Thursday Cycling Soapbox: My Bike Commuting Philosophy

It's been a long time coming, but today I want to share with you my personal philosophy on bicycle commuting and how I prefer that it be done. This is not to say that I think EVERYONE should do it this way, as everyone is different and has different situations at their place of employment (or whatever destination you may have). But these are my goals, and everything I post here is in an attempt to reach these goals, so please keep this in mind as you read!

First of all, I'm not a recreational cyclist. I do enjoy riding my bike, that's for sure. I wouldn't be as avid a cycling commuter if I didn't like it. But I have no problem taking the bus to work and my current job makes it very easy to do so. If I'm looking for something to do on a weekend afternoon, I'm not particularly likely to grab my bike, some snacks, and a water bottle or two and go out for a century ride.

My bike riding is about destination as much as it is about the cycling experience. I am cycling to get somewhere. That I choose to do it on a bike is more about getting some exercise on the way, reducing my carbon footprint, not wanting to spend my money on car-related things, etc.

To continue with this train of thought, a major goal of mine is to be able to ride with as few bike-related changes upon reaching my destination as is possible. I don't want to have to change sweaty clothes as much as possible. I don't want to have to constantly be switching my stuff between a regular briefcase and a pannier. In essence, I want to look like anyone else when I get off my bike and begin my day.

That being said, I do sweat a lot. I'm just one of those people. So at some times of the year I have no choice but to wear shorts and a t-shirt (usually a wicking t-shirt of some kind/brand) while I ride, and quickly change upon arriving at work. I want to look good.

Now please don't take this to mean that I have anything at all against training riders who use their bike commuting as part of their regimen, and must undergo complete clothing changes when they arrive at work. And if you're a recreational rider who doesn't feel comfortable unless you're wearing bibs and a jersey, that's totally cool, too. I respect you too. In fact I'm a big fan of pro cycling races and commend you in your efforts. So if that's what makes you comfortable in riding, then I'm all for it.

But my idea in bike commuting is that it should not be about cycling specifically - it should be about the option to travel around by any means you want. For me, that means riding my bike. I look at places like Copenhagen or Amsterdam, where cycling isn't considered anything more than basically a way to get around that's a bit faster than walking and easier and cheaper than driving. That's the sort of attitude I have.

So as much as possible, I don't buy bicycling-specific equipment for my riding. I don't own a cycling jersey. I don't have a messenger bag. I think the only items of bike-specific clothing I use on a regular basis are for cold-weather and safety - a balaclava and lobster-claw gloves for the winter weather, and a fluorescent yellow jacket for safety. I also wear a pair of cycling glasses to keep dust, rain, snowflakes, etc. out of my eyes during all times of the year.

My bike itself is for comfort riding. It's a 2007 Specialized Expedition Sport model, sturdy and comfortable. It's got a wide saddle, twist gear shifts, is sturdy, and it's easy to maintain. The only thing I'd add to it is a chain guard (I fail to understand the American bicycle industry's dislike of chain guards, especially on bikes like mine!).

I use panniers on my bike instead of a messenger bag or backpack. I like to arrive at my destination ready to go, as I said, and I don't want a sweaty back. I also don't want to have to swap items between a pannier and briefcase every time the weather changes or something else happens so that I can't ride on a specific day. So one of my panniers carries my briefcase each day. A bag in a bag may sound odd to some of you, but to me it reduces the amount of time I have to take with my commuting.

So to sum up, my attitude on cycling is pretty minimalistic. I like to keep it simple, have a quick and dirty routine that gets me where I'm going. I like to get some moderate exercise on the way but I'm not going to hammer unless I'm in a hurry to get somewhere. I'm probably never going to own a road bike simply for riding's sake - my bikes will be utilitarian and sturdy, probably pretty slow, but easy to maintain and easy to ride.

And everything I espouse on this site will be toward a similar end. If I see something that looks like it'd be useful, I'll let you know. But it'll be useful for simple transportation, and not necessarily anything to do with a hard-core fred's loves. I keep up with a few sources of hard-core roadie stuff in case something sounds useful for commuting, so don't expect I'll ignore anything because of the source of the information. I take it all in and sift out what looks useful.

And I hope this explanation helps you understand where I'm coming from and what you can expect here.

People, not speed.


  1. I think I am pretty much there with you.

    I think the only cycling specific clothing I have is my winter jacket. Looking at some winter gear.

    Typical summer clothing is a $9 wicking shirt from walmart, a pair of nylon shorts from the clearance rack and a pair of cotton shorts on top. Winter usually involves thrift store wool.

    I do see the cycling industry coming around a lot more from being so recreational centric. A lot more has come out in the last few years that caters more to the transit side of things.

  2. That's certainly been the trend of late - more and more companies are starting to see that people want to ride without much change.

    I think it's happening a lot more from the manufacturing side, and that the bike shop owners are taking a bit longer since they've been recreationally focused for literally decades in some cases. But soon they'll come around. If not, then maybe you and I need to open a shop... :)

  3. Paradise seems to be there. I think B1 is a close second. More of an all around shop that tends to cater to a broader demographic but very receptive to transportation cycling.

  4. Oh thanks for sharing your goals i feel glad and i hope you will reach it!!!
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