Intro to Bike Commuting, Part IV

Photo by jessflickr. Licensed under the Creative Commons.

I’m hoping that my earlier posts about bicycle commuting got some of you inspired to get out there and start riding. Here in Minnesota, it’s still a little bit on the cold side, and (as I write this) in almost the middle of April we’re under a winter storm warning. I’ve been working on building a commuter bike, since my commute is about 7.5 times longer than it used to be. A single-speed won’t suffice anymore. (I’ll detail the completed bike in a future post.)

So. You’ve been commuting. You’re probably dropping weight, and starting to see a general improvement in your moods. But things could be better. This section will discuss things to improve your commuting experience.

Bike. We’ve covered the basics in earlier sections, but to make your bike more commute-worthy, there’s a few things you should consider.

First and foremost is the seat. Like most people, you probably think that the squishy gel seat is the way to go, and that’d be fine if you were going to ride your bike around the block once monthly. But the problem with these seats is that they shift around. A lot. And that can actually cause problems that lead to things like saddle sores. Consider a leather-wrapped saddle. Expect to spend $40 and up. At the high end of things, a Brooks leather saddle is an awesome piece of work — once you’ve broken it in like you would a baseball glove. Talk to your local bike shop about the possibility.

Fenders are another important consideration. Eventually you’ll find yourself riding in inclement conditions. Invest $30 or so in a pair of fenders and you’ll help keep your bike and the rest of yourself clean when the rain starts to fall.

Puncture resistant tires like the Bontrager Hardcase series or the Continental GatorSkin will make your life a lot easier. They ride a little more roughly than normal tires, but the longer tread life and increased puncture resistance make it fair trade-off. A pair will set you back around $60.

Lastly, we have clipless pedals. The name is something of a misnomer, as they work like ski bindings. You’ll need cycling shoes and you’ll have to bolt the cleat on (again, your local shop can help you with). They’re a little hard to get used to (expect to crash at least once), but when everything finally clicks, you’ll notice a significant improvement in ride efficiency.

Clothing. Hopefully you haven’t been riding to work in your office attire. There’s nothing worse than sweaty boxers inside your khakis, or sitting in a meeting stinking like hell because you rode to work on the hottest day of the year. As we discussed earlier, it’s good to leave your work clothes at work and change there.

I’m sure there are some of you reading this thinking, “Oh god, he’s going to recommend those lycra shorts.”

Well, as a racer, normally I would. But walking around in the hallways at work in a pair of those is a recipe for a sexual harassment lawsuit. Fortunately, there are mountain bikers out there who have a sense of decorum and were able, through their style choices, to convince manufacturers that baggy shorts with the padding hidden inside them, would be a good idea. A pair with a good chamois (pronounced “shammy”) is an awesome investment. Get two pair and wash them after every ride.

Gloves are another important consideration — something well-padded, with a lyrca backing to keep your hands cool on a hot day, but protected if you take a fall. Try on several sizes and remember that your hands will swell a little bit while riding. Slightly loose is better than snug.

Lastly, eyewear. When you’re out there tooling along at 15-20 miles per hour, an insect in the eye can really screw up your day. Find a pair of shatterproof sunglasses, preferably with a swappable set of lenses so that you can change them out as necessary. I prefer the Holy Grail of sports eyewear: Oakleys. But if you’re on a budget, Serfas makes a wide variety of styles, most of which not only have swappable lenses, but include them and a hard case, and at extremely reasonable prices. If you wear glasses, either wear contacts underneath, or be prepared to shell out serious money for prescription sunglasses.

Body. Nutrition is more important than you realize. If you’re commuting in the morning, I recommend a very light snack before bed, and another light/healthy one in the morning. Have a banana or a Clif Bar on your way out the door. No more than one cup of coffee before you go — caffeine, like alcohol is a diuretic and a source of dehydration.

On that subject, if you’re hungover, for the love of god, don’t ride to work. A hangover is primarily caused by dehydration and B-vitamin depletion. If you’re hung over, have a bottle of Gatorade, a banana, a multivitamin, and your choice of over-the-counter painkiller (aspirin, tylenol, ibuprofen). There’s no sense in pushing yourself into a commute if you’re already dehydrated, under-fueled, and feeling crappy. You’ll just make it worse. (Says the guy who hit the starting line for about half last year’s cyclocross races too hungover to hold down his breakfast. Do as I say, not as I do.)

Oh, and always, always, always, Gatorade over Powerade. Powerade is made with high-fructose corn syrup, which will do nothing but give you a short energy boost before you crash. And it’ll make you fat. Bad, bad stuff.