One the many perks of living in the Denver-metro area is the abundance of outdoor opportunities. During Denver’s sunny summers, one of the best ways to sneak in some outside time can also be practical: biking to work. Plus, you’ll burn enough extra calories to justify that extra micro-brew at happy hour.
But if you’ve never commuted to work by bike, or have only done it a handful of times, getting into the groove can be daunting. Here are a few tips for going from being stuck in gridlock traffic every day to feeling the cool summer morning air as you cruise past enraged motorists.
Get a bike
If you plan on becoming an everyday bike commuter, this one’s kind of a no brainer. But figuring out where to start can be tough.
You’ll read about every possible option. For commuting, what it really comes down to is just finding something you like. Find a bike you’ll want to ride every day, and that includes how it looks as well as it how it rides. Some commuters prefer flat handlebars, which allow you to sit up and more easily see your surroundings. But, handlebars can be changed. Get the type of bike you imagine yourself riding.
If you’re ready to buy, cruise Craigslist for a great deal. Buying a bike brand new in Colorado is nearly unheard of — instead, find someone who dropped a bunch of money on a sweet ride and never used it. You can get easily find a lifetime bike in the $200 to $300 range just by perusing ads or asking around.
If you’re not quite ready to commit, consider joining the Denver B-cycle bikeshare program. Stations make it easy to get pretty much anywhere in the city, they handle all the maintenance for you and it will give you a taste of what commuting to work on two wheels feels like. If you don’t want to deal with stations, both ofo and Limebike offer a stationless bike share option.
Invest modestly in gear
You see it all the time: someone who apparently spent thousands of dollars on a new bike, spiffy bike clothes straight out of the Tour de France, and every possible accessory known to man.
There’s no need to go nuts. Investing in a few key pieces of gear will be all you need to become king or queen of the bike trail.
A solid helmet is critical, but no need for anything fancy. You can get a decent one in the $20 to $30 range from nearly any bike shop or general merchandise store (e.g., Target).
If your commute is going to be over three miles, you should invest in a couple of pairs of decent bike shorts. They offer extra padding in all the right places. It might be worth it to grab a pair of bike gloves while you’re at it, but they’re not necessary.
Get bike lights. Yes, during the summer you probably won’t be riding in the dark, but even during the day they add an important safety element. And they’re cheap. You can get a perfectly usable pair (a white one for the front and red for the back) for under $10.
Finally, grab a bike bell. Yelling “on your left” constantly gets old, especially if you’re riding along a shared-use trail. They’re super easy to install, not to mention fun to annoy your friends with.
No matter what your friends tell you, don’t get clip pedals — not yet. If you have a longer commute and you eventually turn into a hardcore cyclist, great. Right now, you just need the basics.
Know your route
Researching your route ahead of time will make it much easier once you hit the pavement.
Utilize Denver’s bike maps online, and many bike shops have paper editions you can grab for free. Look for dedicated bike lanes and trails when possible, with designated bike routes being the next-best option.
Ask around the office to see what streets other bike commuters use. Side streets and residential areas make for quiet, safe places to ride.
If you can’t live without navigation, you can purchase a phone mount to attach to your handlebars. Just don’t be that person looking down at their phone while vehicles zip within feet around you.
Even though it might add a few minutes to your trip, start off by avoiding that giant hill on your way to work.
There’s no need to pretend you’re in the Colorado Classic right off the bat. Use easy gears, and don’t worry about people passing you. You need to build up strength, and you will if you stick with it.
Even if you participate in other forms of exercise, switching to biking used completely different muscles and will affect your body in a new way. There’s no rush getting started. Before long, you’ll be an expert, but don’t sweat it if you need to take a break or two or walk your bike up steep sections.
It’s never polite to brag. Except when you have to.
Make your plans known. Tell your coworkers, your spouse or a random person on the street that you’re going to start riding to work and pick a specific date. Talking to others about your plans will make it harder to chicken out when the time comes. When they ask you how your first day riding went, you don’t want to be scrambling for excuses.
Set a firm date for when you’ll start riding. Lifehack.org notes that being specific and creating a firm deadline will make it more likely for you to keep a promise. And after you get through those first few days, keep it up. Talk about how you’re helping the environment, saving money, getting in shape and avoiding road rage. Giving yourself a little ego boost will keep your motivation up and ensure you don’t fall back to driving in.
There’s a reason professional cyclists train near the Denver region: it’s a great place to ride a bike. This summer is your perfect opportunity to become a full-time bike commuter, even if you never thought you could do it before. We’ll see you on the trails.