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Commuting by bike: be seen, be safe and enjoy

Tuesday, April 22, 2014 - 8:14 am

BOISE, Idaho – Amid mirror-like puddles from an overnight spring rain on the Boise Greenbelt, Neil Jenkins leaned into a curve on his daily bike commute to work.

The weather doesn't keep Jenkins from enjoying bike riding.

"Commuting by bike is one of the perks of living in Boise," he said. "If you have a desk job and have a chance to ride on the Greenbelt twice a day, why wouldn't you?"

Jenkins has made a 4-mile, one-way ride to work — 3 miles of it on the Greenbelt — since he moved to Boise a year ago to work Downtown as a waste-water engineer at CH2M Hill.

"Besides, I have an awesome parking spot," Jenkins said.

He has learned a lot. He has taken a tumble on ice in the winter and knows about the hazards of heavy traffic.

His top tips:

•Be visible. He wears a bright vest to stand out in traffic. "I want to stand out like a sore thumb," he said.

•Know your route. He rides as much of his route as he can on the Greenbelt, and uses bike paths when he's on the streets.

•The Greenbelt is popular for commuters, joggers, walkers, etc. Slow down when it's busy and be courteous.

Jenkins said another perk of bicycle commuting on his mountain bike is he is only a half-mile from Boise Foothills trails, so he can ride them right after work.

Here are other tips for cyclists getting started two-wheel commuting:

THE RIGHT BIKE

Having a comfortable bike is critical. If you're uncomfortable, you won't last long. Riders commute on recumbents, mountain bikes, cruisers, roadies and hybrids.

You may have to make some minor (or major) adjustments to your bike to make it right for commuting, such as changing to a more comfortable seat, swapping tires or raising handlebars to give yourself an upright riding position.

If you've got a real connection with your old bike, you can probably make it work for commuting.

You may also want to have it tuned at a bike shop and keep it well-maintained. Frequent commuting takes a toll on a bike's brakes, drivetrain and tires.

CARRYING A LOAD

Most commuters carry some type of pack or bag for lunch, spare clothes, repair kits, cellphone, etc. Just carrying the basics can add several pounds. How you carry it can make or break the ride.

A heavy backpack will cause shoulder and neck pain and put a damper on your commute. If that's all you have, don't overload it.

A messenger bag is one of the most comfortable ways to carry a load. You may also want to use panniers, a cargo rack or a basket to take the weight off your body.

FLAT-PROOF YOUR TIRES

Maybe it's a stretch to say flat-proof, but you can prevent flats that make you late and dirty if you have to repair a tire or patch a tube.

Make sure your tires are in good shape and put sealant in the tubes.

Unless you have a major blowout, you can usually get to work by refilling the tube with a CO2 inflator and spinning the tire to spread the sealant around.

Later, you can call for a ride home, fix it after work or even call a mobile bike repair service to fix it.

Most cyclists can fix a flat in a few minutes by carrying a spare tube and a few inexpensive tools.

If you haven't done it, practice at home so you know how.

HAVE A BIKE LOCK

Even if you have a safe place to store your bike, a lock protects it from theft and gives you peace of mind if you want to stop along your commute to run an errand.

WEAR A HELMET

Of course, you're a good rider, but that doesn't mean you're immune to crashes. Don't risk an easily preventable head injury.

You also may want gloves for warmth, to reduce vibration, and cushion your palms from jarring bumps.

BE SEEN AND HEARD

Front and rear lights are a must if you're riding early or late, and on days with poor visibility.

Reflective tape also helps with visibility, and reflective pant-cuff wraps keep your pants out of the chain.

A bright vest makes you more visible to motorists. It might make you feel goofy, but remember, you're trying to be seen, not make a fashion statement.

Never assume drivers see you. Try to make eye contact with drivers. It's a good way to know that they see you and aren't jabbering on a cellphone and not paying attention.

A bike bell is handy on pathways like the Greenbelt to warn other bikers or walkers you are passing.

Saying "Good morning, on your left" is polite, but a ring says the same thing.

DRESSING

Layered, breathable performance clothing is best. Many riders wear their cycling clothes and carry their work clothes so they can change at the office.

If you work in a casual office, some cycling or athletic clothing can be fashionable and acceptable attire.

Companies such as Sun Valley's Club Ride and Boise's Core Concepts design casual clothes suitable for work that still have technical fabrics and features made specifically for cyclists.

PLAN AHEAD

If the weather's mild and your commute is fairly short, you can comfortably wear your work clothes and not sweat too much.

If your workplace has showers, it's easy to clean up and change after a sweaty ride.

If not, a wash cloth and towel will work, and baby wipes are another option.

Many commuters don't change, shower or clean up after the ride. You be the judge on how you feel and how you affect your co-workers, but be considerate.

Some bicyclists drive on Mondays and leave clothing at the office so they can bike to work in cycling clothes the rest of the week.

GETTING STARTED

You will probably want to alter your route to include bike paths and the Greenbelt. Advice can be found at achdidaho.org on its "Bicycle Page" under "Your Neighborhood."

There's an interactive bike lane map, printable map, Idaho bicycle laws and also how to order the "Idaho Commuter Guide" or "Idaho Bicycling Street Smarts." Both publications have a lot of good tips.

It's important to know the best riding route to work before you start.

Explore routes with bicycle paths. Although it might take longer, it will be safer and a lot more relaxing. Pick a route with light traffic. Neighborhoods are nicer than major thoroughfares.

You might consider trying a new route on your day off. Getting delayed can be frustrating, and you don't want to be late on your first day of commuting.

If you have to ride busy streets, try to avoid rush hours from 7 to 9 a.m.

If you have a longer distance than you feel like riding at first, break up the trip with a bus ride, or drive part of the way and then ride the rest of the way.

Don't feel as if you have to bike every day. Start off with one day a week. Increase it as you feel more comfortable and you get into better shape.

If you don't like to bike in bad weather, don't.

Set a goal, such as a number of bike-commuting days or miles, and reward yourself when you reach it.