Finding the Right Bike for Your Commute

255966988 1B6E0251CaI mentioned earlier that I recently bought a new [used] bike and I debated on whether to say anything about it here, I wasn’t really sure anyone would care. But because I love bikes and blogging so much I finally broke down and thought I’d give a few pointers on finding the right bike for your commute.

Living Within A Neighborhood (or close to it)

I’ve written about biking on my site a few times and I try to keep it within the bounds of this blog, which is something like Christian theology, Quakerism, living as a Christian in today’s word, etc, etc, etc.

In previous posts I’ve said much about the connection between being a Christian, caring for the environment and why I ride a bike as opposed to us owning a second car. These are some of the things I believe I ought to participate in as a Christian, and so I am trying to take this as seriously as possible.  I also recognize its not possible for everyone and every situation to go without a car, thus I am by no means making a universal judgement above.

If you are considering riding your bike to work, school, and the neighborhood stores, let me encourage you to try it out. Not only is it a lot of fun, but you get to know the people you live around much better. Becoming the kind of person who lives within a neighborhood, or two mile radius as some sites have suggested greatly focus your relational, and if you’re a Christian, missional interactions and attention.

Because of all this I thought it was a good time to offer a couple quick tips I’ve learned along the way that may help in getting started.

Finding a Bike For the Commute

If you a first time bicycle commuter you are probably going to need to fix up your bike or buy one. I would suggest getting a couple recommendations for bicycle shops in your neighborhood or that are close enough to ride to and get a tune up there if you’ve got a fixer-upper. Go in to that shop and get to know those people, you will need their help, trust me.

The Bicycle Station in Highland Park Is one of my favorite bike shops I go to whenever I have questions or repairs I need to have done. This is where I bought my newest commuting bike. The Univega.

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[I don’t have a fancy name for it yet]

Another great place to go in Los Angeles for bicycle commuting resources is the Bicycle Kitchen, a non-profit bike shop where you can buy used bikes, parts, rent stand time, and get advice from people who know their stuff.

Do some google searches and find places near you who can offer advice.

The other great place to get a bike is to search Craigslist. It’s a community site where you can search by your location. There is a good chance you’ll be able to find a used bike if you have enough patience to look around and watch the site for a while. I got my first commuting bike [Thorn] on Craigslist for $75.

Finding the Right Kind of Bike

Finding the right sized bike is essential. I got a new bike because my previous one was meant to fit someone who’s 6 foot, I am only 5’7 and it was creating a lot of pain for me in my neck and arms.

Please note: Everything I will be writing about here concerns road bikes. I haven’t used a mountain bike for a long time and personally I don’t think they’re ideal for commuting because of their weight and size of tires, they make you work much harder (and therefore sweat much more) than a road bike.

I found some helpful resources on Sheldon Brown’s site about fitting sizes.

But basically there are two really important factors for those of you looking for a road bike.

1. The reach from your seat to the handle bars should be comfortable enough that you have some flexibility in your elbows. One easy tip is to put your elbow against the front of your seat and then reach to the handlebars. If you can read the handlebars with you fingers you’re probably in good shape.

2. The second most important thing is your “stand over height.?? You should be able to stand over the top bar of your bike with comfort then that’s a good sign.

After that what matters most is how comfortable it feels to you.

More information for beginners from Sheldon Brown.

Commuting — Doing It (some important equipment)

Here are a couple quick tips once you’ve got a working bike.

1. Get some good lights! One front headlight and one rear one (mine attaches to my bag). They should be able to flash, which makes you more noticeable and reduces battery wear. Also I bought lights that use AA’s so I can use rechargeable batteries with my lights and cut down on waste and cost.

2. Get a helmet. You really really need to wear a helmet. As a bike commuter you do not ride on the sidewalk (because it’s more dangerous and slower), you ride with the rest of traffic and you have to be prepared for the worst. Protect your noggin.

3. Get a U-lock. Any other lock will get your bike stolen. Trust me I know from experience.

4. Get a bag to carry your clothes in. Since I ride to work/school virtually everyday and my ride is strenuous enough that I actually work up a bit of sweat I bring a change of clothes. It’s good to get some kind of bag to carry stuff in but doesn’t weigh a lot and won’t hurt your neck or back. That means you should consider getting, a pannier (a side-saddle bag), a messenger bag (mine’s a Timbuktu I found on clearance for much less), or a light backpack.

Tip for taking clothes to school/work: I take my jeans, flip flops, an undershirt, shirt, deodorant and even underwear to school on monday. I wear shorts and a cutoff T-shirt, and my clip-less shoes on the ride and change once I get there. I leave my shoes, jeans, and deodorant in my small cubby during the week, which cuts down on the weight I have to carry everyday. I take the rest home with me to get washed.

5. Find a friend to ride with. You’re always a little safer, and will have more fun if you ride with someone else. I am fortunate to live with a friend who often rides with me to work and back. If you can locate somebody like that you’ll enjoy the ride more – that is unless you cherish the solitude, which can also be nice.

When you’re ready and you’ve got your bike all commuter-ed up it will look something like this!

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Getting Support
Employers often offer benefits for people who commute. Fuller gives out prizes, and offer $5 of coupons for the refectory to encourage more people to commute to work and school. Find out who is riding and if your school or place of work offers support, it’s always nice to find others who are doing the same thing as you.

Find websites like for tips, resources, articles (about new commuters) and event notifications.

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13 responses to “Finding the Right Bike for Your Commute”

  1. wess,
    finally a post of substance, theology is a fleeting and fickle subject but bikes, they have the potential for true love.

  2. Hey Wess,

    Do you know of any good bike shops in Pasadena? I have wanted to get another one ever since mine was stolen within the first six weeks of living here 🙁


  3. @Tim – I am glad to know I am finally on the right track! Thanks for stopping by and it seems like we might have similar love affairs!

    @Kevin – Pasadena Cyclery is a good place, it’s pretty close to Fuller, just past Hill Ave on Walnut. I don’t know the guys personally but I know other people have been happy with their work. I’d go and ask about used bikes. There is another bike shop on Colorado but I know even less about them.

  4. Ride on… i live in Chicago and do almost everything by bike except big grocery shopping trips. Ditching your car is so freeing, and in Chicago I love speeding past cars stuck in traffic.

  5. Joe – Man why do you have to keep coming on my blog and destroying all the mojo that goes on here. I don’t want your Hummer-loving self to get on here and spread your anti-environmentalist propaganda. 😉

  6. Hooray! Bicycles!

    Let’s give another cheer for the Bike Kitchen! Whoopee!

    I actually (re)built my first bike at the BK this summer–what a learning experience. Repacking bearings, coverting it to a single-speed, truing and dishing the tires, putting on brakes; I felt my inner confidence coming out. I didn’t have enough courage to do it to my own bike, so I did it to a bike I got as part of my membership (a freebie off the donation rack)–a Peugeot from the 80’s with taxi checkers on blue. Not a commuter, but fun to ride on the flats.

    Hey, LA is flat–everyone should ride a single-speed!

  7. Great post cuz. As you know I’m a huge road bike fan. One side benefit to riding a bike is improving health. Avg commuting to work 2x per week (17 miles each way). Cholestrol down 45 points, weight down 10 lbs in the 2 years Ive owned a bike. Doing another century in nov., a great way to sitesee our beautiful state.

  8. Rick! I can’t believe your commute is 17 miles each way, that’s amazing! And good point about the health benefits, that something I appreciate about riding to work as well, though I’ve yet to see the loss of 10lbs – I am still waiting on that.

  9. Very good post. You cover most of the bases for setting up a bike commuting routine. I have one additional suggestion regarding gear, and a warning as well.

    The suggestion for the gear is, besides getting lights and a helmet, is a bell. They cost about 10 or 15 bucks, and are a nice way of letting pedestrians, slower cyclists, kids and dog walkers that you are approaching.

    The warning concerns riding with a friend. It’s fine to do this, but please do not ride side by side on busy or narrow roads. Sideswiping accidents are common, and by having someone riding two or three feet further out than he or she normally would, the chances of getting seriously injured are much higher than if they are riding single file.

    Keep spreading the word about bicycle commuting!

  10. Hey thanks for the suggestions, both very sound and appreciated. I haven’t purchased a bell, but have wished I had one quite a few times. Maybe I will put that on my Christmas list.

    And good point about riding with friends. In fact we almost had an accident like the one you mentioned and learned our lesson the hard way.

    Thanks again.

  11. […] Over the next couple weeks I have a few posts I will be doing that revolve around issues of sustainable living. In these posts I will be trying to avoid the more preachy, theoretical rants I can often find myself falling into. Rather these will be focused on tips and tricks, basic stuff that’s fun and easy to do. For the first post I wanted to say something about commuting and living life near your home. […]