Biking Essentials
Graphic credit: Liz Treutel Callin

5 Essentials to Bike commuting for Beginners

So you’re considering trying out the bike commute? Perhaps you want to bike to school or to work a few days a week instead of driving, or maybe use your bike to run errands on the weekends. Of course biking is a great way to get some exercise and live a more sustainable lifestyle, but it can also be an extremely easy, inexpensive and fun way to get around.

This list was put together by a self-proclaimed fair-weather biker (me). I am hoping to share the love about adding this commute option to your transportation repertoire. One might even call it making a mode shift.

As far as I’m concerned, there are five basic things that you actually need for a bike commute and a few others that make it a little more comfortable.

  1. A bike. Yes, of course you need a bike to bike commute. But, I want to specify that your bike can be any bike that functions safely; especially if you’re just getting started. Don’t feel pressured to go out and drop thousands of dollars when a basic bike will do. My best advice would be to check out used bike shops, garage sales or craigslist ads for a used bike and take it into a local repair shop to have it checked out and tuned up for safety. Worst case scenario: you love biking so much that you decide to invest in a more expensive ride later and you have a trusty spare lying around as a backup.
  1. A helmet. Yes, you really have to wear one. Grab a new helmet for $20 while you’re getting your used bike tuned up at that local bike shop.
  1. A bike lock and lights. Unless you’re planning to park your bike inside your workplace, pick up a bike lock to protect your mode of transportation when you’re not riding it. If you’ll be riding in the early morning or after dark, strap a few lights on your bike so drivers can see you.
  1. Bike-appropriate footwear (aka flat, close-toed shoes). Sandals or high heels might be what you normally wear to work or school in Michigan’s warmer months, but pack those in your bag and wear a sturdy pair of close-toed shoes during the ride.
  1. A bag to carry your stuff. If you’re used to driving to work or school with a laptop, lunch bag, purse or briefcase and more, figure out how to downsize and grab a lightweight backpack or bike bag to carry your things.

Helpful extras

Aside from the bare necessities, the following can make your bike commute more comfortable and fun:

  • An extra change of clothes. You don’t have to bring this with you; if you can, stash an extra set of clothes at your workplace or a locker at school to be ready for a downpour or an extra sweaty morning ride.
  • Basic cosmetics or toiletries. These are things that will allow you to “freshen-up” when you get to your destination. My go-to items are travel-sized deodorant, wet wipes, a comb, toothbrush and scented body spray to get rid of that inevitable post-ride stickiness. 
  • Bike-related tools. I’m knocking on wood as I type this, but I actually don’t carry bike tools with me because my commute is just a few miles and I know if I have an issue, I can hop on a bus (with my bike!) to take me the rest of the way because my bike route runs along a bus line. But, if you know you have a long or isolated commute, it would be smart to carry tools to fix a flat or repair a broken chain.GoogleMap_BikeRoute

Finally, don’t forget to do a little research about your route and bike safety laws in your community. Find a route that you’re comfortable riding—which may mean going off the beaten path to side streets with less traffic or finding streets with bike lanes. You can even use the Google maps to get an idea of bike-friendly routes.


Take Action jpg

May is bike month, giving you a great reason to give biking to work or school a try this month. Celebrate National Bike to Work Day on May 21 or make your voice heard about bicycle safety and other relevant issues in Lansing on May 25th during the League of Michigan Bicyclists’ annual Advocacy Day.

Take the plunge and give bike commuting a try. You don’t need to be an athlete or spend a fortune to get started and you definitely won’t regret it. Happy trails!

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