life on the bike

Do you ride your bike to and from work?  Errands?  Social activities?  Grocery shopping?

I’ve been car-free for five years.  I do just about everything by bike. But learning how to make appropriate adjustments has been a learning process.  It has taken time and more than a few errors. Here are some of the things I’ve learned along the way.

Commuting to work.  Much of how you go about bike commuting depends on how you need to dress at work and what your weather is like.  If you workplace is casual it’s easy – wear what’s comfortable.  The last time I commuted to work I wore skorts in the summer because my workplace was casual, but a little dressier than jeans.  If you prefer to commute in cycling lycra, by all means go ahead.  If your workplace is a little more formal you can bring your work clothes in panniers or you can even keep some clothing at work.  Don’t forget a change of shoes! In addition, some things you might want to keep in your desk are towelettes (if your workplace doesn’t have a shower), hair spray, and touch-up makeup. I kept some spray-on sunscreen in my desk as well, to apply before heading home.

You’ll probably want to invest in some good raingear if you’re riding to work.  Don’t just get a regular waterproof jacket – go to a bike shop and get one specifically for cyclists.  Trust me on this.  The last thing you want as a distraction when cycling in the rain is whether your raingear is keeping you from getting soaked.  Things to look for are a hood that can fit over a bike helmet, cuffs with velcro so you can keep the rain out, a drawstring around the bottom, and reflective accents.  Some of the better cycling rain jackets also have a loop on the back so you can attach a blinky light.  Rain pants with snug cuffs are necessary – your legs will definitely get wet. You can get shoe covers but I just use a crappy pair of waterproof shoes or boots that don’t slide on my pedals (I haven’t gone clipless yet but plan to do so soon).  Gardening/rain boots can keep your ankles dry.  But be careful – wet shoes can slip on your pedals.

Grocery shopping. It’s entirely possible to grocery shop on a bike. You should have a rack over your back tire, and grocery panniers or a detachable basket.  A bungee net is also important and can be used with panniers, a basket, or even to secure just a few items to your rack. The challenge is learning exactly how much you can carry – weight and volume – will it all fit in the basket or panniers?  Can you keep your balance?  You may want to spread out heavy things over more than one trip.  However you carry your items, do not hang grocery bags from your handlebars – it makes it very hard to steer and it’s dangerous, especially when they sway.  Make sure your load is balanced and not too heavy on one side. You might also  consider investing in an insulated bag – my grocery store sells them and having one is vital when taking cold stuff home in the summer.

Learning how to load up your rack and panniers is a delicate balancing act.  Don’t be afraid to experiment.  I unlock my bike first, but I leave it in the bike rack.  I then load two 12-packs of diet soda on my rack, holding my back tire between my knees so my bike doesn’t tip over.  I then secure that with the bungee net, wrapped tightly around and through the rack.  After that, I load up the panniers.  I always keep one hand on my bike so it doesn’t tip over.  I bought long-handled re-usable grocery bags from my store and I place those in the panniers, then I tie the handles through the bungee net that is holding the diet soda.  It makes the load quite secure.  Experiment. I have my process streamlined but I’ve been doing it for a few years and I’ve had a lot of practice.

Errands.  This is probably the easiest way to fit more cycling in your everyday life.  Wear whatever you like.  Take your panniers if you’ll need them.  You can ride your bike to the dentist or doctor’s office (the staff will be impressed, believe me), or to mail a package or drop off dry cleaning. I try to limit the number of errands I do at a time because I find it tedious to keep locking and unlocking my bike, so I spread them out over a few days. I never, ever leave my bike unlocked anywhere even though my town is pretty safe and even if I’m only running in somewhere for a minute.  And I carry detachable equipment with me when I leave it parked. I’ve had a lipstick-covered insulated coffee mug lifted off my bike when I was only running in for a moment and I left it in the bottle cage.  You may find it’s fun to cram a lot of errands into one trip.  Experiment!  Play! Enjoy!

Fun shopping and socializing. I’ve gone on shopping trips to the outlet center on my bike.  I’ve met friends for coffee. For shopping I attached a basket to my rack, then I carried it from store to store with me so I could easily tell when I was doing too much shopping – when I had too many bags to fit into the basket it was time to go home! But what a fun thing to do – go with a girlfriend or two.  Have lunch while you’re there, and cycle home afterwards.  Not only did you do some fun socializing and shopping with your friends, you enjoyed some nice fresh air and exercise at the same time.

I don’t have car payments and I’m happy to never worry about gas prices or car insurance.  However, there are times I need to bum rides from friends and times I need to use public transportation.  I have also rented cars for job interviews and I have a local cab company’s phone number stored in my cell phone.  I’m lucky that I live in California and I can ride year-round, so I’ve been able to live without a car for a few years.

Not everyone has the weather or the schedule that allows for living life on a bike.  It definitely takes longer to get somewhere than driving a car.  And some have family responsibilities.  But think about how you might be able to incorporate daily bike riding into your life.  Start small – a quick trip to the grocery store to buy some dinner ingredients, perhaps.  The benefits are numerous, including reducing your carbon footprint.  Bike commuting is amazing when you have a bad day at work – by the time you get through your front door you’ll be amazed at how de-stressed you feel. For me, nothing erased work tension like seeing a bobcat or another animal looking at me from the side of the trail.  And I guarantee that you’ll feel at least a little bit victorious when you make your first grocery trip by bike.  You will have good reason to be proud of yourself.

Happy cycling!

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2 Comments on “life on the bike”

  1. […] leisure activity.  Many people commute to work and ride bikes to run errands.  Many people live life on their bikes.  Are you one of […]

  2. […] life on the bike  (mendocino04.wordpress.com) […]


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