|Bike messenger Sammi Runnels, photo courtesy of Patchen Preston|
The first thing any veteran bike commuter tells you is to get a good set of front and rear lights. Options range widely in price, but high-quality lights are usually well worth the investment—consider battery life, brightness, charging and attachment options, and any other aspects that might pay off long term in general convenience and usability. For extra safety, run your lights even in the daytime, especially in low light or rainy conditions. When riding pre-dawn, I like using a bike-mounted Light & Motion front and rear and also a helmet-mounted front and rear; I feel extremely visible, and the front lights illuminate a wide swathe of road in front of me.
|Cannondale Quick QR Expanding Pannier|
Durable tires like Gatorskins can prevent flats that might delay your trip.
Much more forgiving and comfortable for long rides than a backpack, baskets or racks can help you carry a surprising amount of gear, from textbooks to heavy shoes. Panniers are awesome for grocery shopping. In addition to what you can fit inside (which is a lot), you can use reusable bags to tie light purchases like potato chips and bread to the outside.
|Cannondale Pack-Me Jacket|
For cold weather, having the right layers on hand can make your trip much more pleasant. Wind-stopping base layers, long pants or knee warmers, arm warmers, gloves, a vest or jacket, wool socks, shoe booties, a hat or warm headband—all of the above are worth their weight in gold when temperatures suddenly drop. Just ask any bike racer who competed the second day of La Primavera Lago Vista last year, when temps went from 70 degrees to 40 in about an hour.
Helpful preparations for work commuting:
Pack baby wipes. In addition to sweat and general road grime, they’re great for removing chain grease. If your workplace doesn’t have a shower, this is a good way to avoid stinking up the office.
Keep a stash of clothes at your destination. If you occasionally drive to your workplace, use it as an opportunity to drop fresh clothes, shoes, and toiletries off so that you don’t have to carry them each day.
Arrive to work first. Even in Austin, sometimes bike commuting is frowned upon and considered unprofessional. If you're routinely the first to arrive at the office, the idea can go over better with colleagues.
Route & general riding tips:
Don’t commute on high-traffic roads. Often there’s no need to ride on roads like First Street and North Lamar; though they may be slightly less direct, there are much safer, quieter routes if you do your research on Google Maps or Austin bike maps. Test out your route on a weekend or a day when you have plenty of time to get to your destination so that you’re able to experiment. If you can get connected with an experienced commuter to help you plan out your route, even better.
Take the full lane. Sometimes this is a judgment call, but it's a good rule of thumb to start with. If your route includes roads where there are no bike lanes and the roadway is too narrow to be shared safely by both bike and car, ride near the middle of the lane to stake out your territory. This decreases the chances of being buzzed by a driver who believes he or she can squeeze by.
Pay attention. People make mistakes in traffic, and whether you’re driving or riding, it’s important to be alert. If possible, make eye contact with drivers waiting at stoplights and stop signs before continuing through the intersection so you know they see you. If passing parked cars on a street, be aware of the "door zone" and ride well to the left of it. Watch for reverse lights, as well, especially if you're traveling through parking lots or residential neighborhoods where drivers may be backing out of driveways.
Commuter resources, including maps - http://biketoworkaustin.org/commuter-resources/, http://austintexas.gov/bicycle