NOTE: The following is a guest message from someone snappily named the Post-Industrialized Cyclist. I asked the P-I C to give all the new commuters out there -- and I think there are a lot more of you this year -- some good tips, because I'm not really tuned in to the commuter lifestyle, and the P-I C is the most experienced and dedicated commuter I've ever known. And now is the time when all the commuters come out with their dusty bicycles and fill up the bike racks. So listen good, new commuters.
This is part one of two. Today, route-finding.
Hello there, Robert's loyal readers. [six] It's the Post-Industrialized Cyclist here. So sorry to disappoint all of you, especially if you were looking forward to another bit about oil. Well, Robert thinks you all need a break from the petroleum hoo-ha, so he's asked me to answer your most burning questions about bike commuting.
Dear Post-Industrialized Cyclist, How in god's name should I choose my route? The city where I live is a massive web of streets! So many to choose from.
Yes. I can relate. And personally, I think this is the most important consideration for bike commuting. You want something pleasant and relatively safe (more on that later). Here's what I suggest: Get a bike map of your area (usually available at your LBS), and if you can't find a bike map, just use a detailed street map. Use said map to find a few different possibilities. Your routes don't HAVE to be designated bike routes. They don't HAVE to have bike lanes or bike paths. But they should follow streets or paths that don't have you riding, say, the wrong way down a major interstate. I really think the key to success in the planning stage is to pick more than one possible route. Because there's a great likelihood that the first way will be really, really horrible.
Some things to look for while mapping out a route include: streets that allow you to easily cross highways (if you need to); streets that you know don't go directly next to slaughterhouses where you will see men with blood-soaked aprons taking smoke breaks while sad sheep bleat in trucks parked outside; and streets that are only two lanes and have speed limits under 40 mph.
You can also look for designated bike routes on your map (in my experience, they are sometimes a little wider and prettier), you can find bike lanes (then avoid them if you're one of those anti-bike lane folks), and paths that wend through parks (yes, wend. I know I'm always happier going to work if I'm wending).
Now try out one of your routes. My advice is to NOT try it on a day when you have a 7:00am meeting to which you need to wear unwrinkled clothes and at which you must not appear windblown. Try it on a weekend or holiday. Imagine what traffic will be like during the time of your commute. If the first route is bad, you know, like if there were pit bulls in hot pursuit of you, or if the road was showered in glass, try your next possibility. How does it feel? Are you comfortable? If there's a dicey stretch of road, but you like the majority of the route, could you hop onto an unused stretch of sidewalk for a bit? Is there a dirt path you can incorporate into the ride? (all of my commutes have involved up to 4 blocks of dirt paths-fun!) If there are tons of driveways along one of the streets, is it likely that frenzied drivers will be pulling out in the mornings?
Once you've found something that seems workable, by all means try it out for reals, as they say. But give yourself some extra time for your maiden voyage. What if you get lost? (yes, this has happened to me on the way to work) What if you get a flat? You don't want to show up to work feeling harried and hating bike commuting. Give yourself plenty of time for disaster.
After you've tried your route a few times, tweak it if necessary. Maybe you'll find a short cut. Maybe you'll find a long cut. Maybe a parallel street will feel more comfortable. Or maybe you just want to vary it in case there's a madman hiding behind a tree, ready to cosh you on the head with a brick, since he's so familiar with your schedule and you're so predictable.
This is great stuff. I don't know what 'cosh' means. Bloody aprons, madmen, coshing, wending. I'm definitely looking forward to the next installment.