Exactly What You Need To Bike To Work—According To A Cycling Professional

What to wear, safety tips—and what to do if there’s no shower at the office.

May 18, 2017
bike to work
Hinterhaus Productions/getty

Cycling instead of driving a single mile can reduce CO2 emissions by nearly a pound. But riding is good for you too: Research shows it can improve heart health, boost your mood, and inspire you to exercise more during the week. Want in on the two-wheeled revolution? Start with some modern cycling gear. The right bike, clothing, and gear makes biking for work easier and more fun than ever. 

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bicycle
1/8 Photograph courtesy of specialized.com
Get A Bicycle You REALLY Want To Ride

You can use any bike in good working order to get around town, but purpose-built commuter bicycles can make daily riding more convenient and enjoyable. The new Specialized Alibi Sport EQ ($550) has tires made of a solid rubber compound, which means they’re flat-proof and you never have to pump them up. The chain is treated to prevent rusting, fenders protect you from road spray in rain, and the included rear rack is ready to hold panniers. Reflective sidewalls on the tires make you visible in headlights, and the included bell lets you politely alert walkers and other cyclists to your presence on the bike path.

bicycling helmet
2/8 Photograph courtesy of amazon
Choose A Helmet You Actually Want To Wear

Bell’s new Annex MIPS-Equipped helmet ($125) provides a smart solution to year-round riding with a slider that opens and closes two large vents. When closed, the cover helps to keep your head warm, and when open, the vents channel air to cool your noggin on hot days. The Annex is equipped with the increasingly popular Multi-Directional Impact Protection System (MIPS), a liner claimed to better prevent head injuries.

bicycling lights
3/8 Photograph courtesy of Trekbikes.com
Don’t Skip Lights—They Will Make You Safer

Lights are a must-have if you’ll be riding home in the dark, but running them in the daytime can decrease your chances of a collision, too—by up to 19 percent. Like a car, use a white light up front and a red in the rear. Bontrager’s Ion 350 R headlight ($80) and Flare R tail light ($60) have a special beam pattern that makes them visible in the daytime—the Flare R can be seen from a whopping 1.2 miles away. 

bicycling clothing
4/8 Photograph courtesy of rapha.cc and dishdenim.com
Pick Work Clothes You Can Also Bike In

Gird yourself in ride-friendly commuter clothing that also looks good, so there’s no costume change necessary when you arrive at your destination. Dish & Duer’s L2X Performance Stretch jeans ($129) are made with moisture-wicking fabric, and feature a higher cut to keep things, uh, modest during riding. The Rapha Merino Breton top ($150) features a double cuff that flips up to reveal a hit of reflective yarn and hi-visibility pink.

bicycling clothing
Photograph courtesy of parkerdusseau.com and amazon

For men, the Parker Dusseau Five Day Wool/Cotton Button-Up ($138) showcases a “powermesh action back” that stretches to provide mobility on the bike, while Endura’s slim-fitting Sport Urban Stretch Pant ($110) has a water-resistant finish for light rain.

bicycling hoodie
Photograph courtesy of amazon

If real weather hits, the softshell outer layer on the Showers Pass Rogue Hoodie ($170, available for men and women) keeps you dry, while its fleecy lining keeps you cozy.

bicycling shoes
Photograph courtesy of amazon

The Giro’s Republic LX Reflective lace-up commuter shoe ($190) looks gray in daylight but is reflective under headlights. When you’re pedaling, that makes for two bright, moving objects that can catch a driver’s eye in the dark.

bike lock
5/8 Photograph courtesy of amazon
Invest In A Serious Bike Lock

If your workplace doesn’t provide bike storage, chat with HR—you never know if there’s an unused space that can be allocated. If you do have to park outside, you’ll want a sturdy lock—the U-lock design is the most secure. To determine how burly of a lock you’ll need, check out Kryptonite’s handy online tool at kryptonitelock.com. Their New York Lock Standard ($104), for example, is suitable for securing a bike for several hours in a major metropolitan area. 

bicycling backpack
6/8 Photograph courtesy of amazon
Wear A Backpack That Doesn’t Make You Sweaty

Chances are, you’ll want storage. The Osprey Radial 26 backpack ($170) employs a rigid frame with a mesh panel to suspend the pack off your back for greater airflow and minimal sweatiness (it really works). Plus, it’s roomy enough to fit a laptop, your lunch, a change of clothes, and even an extra pair of shoes. Other commute-friendly features include a rain cover, side pocket for a water bottle or thermos, and an integrated “kickstand” so the bag doesn’t fall over when you set it down.

bicycling backpack
Photograph courtesy of amazon

If you need to carry more, go for panniers: Ortlieb’s Back-Roller Classic Waterproof panniers ($180/pair) have an integrated shoulder strap and can hold all your work essentials plus a small grocery run on the way home.

bicycling to work
7/8 Tobias Ackeborn/getty
Pro-Tips For First Time Bike Commuters

Here’s how to bust through some of the most common barriers to bike commuting.

My work is too far to ride to

Start with trips that are just three or four miles, says Martha Roskowski, VP of Local Innovation for PeopleForBikes, a cycling advocacy group in Boulder, Colorado. That should take most beginner riders under 30 minutes at a leisurely pace (which should also keep you from overheating and sweating through your work clothes). If your work is farther, use your bike for other regular trips you normally take by car instead, like short errands or visits to friends.

I’m scared to ride in traffic

Find a bike-friendly route that maximizes bike paths and bike lanes—the bicycling function on Google Maps  is a great resource. (Find point-to-point directions as usual, then select the bike icon.) “And don’t try your first commute on a Monday morning,” says Steve Taylor, communications manager of the League of American Bicyclists in Philadelphia. “Go on a weekend when there is less traffic and when you’re not stressed trying to get to work on a deadline.”

What if it’s cold or raining?

In wet weather, fenders, a good rain jacket, and a second set of clothes in waterproof bags go a long way. The simpler option is to skip the bike. “People think that being a bike commuter means you have to bike every day,” says Taylor. “Just build it in as an option.”

My work doesn’t offer a shower, and I don’t wanto to be all sweaty

Your body heat is a result of your exertion level, so ride slower—a conversational pace should help you keep sweatiness in check. Swap the hot backpack for panniers or a basket. Wear breathable and wicking clothing. And finally, dress to be a little chillier than comfortable at first, thanks to the cooling effect of the wind on a bike. You’ll warm up from pedaling. If you’re comfortable right when you start riding, you’ll likely be sweating by the time you arrive. If you do arrive less fresh than you’d like, de-stink with Acure’s all-natural, essential oil-infused body wipes ($8/pack).

bicycle commuting
8/8 Sam Edwards/getty
Tips For How To Bike To Work Safely

Avoid busy roads

“The most direct route is not always the safest route,” says Steve Taylor, communications manager of the League of American Bicyclists in Philadelphia. It might be worth going out of your way to take a bike path or a road with a dedicated bike lane—your ride will be more enjoyable, too.

Be predictable

Ride in a straight line, avoid sudden changes in direction, and look before turning or merging.

Signal

The best way to make sure cars know where you’re going is to tell them. To signal turns, simply point in the direction you plan to go. If you’re slowing down, an open hand on your back, palm out, signals braking.

Avoid sidewalks

They cross driveways, where cars are often backing out blind. The exception: If it is designated as a legal bike trail, go for it.

Ride on the right-hand side of the road—but not too far to the right

When there is no clear bike lane or shoulder, ride in the rightmost traffic lane. Stay one to two feet left of the white line that designates the edge of the road. This will keep you far enough into the roadlane that you don’t have to swerve into traffic to avoid obstacles like parked cars. It also forces drivers to pass you conservatively—if you’re in the gutter, cars may be tempted to try to squeeze past instead of waiting for a break in opposing traffic.

Obey traffic signals—and use them to your advantage

Like a car, follow traffic lights and stop at stop signs. You can also use traffic signals to your advantage—for example, if you need to make a lefthand turn on a busy street. While you can legally merge through traffic and use the left turn lane, it may not be practical or safe to do so. In those cases, use the box turn: Stay to the right as you go through intersection, signal that you’re going to slow, and join the rightmost lane of the cross-traffic that was waiting at the light. Go when it’s green. (Click here for a visual)

Look for eye contact

Even if you signal, a driver may not see you. Most collisions in urban areas happen at intersections, says Taylor. “If you’re at an intersection and you can’t make eye contact, assume they’re not paying attention. Let them do their thing and then go.”

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