Bike Commuting Basics

June 26, 2019 • Transportation

Bike Commuting Basics

Think of the last time you rode a bike. Was it yesterday? Or more like around your childhood cul-de-sac, handlebar streamers flapping? Or somewhere in between?

Whatever your relationship with biking, riding to work for the first time is daunting. But with some preparation and a little confidence, riding between home and the office can be a breeze. And summer is the perfect time to try it out! Here are some things to consider before hopping back in the saddle.

Getting a bike
Do you have a bike? According to a survey conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the #1 reason given for not bicycling is a lack of access to a bicycle. If you are trying to decide on a bike to buy, we can help! Email us at srpgo@stanford.edu with answers to these questions:

  1. Do you currently bike? If so, what kind of bike do you have?
  2. What kind of biking are you looking to do? I.e. if you’re planning to bike commute, how many miles each way and over what kind of terrain?
  3. Are you interested in an e-bike?
  4. What is your price range?

The right gear
So many biking accoutrements are a matter of personal choice, but there are some things considered essential:

  • Helmet: The Giro Register MIPS is one of our favorites. This universal fit helmet comes with MIPS (a technology that protects against brain injury), is lightweight, and clocks in at $50.
  • Lights: Knog makes a great USB charging light set that uses a rubber strap system to hook on and off the bike. These will help others see you at night, but don’t expect them to light up your path. For more recommendations, see our bike lights blog post.
  • Pump: Carrying a small hand pump in case of a flat is a good idea. We like Topeak mini pumps (sold at REI). Cycling Weekly also has a good list.
  • Extra tube: Figure out what kind of tubes your tires take (it’s listed on the tire) and then buy two to three extras. Take one out of its cardboard box and put it in your pack.
  • Multitool: Crankbrothers makes a solid multitool, compact and easy to carry in your pack.
  • Bottle & cage: We’re not picky about what kind of water bottle you use, but it’s likely that the one you use regularly won’t work with a cage on your bike. If you don’t want to carry your water bottle, Geeky Cyclist has some opinions to check out. Almost any cage will work, and your local bike shop can help you select one or two and help with the install.

And then there are the more optional items, including:

  • A front basket or rear rack with panniers: This rabbit hole goes pretty deep, so if you’re looking to carry stuff on your bike and not your back, check out Bicycling Magazine’s excellent guide.
  • Fenders: These are essential if you’re going to be riding in the rain. Your local bike shop can recommend some that fit your bike. Or you can hack a fender out of cardboard and zip ties.
  • Bike clothes: There are so many opinions when it comes to bike clothes. We’ll go deeper into this topic below, but generally aim for comfort and high visibility.

Note that you can go to your local bike shop (the closest shop to SRP is Summit on California Avenue) to find all the “thingies” you’ll need for your bike commute. Tell the staff your preferences and ask them for their recommendations.

What to wear
You clothing choices depend on what kind of riding you are doing, your need to change clothes, and/or shower once you arrive. We’re firm believers in clothes that can do double duty. If you’re suit inclined, you can—in fact—bike in a suit (just ask our champion, Christopher, who does it every day).

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Christopher rides from Caltrain to work at SRP in a suit everyday.

If you’re more of a skirt and pumps type of rider, check out a blog post on how to cycle chic.

If you have a long, hilly, or otherwise sweaty commute, it’s nice to bike in workout clothes and change when you get to work. Please know that you don’t need technicolor spandex to be a “twue” cyclist, but we’ll admit that sometimes padded shorts help with long commutes.

What route to take
If you are trying to find a good bike route to work, we have some resources you may want to check out. First is our in-house bike map — these are "bunny slope" routes sourced by actual SRP employees who ride every day. Additionally, you may find our routing blog post helpful.

If you’re riding a route for the first time, we suggest doing it on the weekend first. This helps you familiarize yourself with its turns and gives you a sense of how safe you’ll feel riding it during commute hours. If you need help finding a good route from your door to your office, drop us a line at srpgo@stanford.edu.

Rules of the road
This is a broad topic, but we’ll do our best to cover the most important rules of the road in short order.

  • Hand signals: Hand signals convey intention to other road users, making rider movements more predictable. As an added benefit, cars will often slow down to let riders over after they signal.
    • Right turn: Right arm extended horizontally with hand pointing right or left arm extended out and up at the elbow to create a “L” shape. Either is ok.
    • Left turn: Extend arm horizontally and point left.
    • Slowing / stopping: Left arm extended out and down to create an upside down “L” shape.
  • Stop signs and red lights: Cyclists, like all road users, are expected to stop at stop signs and red lights.
  • Lane choice: Choose the rightmost lane that serves your destination. It’s ok to be in a left lane if it serves your destination (example: a left turn on multi lane road), however being in the right turn lane if you’re going straight would be incorrect.
  • Lane positioning: You may take left, center, or right side of a lane depending on the situation. When sharing a lane with a car:
    • If the lane is wide enough to share, stay to the right if the car can safely pass (with a three-foot gap between you and moving vehicles).
    • If the lane is not wide enough to share, stay in the center to discourage passing in your lane.

Let us know you rode
Register at SRPGO.com to be eligible for the Guaranteed Ride Program, Free Zipcar Registration, prize drawings and rewards, special events, and more. It’s our way of saying “thank you!” for helping to reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality.

Ask us your questions!
Whatever the question, we’re here to help. Email srpgo@stanford.edu with any and all of your bike issues, questions or problems.


Commuter Spotlight: Subha Ramachandran

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