How to get started on a bicycling commuting program

by Ann Brennan

As gas prices soar, more and more cyclists are taking to the roads for their morning and evening commutes. But often, even with the motivation to get started on a cycle commuting program, it is difficult to decide how to start.
Few cyclists jump into cycle commuting with both feet. It is a process. But where does the process start? What do you need to know? How do you do it safely and make sure you get to and from work on time in the process?
Isaias O'Daniell uses his bike to commute a total of 15,000 miles a year. Even so, he suggests cyclists start slowly and develop a routine that works for them before trying to do it every day, especially, if they will be cycling twenty or more miles each way.
Most cyclists find that the route they drive is different from the one they ride to work. By using maps and practice rides on their days off they have learned about trails, alleys and back roads they had never seen before. Sometimes these alternative routes offer a shorter distance to work but more often than not the benefit is simply being away from traffic.
The commuter cyclists I spoke with agree that it is important to remember recreational riding is a whole different animal than commuter cycling. The pressure to be on time can cause you to make mistakes you would not otherwise make. Keep in mind that there will be more traffic during commuting hours and the drivers are, more often than not, distracted because they are also on their way to work. 
Because learning what you will need to carry with you is a process in and of itself, the cyclists I spoke with suggested making one day a week a logistics day. This is the day you bring in clothes, shampoo, shoes and the extra food you will want to eat before heading back out on your bike at the end of the day. Ben McKeown, who describes himself as a sometimes commuter, pointed out that shoes are heavy. He suggests leaving a pair of shoes at the office fulltime so you are never in the position of having to carry them.
“But,” Mike Binnix another full time commuter adds, “you should not be discouraged if on the second ride in, you get to work or school and discover you forgot your shoes or glasses. If you commit to giving bicycle commuting a try, give it a real try. Make the round trip at least five times over a few weeks and it will become second nature to you.”
Most importantly just as with fitness and recreational rides, remember all of your safety equipment – a tube and C02 cartridge, a small first aid kit and lights, lights, lights. There is no such thing as too many lights. 
Lori Garlands who works from home but uses her bike for business meetings several times a week believes there is no reason to learn any lesson the hard way. 
“Reach out to the cycling community through local bike shops, bike groups, or even the guy you see riding every morning while you're sitting in your car. Everyone I have met is willing to share their knowledge and direct you to others that may know more.”
Commuter cycling is not second nature to most of us, nor is it rocket science. Whether you hope to cycle to work on a daily basis or you hope to add one or two days of cycling into your schedule it can be done safely and efficiently by starting slow and learning the ropes along the way.
Ann Brennan is a freelance writer and fitness columnist from Annapolis, Maryland. She writes for Patch and for Ann's Running Commentary.