More than 800,000 people in the United States travel to work by bike. If getting fit and saving money sound appealing, here's how to do it right.
Before you buy a bike, you need to know your route. Go to Google Maps and your city's official website to locate bike lanes. Better, find bicycle-only pathways. Besides avoiding cars altogether, you can keep momentum, which means less energy spent stopping and starting.
With your route chosen, drive it to see how many hills you'll need to climb and to get an idea of mileage. This will affect the type of bike you choose. If you're like the majority of people in the United States and will be riding 20 miles or less to work, a hybrid or fitness bike is ideal. These have the light frames and narrow tires that make road bikes fast, but with flat handlebars for a comfortable, upright riding posture.
Avoid shopping online. Instead, buy from a local bike shop with a good reputation. Not only will they make sure you get a proper fit but usually there are perks, like the ability to swap out parts, and free tune-ups later. Plan to spend at least $500, and add components as needed. In Seattle, disc brakes and fenders will help you stop when it's wet and keep mud off your clothes. In Phoenix those parts are just extra weight.
The Ultimate Commuter Bike: Trek 7.2 FX ($490)
Wildly popular because of the smooth-riding steel fork and quality Shimano drivetrain. The 7.2 FX (above) also comes with Bontrager H2 Hard-Case Lite tires that'll resist punctures and last for thousands of miles when properly inflated. The frame is set up to be a canvas for add-ons like fenders and a rear rack, the latter of which we highly recommend for any commuter. Also, at about 30 pounds, the bike is light enough to carry up stairs.
Folding Bikes? Great for city dwellers, these collapse small enough to fit in a taxi trunk or under your table at a café. The small wheels and foldable frame mean you lose comfort and speed, but companies like Tern engineer for increased torque and rigidity.
E-Bikes? The onboard batteries that give electric bikes extra pedaling power make them heavy and expensive. Best for hilly routes or to avoid sweating. Important: Make sure e-bikes are legal where you live. They've been banned in some cities.
Bike Sharing? A popular option that lets you check out and return bikes at stations throughout a city. -Annual memberships range from around $60 to $150. All you need is your own helmet. Best for those who don't want the hassle of upkeep.
Helmet: More than half of bicycle-related hospitalizations and deaths are due to head -injuries, so wearing a helmet isn't optional. Find one with CPSC certification. We like the Giro Sutton MIPS ($100, above), which is layered so that the shell and interior lining shift around the head when struck, diffusing the impact.
Lights: Don't skimp here, either—cheap lights don't have enough lumens to be visible at a long distance and aren't as reliable or durable. The weather-proof Cygolite Metro 400/Hotshot 2W ($80) combo pack has 4 watts for the headlight and 2 for the taillight, so you'll be easy to spot.
Invest in good pants
Wearing regular pants, which don't stretch, forces your legs to work harder, and regular tailoring will be tight around your quads. There are all kinds of cycling pants, but some companies now use just enough polyester to let your legs move freely while still providing the look of classic trousers. Lululemon's more formal Commission Pant ($128) flexes at the knee, and zippered pockets ensure that you won't lose your keys or wallet. They're a huge upgrade in comfort, and your colleagues will have no idea.
Don't go messenger
Unless you need quick access to your stuff while riding, forgo a messenger bag for a pannier, which attaches to a bike's rear rack without blocking the taillight. Even messenger bags and backpacks designed with space for airflow across your back leave you sweaty where the shoulder straps fall. They also have less interior space and will tire you out faster. Panniers like those from Ortlieb ($180 per pair) have a full clip to securely attach to the rack (regular hooks can get dislodged on bumpy roads) and are waterproof.
In a bike lane or on the road, keep as much distance between you and parked cars as possible. Getting "doored" is a common accident that happens when a driver-side door opens unexpectedly. Riding more slowly and staying alert will help you avoid this.
Merging With Traffic
If there's something blocking your path, signal with your arm, wait for cars to pass, and merge into traffic like a car. If there is no bike lane, riding in the traffic flow, not to the right, is ideal and sometimes even the law. It makes you more visible and less likely to get hit.
Negotiating Intersections, Two Ways
1. If you're to the right of the cars, stay behind the first car, even if you're on the side in a bike lane. This will help you avoid getting "right-hooked" by a car's unexpected right turn. When possible, bike in the traffic stream.
2. When a left-hand turn looks dangerous, cross the intersection, then stop at the far-right curb. When the light changes, cross the street like a pedestrian.
How to bike to a meeting—without getting fired
1. Leave yourself extra time. Besides getting an opportunity to cool down after arriving, you can pace yourself and sweat less, coasting as often as possible.
2. Wear an undershirt, ideally made of at least 90 percent merino wool. Natural fibers breathe better than gym-ready synthetics, which will keep your skin dry but can hold on to bad odors. While riding, unbutton your shirt Hasselhoff-style for ventilation.
3. White, navy, black, and patterns hide sweat stains. Bright blues and gray show them. If you're worried about odor and don't have a shower at work, hand sanitizer under your arms works in a pinch. Seriously.
4. Fold your blazer inside out and stash it in your pannier.
How to Properly Lock Your Bike
No lock will survive a determined and well-equipped criminal, but the proper equipment and locking technique mean a thief will pass your bike over for one that looks a little easier to steal. Start with a serious U-lock such as Kryptonite's New York Lock Standard ($93), which will withstand wire cutters and grinders but is more manageable than heavy chains. Then supplement the U-lock with a cable lock (pictured above) to protect your wheels. If you're locking up in a sketchy area, Pinhead makes locks that require keys for seats and quick-release wheels, which are both easy to steal.
Tip: Beware the sucker pole
Securing your bike to a structure that can be disassembled makes locking up moot. Avoid bait poles that have ground bolts already removed by bike thieves and rickety construction scaffolding.
Checking the tire pressure -every few days will save you from flats caused by underinflation. Use a floor pump, and keep the pressure within 10 psi of the number written on the sidewall of the tire. If the tire feels squishy, add air.
Lubricate the chain with climate-specific bike lubricant (twice a month in wet weather). With the bike upside down, hold a rag against the chain while turning the pedals. Lightly apply lubricant onto the chain. Wipe off excess.
If you ride regularly, have your bike shop do an annual tune-up. Replacing parts like brake cables is tricky, and fi skipping gears or misaligned wheels requires special tools. Improperly reassembling these parts can ruin the bearings.
This story appears in the September 2015 issue of Seniorhelpline.