Biking to Work
So you’re thinking of biking to work. Great! But where to start? You probably have a bunch of questions. Will you need a whole new set of gear? Will you get lost along the way? What if you get a puncture? How will you figure out a safe route? What if you’re all sweaty when you get there?
Here are a few pointers to help you get started.
Rule Number 1: Be You
All sorts of people bike to work for all sorts of reasons. For fresh air. For fun. For company. To save the world (and ‘smile like the Cheshire cat while doing so’!). For physical health. For mental health. Because it’s efficient. Because it’s cruisy. Because it’s ‘as easy as walking but faster‘. Because it unlocks the power of public transport. Because Auckland traffic. Because not everybody drives. Because you’re training for something. Because parking sucks. Because everyone else is doing it, because the cycle network is getting better. Because science tells us it feels great long after you stop pedalling. Because you just really, really like riding a bike.
You can ride how you want, wearing what you want, on whatever bike you want. It’s up to you.
And all those other people on bikes you see along the way will be part of your commuting community – an excellent side-effect.
A Bike Well, yes. The best bike is the bike you already have. Ideally, it’s a bike you’re already comfortable riding. But if you’re shopping for a bike to commute on, there are things to think about. How far will you be going? Are you looking for comfort or speed? Do you prefer a light, zippy bike, or a solid workhorse? Are you in the market for an electric bike to take the edge off hills and headwinds? Whatever style of bike you prefer, gears (or electrics) are very useful for Auckland hills, especially if you’re new to biking. Disc brakes are handy if you’re riding on dirty or oily puddle-ridden streets. If you don’t want to carry everything in a backpack, you’ll want a bike rack, which means you’ll want a bike with rack mounts.
Enhancements Get a really good lock, depending on where you’ll park or store the bike while at work. You might want to add racks for panniers/trunk bags, baskets – and trailers or bike seats, if you’re transporting kids. Glass is an omnipresent reality in the city, so consider investing in better tires and inner tubes to avoid punctures. Mudguards help keep the muddy rain off your back. You might want a more comfortable seat – and more comfortable pedals and handle grips. A good mirror, so you can see what’s behind you. A phone holder, and maybe even a coffee cup holder.
Repair kit It can be a long walk home, pushing a bike with a flat tire. Fixing a puncture is a basic skill, no matter whether your ride has four wheels or two. Take a basic bike repair course at your local bike shop, or via Auckland Transport. The wise bike commuter carries a puncture repair kit; the even wiser one might make sure they have a set of strong tire levers and a couple of spare inner tubes, for a faster getaway. In either case, you’ll want a pump or CO2 canister to get yourself back up and running.
Luggage So many ways to carry your load! Think about where and how you want to put the weight: panniers vs backpacks vs baskets (front or back) vs trailer. This being Auckland, also think about rain covers, although it’s amazing how handy a plastic bag can be.
Lights and sound Lights are a legal requirement in hours of darkness, and especially important in the winter months, or if you’re biking early or late. Think of them as a fundamental part of the bike. There are all sorts of options: the good old dynamo, or lights charged via USB (very handy) or battery. Keep a spare set at work, in case you stay unexpectedly late.
Horns and bells are handy: use them to alert drivers or pedestrians as needed.
Clothing Will you go Dutch, and bike slowly in perfectly regular clothes? If you’re not going far or fast, or you have an electric bike that takes the sweat out of things, you probably won’t need special gear.
If your commute is longer or you like to get sweaty, will you take clothes in on Monday and home on Friday – or take it a day at a time? Wear Lycra if you like to – or light natural fabrics – and if you have somewhere to change when you get there. Can you shower at work? (If not, can you talk to HR about why it would be a great option?)
Reliable shoes and a good raincoat are great. A light jacket or vest is also handy if the weather turns cool all of a sudden, and you can get some where the sleeves zip off.
There are lots of ways to be hi-vis: fluoro is just one option. Wearing a comfortable and stunning frock is another. Reflective gear is a great idea for night riding – lots of options out there, or get creative and make your own, using reflective tape.
Safety Gloves are surprisingly useful, especially if it rains – nobody likes slippery grips. Sunglasses for sun strike. And helmets (still required by law) aren’t nearly as ugly as they used to be. (It’s not a bad idea to have a small first aid kit, just in case; our road warriors recommend saline solution and gauze pads for washing gravel out.)
Plan Your Route
- Plan your route. Google maps is a basic tool, but get hold of the Auckland Transport maps and check out the AKLcyclemap. The citywide cycle network is still in its infancy, but figure out where the off-road paths and bike lanes are.
- How far is it? According to the NZTA, “Most people can cycle a 5–8km trip in 30 minutes.”
- Find a local bike buddy – via a bike burb group, or work, or Neighbourly, or word of mouth – someone who’s already travelling part of the route and can talk you through useful tricks and shortcuts.
- If you have a longish commute, or you’re new to biking, or both, take a few short trips on your bike dressed as you would be for your work day. Gradually extend the distance, till you can manage the whole route.
- Do an off-peak or weekend trial run of the whole route.
- Get creative about covering the distance: would an electric bike? Combining your bike with public transport (bikes travel free on trains and ferries)? Taking the bike with you part of the way (a folding bike, maybe, or a folding electric bike), so you can park and ride?
- Scope out some useful pit-stops along the way. Coffee, obviously. Public toilets, just in case. Nice shops to do a little quaxing on the way home. But also, where could you go before 9am and after 5pm for more tubes, replacement tires, or to drop the bike in for repairs?
- Be flexible. In wet weather, will you just soak it up and keep biking? or take public transport, or drive? Can you break the journey up, or catch a ride home if you really need to and leave the bike at work?
As you get used to the commute, mix it up a bit and add some fun and community to your ride.
- Go a different way to work, or get lost on purpose.
- Embrace Friding!
- Talk your workmates into a mileage challenge.
- Talk to your employer about a bike-to-work scheme.
- Cross your fingers you’ll run into a magic pop-up cake stall on a random Friday evening.
Above all, enjoy yourself. Because that’s what it’s about.