Finding the Right Bike for Your Commute

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I 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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