Austin Tri-Cyclist Blog

Friday, January 2, 2015

Tips for Commuting

By Kat Hunter

Bike messenger Sammi Runnels, photo courtesy of Patchen Preston
Austin is a good city for bike commuting. The weather is usually warm and dry, bike lanes or neighborhood streets can get you from one end of the city to the other, and workplace culture is generally accepting of the practice. Getting around by bike does have its drawbacks, of course—Austin’s traffic is legendary, the weather is boiling hot for much of the year, and some bike routes stop and start like a jigsaw puzzle that doesn’t quite fit together. But a little preparation goes a long way. ATCers offer bike-commuting tips and equipment ideas to make your trip a smooth one.


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
Consider how you’re going to be storing your bike once you get to your destination. Some offices and shops are particularly nice about letting you prop your bike up inside, but it’s better to ask in advance. If you’re locking it up outside, you might want to ride an inexpensive bike that doesn’t tempt would-be thieves. Cables are light but can be cut easily, so heavy-duty U-locks offer more protection.

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
Sammi Runnels, who spends most of her day riding downtown as a bike messenger for Dropoff and has been a bike commuter for five years, says if you ride more than ten miles you’ll probably want some kind of cycling clothing, whether it’s mountain bike baggys or spandex. Long skirts or baggy pants are generally a bad idea, and tight jeans or short shorts should be avoided for anything more than three miles. She says she likes tight knee-length pencil skirts because they don’t fly up, but for flowy skirts, a pair of tight boxers or spandex shorts underneath are an easy solution. Roll your pant leg up on the drive-train side to prevent catching the material in your chain. Also secure loose shoe laces, which can make for an especially bad mishap on a fixed gear.

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 -,

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