Monday, January 28, 2008

Finding the Right Bike for Your Commute: Philadelphia Edition

Wess over at Gathering in Light always has some great stuff to share. It ranges from the practical to the philosophical, and it's great that you never know what you're going to get.

A few months back he wrote a post entitled "Finding the Right Bike for Your Commute." While I already had a bike for my commute, I used the information at the lower half of the post to develop my strategy for commuting to school. I rode to school a few times in the fall but the humidity made it a very bad experience. This winter I tried to take the old Trek 1000 out for a spin but the lack of air in the tires (and lack of pump to solve the problem) hindered me again. I have reverted to walking to school due to the Chapman family "One Car per Household Policy" but that can take more time out of my day than I would like.

This weekend I went to the local bike shop, picked up a $30 floor pump and decided I'm ready for another crack at it.

I'll go ahead an repost the key points that Wess suggested in the original post, and then add some Philadelphia essentials.

Here are a couple quick tips once you’ve got a working bike.

1. Get some good lights! One front headlight and one rear one (mine attaches to my bag). They should be able to flash, which makes you more noticeable and reduces battery wear. Also I bought lights that use AA’s so I can use rechargeable batteries with my lights and cut down on waste and cost.

2. Get a helmet. You really really need to wear a helmet. As a bike commuter you do not ride on the sidewalk (because it’s more dangerous and slower), you ride with the rest of traffic and you have to be prepared for the worst. Protect your noggin.

3. Get a U-lock. Any other lock will get your bike stolen. Trust me I know from experience.

4. Get a bag to carry your clothes in. Since I ride to work/school virtually everyday and my ride is strenuous enough that I actually work up a bit of sweat I bring a change of clothes. It’s good to get some kind of bag to carry stuff in but doesn’t weigh a lot and won’t hurt your neck or back. That means you should consider getting, a pannier (a side-saddle bag), a messenger bag (mine’s a Timbuktu I found on clearance for much less), or a light backpack.

Tip for taking clothes to school/work: I take my jeans, flip flops, an undershirt, shirt, deodorant and even underwear to school on monday. I wear shorts and a cutoff T-shirt, and my clip-less shoes on the ride and change once I get there. I leave my shoes, jeans, and deodorant in my small cubby during the week, which cuts down on the weight I have to carry everyday. I take the rest home with me to get washed.

5. Find a friend to ride with. You’re always a little safer, and will have more fun if you ride with someone else. I am fortunate to live with a friend who often rides with me to work and back. If you can locate somebody like that you’ll enjoy the ride more - that is unless you cherish the solitude, which can also be nice.

6. This morning I learned the hard way: wear a hat and gloves. Even though you think you may work up a sweat, it is crucial in "chilly Philly" that hand protection and ear/head warmth are used. Luckily I only ride a few miles to school or else I would have been in worse shape.

7. Be aware and get aggressive. There are no bike lanes or drivers who know how to be curteous to bicyclists out here. In Oregon, where I'm from, there is a bike lane on almost any road, and if there isn't then drivers will (typically) take precautions when driving near bicyclists. A professor of mine even said that he classifies riding a bicycle on the roads in Philadelphia an "extreme sport." It also doesn't help that the roads are extra narrow in this part of the country to begin with.

So, that is my Philly Edition of the essentials to commuting by bicycle. Thanks Wess.


Aj Schwanz said...

Sweet! You all should check out Bren and Matt's new blog: Bike Hacks. Them's crazy bikin' boys.

Michael said...

Thanks for the suggestion. I can never keep up with what Brendon is doing.

C. Wess Daniels said...

nice! great edition to the list! I totally agree with #8 as well - it's really important to ride aggressively (and wisely) - cars will respect you a lot more if you appear to know what you're doing. and I like your summary of my blog -- from the practical to the philosophical...I think I'm going to embrace that right now.

Michael said...


I'm glad you like the Philly update to the commuter list. I don't know what #8 is though... since there are only 7.

I also like the addition of wisdom to the aggression. I didn't intend to advocate carelessness. Maybe it should read "wise and cautionary aggression."