the book may seem strange to you (what, you want me to ride in the lane?!), but after you get out on the road, the reasons will become clear to you.

Also, make sure you have a good idea of what the best cycling route to work is, and take some time to bike it to see if it works for you.  I would not suggest riding on a high traffic road with no shoulder, such as Yellowstone Avenue!  It is much safer and more enjoyable to use low traffic residential streets for the majority of your commute.  A friend of mine (thanks Hans!) reminded me of the new, nifty cycling tool on Google Maps!  Type something like “123 Something Street Pocatello to XYZ Company Pocatello” into the search box, click “Search Maps”, select “Bicycling” from the drop-down menu at the left, and click “Get Directions”.  This will show a cycling-friendly route on the map connecting the two points!

What Should I Wear?

I have to wear professional clothing for my job (button up shirt, sometimes a tie, dress pants, and dress shoes).  Does this stop me from enjoying my morning ride to work?  Heck no!  Here’s how I do it:

  1. Don’t overdress.  Even if it is 30 degrees in the morning, the only thing you need on your torso is your shirt and a windbreaker.  If you wear anything more than that, you’ll arrive at work all sweaty.  If you are particularly susceptible to cold, though, you can wear an extra layer.  Then, if you overheat, you can always take a layer off and throw it in your pannier or backpack.
  2. Wear a helmet.  Not only does a helmet give protection from any head injuries, but it also catches the attention of motorists.
  3. If it is below 50 degrees, I recommend wearing a thermal beanie under your helmet.  I get brain-freeze if I don’t do that (then again, I also don’t have any hair), and that is no fun.
  4. Pick up a couple of Velcro leg bands at one of the above mentioned places.  You can get them for like $2 at Scott’s or Barrie’s in Pocatello.  They will keep your pants from catching on your bicycle chain rings.  Oh, and if your shoes have long laces, tie them in 4 or 5 knots so they are up and out of the way.  It sucks to be cycling along, having a great time and then having your gears eat your laces.
  5. Carrying your lunch to work in your backpack is simple and easy.  But, to avoid a sweaty back, I recommend a rear rack and a pannier.  You can get a rear rack from the above mentioned stores for usually about $15, and you can get low cost pannier or set of panniers for around $30 if you shop around.  That way, your back stays dry and you keep weight off of your lower back and crotch!

Those are the things that many beginning cyclists tend to forget.  I’m sure you can fill in the rest of the clothing related details.  :-)

My Bike Is A Mess!  What Shall I Do?

Most local bicycle shops can service your bike and get it running great for $30 or less.  If you’d like to give it a try yourself, here is a few very common maintenance items.

  1. Turn your bicycle upside down, spray some orange degreaser into a rag, and run your chain through the rag until most of the dirt is gone.  Then dribble some general purpose oil (NOT WD-40!!!!!) along the chain and wipe the excess oil off with a rag.
  2. Get a pump with a built-in air pressure gauge and air your tires up to the PSI specified on the tire’s sidewall.  Inspect your tire for wear and any hissing noises.  If you’ve got a leak in your tube, search for bicycle tube repair.  There’s about a million pages online on how to do this!
  3. Ensure your brake pads are making adequate contact with your wheel rims and are in-line with your rims when you squeeze your brake levers.  Ensure that they aren’t touching your rims when you aren’t squeezing your brake levers.

Those are about the 3 most important things.  There is really a ton of videos and online tutorials on how to solve any bicycle problem imaginable.  Bicycle repair and maintenance is actually pretty simple and is kind of relaxing and enjoyable.  Now, go get that bike out of your garage and give it some love and attention!

How Can I Get Involved With This Bike To Work Month Thing?!

You can get involved in 1 of 2 ways!

  1. If someone in your work group or company has already volunteered to be the leader for your Employee Challenge team, I’m sure they will be contacting you soon!  Take this as an opportunity to give bicycle commuting a try!
  2. Want to participate, but you’re the only one in your company who is interested?  Become an Employee Challenge leader!  It’s easy!  Just be sure to get your supervisor’s permission first, though, before you start mass emailing your co-workers about this event.  :-)

Good luck and I’ll see you out on the road!

2 comments to Anatomy Of A Bicycle Commuter

  • Jeff Selfa

    I’d like to add that for potential rainy weather it’s really nice to have good fenders and some simple rain wear that can be stowed in your backpack or rack bag. Plastic grocery bags can cover your feet in a pinch, but neoprene shoe covers are better.

    For regular commuting I really like having a rear-view mirror. The one I use attaches to my helmet, but other types attach to the handlebar or glasses. FYI, backpacks tend to obstruct helmet/glasses mounted mirrors.

    Finally, I’d like to stress following the [legal] rules of the road. Korey’s urban cycling link above has great info for this. Commuting cyclists aren’t that common yet, so it is important that we follow the rules to be respectful and establish common expectations. Be prepared for motorists that aren’t looking for you and/or don’t know how to behave (like yielding to you when they have the right-of-way).

    Thanks for the thorough and informative post, Korey!

  • Jeff Cundick

    Nice practical advice that gave me some good information and things to think about – and get motivated! Will see you on the road this season (on my bike)!

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