Five Percent: Conserve Energy

Climate Change Is Important: Energy Conservation is the First Step

October 29, 2006

Bicycle Commuting: Gear List for Safety, Warmth, Fun

Category: Conservation,Fun,Save Fuel,Take Actions,Transportation – Tom Harrison – 3:14 pm

I have written several other posts about my change to commuting to work on my bicycle. Here are some details, both in the gear that makes it possible and the conditions that make it feasible for me.

I am a gear head. Always have been, always will be. Some of the first gears I fiddled with were on a bike; first a 1-speed, then my older sisters’ 3-speed, then a 10-speed which I bought with my own money from my paper route. You don’t hear things like that much these days — what kid has a paper route anymore?

So it was a natural for me to take my road bike that I had bought probably 15 years ago and trick that puppy out as a “commuter bike” with the gear, gadgets, tools and gizmos “needed” for my daily commute. Here’s my list, neatly organized into Safety, Warmth, and Fun. Then, some comments that make my bike commute safe and possible.


Warmth & Comfort



I have learned a few things that have made my ride reasonable and safe.

  • Bike paths are not always the safest routes. The paths in Boston and Cambridge are extremely bumpy, busy, and not maintained, so leaves and sand build up. This makes for a very uncomfortable ride, and in one case I hit a pothole hard enough to blow a tire, and probably bent my rim badly enough that I’ll get a new one one of these days.
  • Know how to change a tire on the road :-) (see above)
  • High pressure: you cannot get high pressure for (70 PSI for cross tires) with a hand pump. Get a floor pump; they have a built-in gauge, and let me tell you, riding on fully inflated tires is a lot more fun. (Thanks to David P for this one, which I should have learned 25 years ago)
  • Find the back roads or roads with large shoulders. I found a route that involves as little contact with cars as possible. And while that’s still a lot, it’s much more fun to be riding on side roads than busy, narrow ones.
  • Get a real rear right, in addition to a couple blinkers; a really bright rear light is key, and a bright front light is, too.
  • Reflectors, baby: I have been watching bikes from my car at night, and this week, with no more daylight savings time, it will be even harder to see riders. My bike looks like a Christmas tree from all angles, both with active lighting and reflectors. The most likely cause of my death will be a car moving to the other lane to avoid me, thus running into a car going the other direction.
  • Listen.
  • Keep your bike tuned up. Commuting is hard on a bike, especially on the rims, which will probably need to be trued every couple of weeks, at least mine do. Get a spoke wrench and make tiny little adjustments. Make sure your shifters work, and make sure all the parts are screwed on tightly.
  • Learn to look behind without changing direction. By looking, not only do you see, but cars know you know they are there. Some people don’t give you any room, others are annoyingly tentative. Take control.
  • Know light cycles and intersections. Remember hazards and potholes. In most cases, I follow traffic signs and signals as the safest course of action. But while the law may be different, I think there are several cases where you’re better off taking a clear opportunity. My worst intersection is a left-turn free-for-all, where traffic patterns are unpredictable. I have been taking a right turn, getting in to traffic where there’s a break, then turning back at a break in traffic going the other direction; it is far safer for me to do this than fight with the cars.
  • Cleats and pedals: I have mine adjusted very loose, but I think they make the ride a lot easier and give me more control.

Riding to Work: It Works for Me

Riding to work is not for everybody. But damn, it’s the first way I have felt I could get exercise in a practical way. For me the distance is perfect: about 7 miles each way. It takes me less than a half-hour to go either direction, and in rush hour, it’s about 45 minutes by car. I have a shower at the office, and bring clothes for the day, but it helps to have a partial wardrobe to store at the office, especially bulky things like shoes, raincoat, towels, and shower gear. My boss is (extremely) tolerant of my hours (thanks David, if you’re reading this) since I leave to pick up my kids most days, and sometimes arrive late for the same reason. I work at home when needed at night.

In the end, it takes more time to ride my bike to work. I hope to be able to keep it up through most days of the winter; cold rain and snow seem like the only real deterrents. But the benefits of riding are not just health (which for me, is a huge thing, because I haven’t gotten exercise for some years now): I am living by my words and keeping cars off the roads. The psychic benefit for me is pretty great, and it’s fun.

Can you find a way to make a radical change like this in the way you use energy?

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