How to Start Riding Your Bike to Work

June 25, 2010

It’s summer in Canada! Woo! And as the weather warms up, more and more of us break out our bikes. Even better, it’s Bike Month in Toronto, a perfect time to talk about riding your bike to work.

FreshBooks has a pretty high number of employees who choose to bike into work daily; some of us happily cover 20km (13+ miles) each way. Our most impressive day was when just over a third of FreshBooks employees opted to ride in last summer (pictured above).

If you’ve ever thought about riding your bike into work, but you hesitated for any reason, I’m here to try and get you saddled up.

Why bike to work?

I think our director of product management, Casey McKinnon, said it the best: “I just feel refreshed and ready to go when I come into work”. I feel the exact same way. It’s better than a double espresso (my personal coffee consumption is a lot lower during the riding season). Of course, there are a number of other great reasons to ride:

  • Easy way to get regular exercise
  • Save time by avoiding traffic or transit
  • Cost – save gas money everyday
  • Reduce your carbon footprint

Basically, it doesn’t matter how fuel-efficient or fancy-ass hybrid your car is; miles per gallon can never compete with the direct miles-per-burger fuel economy of a bike.

You’re getting fit, saving money, and saving the planet: what’s not to like?

The downside

With all these great reasons to ride, there are a few points holding people back.

  • Danger. Wear a helmet, stick to bike paths and routes or side streets and be smart, and you should be safe every time you go out. Also keep your bike in good maintenance.
  • Sweat. Bring a change of clothes or renovate to include a shower in your workspace.
  • Time. Depending on your current commute, it might take a little longer. Why not time yourself to see the actual difference?
  • Bike theft. There are a lot of good options for locking your bike and most employers will let you store your bike somewhere safe.
  • Carrying Stuff. You can always use your car on those days you cannot avoid it, or you can get one of these:

Great, how do I get started?

Step 1. Get a bike. You do not want your standard mountain bike, but something with slicker tires for roads but can still handle your route. But generally, you will want this bike to be speedy. A hybrid is typically good choice as it will be a comfortable ride, looks good with fenders, and has slick tires. Many commuters ride road bikes as well as they are a lot speedier. Or you can ride a comfy cruiser if time is on your side:

Step 2. Choose a safe route. I recommend looking at a local map or bike map (bicycle routes are always great to use) and asking your colleagues and friends. You will want to ride on side streets as much as possible, especially ones with little stopping. Once you have a potential route, try it out when these is little traffic to test it out and get comfortable. You can always tweak it later. Then just start off once or twice a week commuting on it to work. It’s ok to start slow.

Step 3. Pick a good bag. You’ll need a good bag so you can bring everything you need for your day or after work activities. A backpack is always a great place to start as you likely already have one. But saddlebags are the best option, as you avoid sweat on your backside, and less weight on you means more comfort while riding.

Step 4. Avoid bike theft. You need a safe place to store your bike during the day. Hopefully your company allows you to bring it right into where you work, or has a safe place to lock it up.

Step 5. Learn some basic mechanics. You will want to learn some quick bike mechanics, especially how to change a tire and tighten your brakes. There is probably a local bike clinic you can go to if you do a quick search on Google. Or, there are a lot of books to help you get started.

Step 6. The Rest. You’ll also need some safety gear, a helmet, lights; riding clothes that you can sweat in, light or bright colors are good; and fenders to keep you and your drive train dry (important for maintenance) on those wetter days.

Making your office bike friendly

Now, you might need to do some convincing to get these items in your office, but you’ll be a much better employee because of such changes.

  1. A safe place to keep your bike during the day – you’ll be less nervous and more productive
  2. A shower – you’ll be less smelly
  3. A bike pump – keeping your tires inflated reduces flats and improves your speed
  4. Simple bike tools – you’ll probably want a set of metric Allen (hex) keys, tire levers, tubes, wrenches and chain grease (increases office Zen)
  5. A full time bike mechanic – maybe I’m getting too ambitious!

In conclusion:

Bicycle commuting is a great way to start and end your day, get some regular exercise, and save some money. If you are smart about it, it’s safe, fun and speedy. Remember, if you feel the weather is bad and you don’t feel safe, STAY OFF THE ROAD. Also, start off slow, maybe just one day a week, until you build your confidence.

Other resources

Our FreshBooks friend, Carlton Reid, has created a wonderful guide with all the details to get you started.

There is also a good post on Wikihow.

about the author

FreshBooks is the #1 accounting software in the cloud designed to make billing painless for small businesses and their teams. Today, over 10 million small businesses use FreshBooks to effortlessly send professional looking invoices, organize expenses and track their billable time.