Top 10 bike commuting tips from a couple of pros
I first started biking to work more than 40 years ago because I had to. I was 15, didn’t have a driver’s license, and biked the seven miles to my job scrubbing decks on a riverboat in downtown St. Paul, Minn.
I’ve been biking to work pretty much ever since, including to my current job at General Mills where I work in Global Communications.
I often ride home (20 miles each way) with my friend and colleague, Dan Lussenhop, our global health services director. Dan’s been biking to work for about as long. And when you factor in riding to school and college (and in Dan’s case, medical school), we’ve been at it even longer.
Between us, that’s about a century of safe biking. We’ve picked up a lot of tips over the years and are thankful that General Mills – a League of American Bicyclists’ Bicycle Friendly Business – supports us and other bikers in so many ways.
With that in mind, we thought we’d share what we’ve learned to make it a little easier for others who want to begin commuting. On June 13, General Mills will hold its bike-to-work event at our Main Office in Golden Valley, Minn.
1. Choose your route carefully – even if it means biking an extra mile or two. Google maps will plot a bicycle route that works well. There are many good bike maps out there. In the Twin Cities of Minnesota, my favorite is from Bikeverywhere. A good bike shop – I’ve been going to Gateway Cycle in North St. Paul for years – is the best place to find a bike map.
2. Wear bright colors. You want to be as visible as possible. I also have two white flashing lights on the front of my bike and two red flashing lights on the rear. In addition, my fenders are bright yellow. It may be excessive, but you can’t be too careful.
3. Wear a helmet and eye protection. There are a lot of lakes in Minnesota, and Dan knows of a biker who got a fishhook in the eye from someone casting from shore. Glasses also protect you from a lot of bugs and loose debris.
4. Use a rear-view mirror and skip the ear buds. To be safe, you need all your senses on a bike. Plus, it’s illegal in most jurisdictions to wear earphones while riding a bike or driving a car. A rear-view mirror amplifies your senses by letting you keep tabs on what’s going on behind you without having to crane your neck around and possibly alter your course.
5. Make eye contact with drivers. When coming to an intersection, try to make eye contact with drivers so they absolutely know that you are there and what your intentions are. Always be on the defensive.
6. Choose a bike that’s safe and comfortable. It’s a personal preference, really. Ask an experienced biker for his or her suggestions about what kind of bike to get. Dan converted a custom-made bike into a single speed. I ride a Redline cyclocross bike that’s super sturdy. It’s approaching 20,000 miles and still looks brand new. Be sure to carry a spare tube and a bike multi-tool. I also carry a small pliers that is very useful when needed.
7. Pack the night before your ride (except your shirt or blouse). That way, you’re less likely to forget something. That said, I’m writing this without my belt. And I’ve forgotten my pants twice. Luckily, there has always been a Target nearby for just such wardrobe emergencies. I usually keep backup clothes at work but overlooked a belt. I fold my shirt in the morning to minimize any wrinkling. Dan keeps some business casual clothes at the office.
8. Use panniers instead of a backpack. Your center of gravity is lower so it’s a bit safer. And it’s a lot more comfortable. I’ve been using a Banjo Brothers pannier for about a decade and it’s showing no signs of wear.
9. Build commuting into your exercise routine. We should all get at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise per week, according to medical experts (including Dan). Commuting helps you reach that goal – and still gets you to work, which saves time and a trip to the gym. Our commutes are each about an hour (or a little over) each way so we’re usually hunting for calories to get home. I’m on my fourth – make that fifth – Nature Valley Protein bar as I write this, and I’m always hovering outside our test kitchens looking for a brownie, muffin or cupcake. Dan and I are both about 6-feet and 170 pounds – so managing our weight is never an issue. Getting enough calories is.
10. Riding a bike is so much fun. When I was kid, my best friend and I would dream about having a narrow, paved trail just for bikes. And that’s just what we have here in Minneapolis. It’s the most bike-friendly city in the country. My route takes me along a bike path across the Stone Arch Bridge that spans the Mississippi River – with the old Pillsbury mill on one side and Washburn Crosby mill (predecessor to General Mills) on the other. I see everything there. On Monday of this week, a young man was on one knee proposing to his girlfriend as a photographer snapped a picture with St. Anthony Falls in the background. What a moment to witness. And what a great way to end the work day.