One of the biggest problems we’ve seen with aspiring new bike commuters is the anxiety around the route they plan to take to work. For many this is where the process breaks down and can often times lead to the rider not biking at all. This is a real shame because much of the fun of bike commuting is exploring and learning new and interesting routes to work!
Here are a few tips on how you can go about planning your route.
Understand your limitations
If you are new to biking as well as bike commuting, don’t expect to come out of the blocks with a 20mi ride. The goal on your first few bike commutes is to get to work safely and refreshed from the ride. Take it as slow as you need to so you can remain comfortable. One of the best things about biking to work is that if you do it right, you arrive full of energy to start your day. Doing it wrong means you show up dead tired with legs made of Jello. You want to avoid that. Save the hardcore workout for your ride home or when you’re more acclimated to your commute routine.
Talk to your co-workers
Depending on where you work, there may be a few or a lot of bike commuters around and you don’t even know it. Getting info from an experienced commuter at work can be a valuable addition to your route planning. In addition this may give you an opportunity to pick up a riding buddy or two. Riding buddies are great for a few reasons. First there is safety in numbers so having more than one bike on the road for drivers to see is a good thing. Second they can be a great motivator. If someone else is depending on you to ride to work with them, you’re much less likely to blow it off and drive to work on the days when you aren’t quite feeling it.
Use the internet
And by use the internet I don’t mean in the generic sense, I mean use the existing internet services that help you plan and track rides. One site that I’ve had really good luck with is the Garmin Connect site. It is free to use and you don’t need a Garmin GPS to take advantage of their course creation system. The reason I really like the Garmin system is because it uses a heat map overlay to help you know where other people are riding. This is critical to finding the best roads and paths for your commute.
Another great internet resource is Google Street View. Even if a route planning site says a road is good for biking, it may not be good for how YOU like to bike. For instance, a road with a wide shoulder is great and will likely be shown on most maps as suitable for biking. However if that road is ultra-busy and frequently has cars parked on the street, you’ve now led yourself into a hazardous situation. Using Google street view to scout for trouble spots on a route is very helpful.
Consider driving partway
One of the best ways I’ve found to help ease new commuters into a routine is to do multi-modal commutes at first. This means planning to drive to a predetermined start position and riding your bike the rest of the way. You can also choose to use the bus as well but driving will give you the most flexibility for picking a start spot that you prefer. Make sure that if you plan to drive, you park l
Expect the Unexpected
The alternative to this is to simply be prepared. Bike commuting is very enjoyable and with a little preparation the vast majority of your commutes will go problem free. However no matter how much you plan, sometimes things will go wrong. Being mindful of this and expecting bad things to happen from time to time will help you cope with them when they do. Expect flat tires, dropped chains, road construction, close calls with inattentive drivers, pedestrians/runners who are in a zombie like state, etc. The more you’re planning for the unexpected, the better you’ll be at handling it when it happens.