tips for commuting by bike

How I Prepare for My Bike Commutes

The hardest part, honestly, about commuting to work on bike is the amount of preparation that goes into it. It’s not like I can just wake up and get on my bike when I feel the whim and head on into work. Or maybe I can, and I just inherently over-plan everything. So this post is about how I prepare for my commute. I’m forever tweaking things to find a better, more efficient way to do it, but for now this is it.

The Day Before

The day before,  I take my change of work clothes to the office and leave it at my desk for the next day. When I first started commuting, I was carrying everything in a backpack for the day–my change of clothes, my shoes, my lunch, etc and it was way too much stuff. Instead, I take as much of my stuff I can the day before to lighten my load. I also keep a spare change of shoes and pants in the office. I also keep a little makeup bag with things to freshen up with once I get to work. Baby wipes are awesome.

If I can, I also take whatever I am going to have for lunch the day before. The key here: take as little as possible in my backpack! If you bike with saddle bags, this might not be an issue for you.

I usually have some snacks and lunch alternatives stored in my desk anyways. Just in case!

The Night Before

I lay out everything I need and get everything ready for the next day. This is crucial because I have the tendency to forget about things…and it would be bad if I forgot to pack my bra or something! My first commute of this year? I forgot my water bottle, and the temperature got up to 80. I had to buy a bottle to get me home.

I pack my backpack as light as possible to alleviate the strain on my back and shoulders. What goes in the backpack: my wallet with ID and money, my work ID, my lunch, my “undergarments”, my keys, and my headphones for work.

I also lay out my helmet, gloves, jacket or arm-warmers, sunglasses, Road ID, heart rate monitor and my cycling shoes.

The Morning Of

I get up earlier than normal and have a lighter breakfast than usual. I learned the hard way that eating my normal high protein and high fiber breakfast makes me want to vomit on the bike.

I’m usually scrambling. I MUST be on my bike by a certain time in order to get to work on time. Sometimes I can make up time on my bike (especially on the Springwater trail where there are few stops) but I don’t count on that. I like to have a buffer of a few minutes. You just never know what’s going to happen.

Getting dressed in the gear is what takes the most time. And of course, going outside with said gear to test the weather and see if I need more layers…then going back inside to change or add clothes. This part never gets easier.

I pump my bike tires–before every single ride–and make sure everything looks okay to go. Finally, I am off.


The routine for going home is easier. I leave my morning “cold weather” gear at the office with my work clothes, change into my warm weather gear that was underneath my layers and head out. It takes about 10 minutes to get ready to go home, compared to at least 30 minutes in the morning.

As you can see, it’s not quite as simple as just getting on my bike and going. With practice it becomes second nature and I forget less and less. One final tip: drink a TON of water before, during and after biking and also eat something small as a recovery when you are done. Your muscles will thank you.

QUESTION: If you are a bike commuter, how do you prepare? Do you have any suggestions or tips that have worked for you?

Tips for Commuting by Bike

Even after just a few attempts with biking to work I realized there were better ways of doing it. All in all my first attempt at commuting by bike was a roaring success. Everything went surprisingly smooth but there were things I could do better.

This post is assuming you already have a bike that fits you. If you remember from Michael’s Guest Post series about cycling, your best bet for a bike is a road bike or hybrid. Remember: lighter is better!

Remember some basics too: wear reflective clothing, have safety lights on your bike, wear a helmet and use your hand signals!

Commuting to work by bike has so many benefits. You get your workout in without having to go to the gym, or spend hours after work. It fills up your evenings. It’s better for the environment. You don’t have to sit in traffic and seethe with road rage. You can enjoy nature, see new things, and explore parts of your city you’d normally not see. The list goes on and on!

Here is a list I’ve compiled of advice and tips (and things I’d do differently):

1. Do a practice run on the route you will take to work ahead of time. I didn’t do this but it worked out okay for me. I did, however, scout out the best route to get out of downtown Portland.

2. If you can’t test out the route ahead of time, try using Google Maps directions for cycling. That’s what I did since I couldn’t do the route ahead of time. I entered my starting point and destination and it said it would take me 39 minutes on the bike. It took me way less than that, but at least I had an estimate.

3. Bring a change of clothes for once you get to work. You’ll most likely be sweaty. If you have access to showers at work (I do), take one. If not, clean up in the bathroom as much as you can. Keep some sort of hygiene kit at your office (deodorant, soap, baby wipes, perfume etc).

4. Hang up your sweaty clothes to dry out before you have to ride home! I made that mistake on my first ride. I didn’t even think about it and my clothes were a tad…damp…when I changed to drive home. Yuck. I was sure to remedy that on my second attempt!

5. Make sure you have a safe place to lock up/store your bike while at work. Make it very difficult for thieves to steal your stuff! I am lucky because there’s a locked storage space at my office where I can put my bike. I could also fit my bike in my cubicle if I needed to.

6. Layer for winter/cold weather cycling. When I rode in last week, it was about 40 degrees in the morning. I wore a cycling t-shirt, a cycling jacket and another jacket over that. In the afternoon it was 70 degrees so I just wore my bike shorts and t-shirt (no jackets).

7. If you can plan ahead, bring a change of clothes (including shoes) to your office the day before. It’s less you have to pack in a backpack or saddle bag.

8. Have a spare tube and mini pump just in case. I don’t have that on my bike, but Michael does so when we ride together I’m okay. I need to take care of that if I’m going to be commuting a lot, though.

9. Wear brightly colored clothes for safety. If you plan on doing any night riding, make sure you have a light (it’s required by law in Oregon).

10. Roll your clothes, don’t stuff them in your bag. It will take up less space and won’t wrinkle as much.

11. Don’t forget the water! I did the first time…the second time I remembered!

12.  Pace yourself. Give yourself enough time so you aren’t rushed and careless on the bike. And be respectful of all the other bikers/pedestrians sharing the road.

13. ALWAYS assume cars don’t see you and be safe! Be preemptive and overly cautious when it comes to things like “right of way.” Scan the road ahead of you for potential dangers.

14. Make your backpack as light as possible. The night before I planned on riding in, I emptied my backpack and the only thing I added was: my lunch, my wallet (no purse), change of clothes, keys.

15. Watch out for people sitting in parked cars suddenly opening their door! Very scary for cyclists.

Link Love!

Tips For Keeping Your Bike In Shape

Daily, Weekly, Monthly, Yearly Bike Maintenance Checklist

Hourly Discounted Cycling Gear/Clothes!


QUESTION: If you are a bike commuter, what tips do you have to share?