When I learned that the cost of my monthly parking garage pass was more than doubling to $75 a month, I balked. Seventy-five dollars a month just to babysit my car while I’m at work?
So on a muggy September morning in 2018, I decided to give bike commuting a shot. I didn’t plan my route. Or my outfit. Or take my bike for a test ride, even though I hadn’t ridden it in months. Hey, what could go wrong in 2 miles?
I took my usual route to work — a busy street with no bike lanes and a rickety sidewalk where cyclists aren’t exactly welcome in the traffic lanes. Funny what you don’t notice from your car.
My dark jeans and black tunic were drenched in sweat less than a mile into my ride. Not a great choice of biking attire for mid-90s temperatures.
But it wasn’t just the end-of-summer heat that was making me sweat. I felt like I was biking uphill — and I live in Florida. I asked myself: Was biking always this hard? Have my leg muscles atrophied?
Then a guy standing at a bus stop pointed out the obvious: My tires needed air.
7 Tips for Anyone Who Wants to Start Bike Commuting
I survived the 2-mile ride to work. Then I Ubered home that afternoon.
A few days later, temperatures dropped slightly, and a helpful co-worker put air in my tires. I decided to give bike commuting another try — if only to get my bike home. This time, I planned my route and took a street with bike lanes.
Since then, I’ve become an avid bike commuter. I love that I get to exercise during my commute, and I’m also saving money. Since I live close to work, my savings on gas are minimal, but I have been able to ditch the $75-a-month parking pass. Plus, I’m less prone to after-work impulse buys. If I stop at the grocery store after work, I’m limited to what I can fit in my bike basket.
Want to try biking to work? Here are a few tips I wish I had known before I tried bike commuting.
1. Do a Weekend Test Run
It’s great when you can figure out things — like that your route of choice doesn’t have bike lanes or your tires need air — when you’re not pedaling furiously to a meeting at rush hour.
Test out your commute by doing a practice run during the weekend. You may be surprised by just how bike-unfriendly your normal route is.
Make sure to wear your work attire if you plan to ride in the same clothing you wear during the day. Seeing just how much you sweat could change your mind.
2. Dry Shampoo Is Your Friend
Wearing a helmet is nonnegotiable whenever you ride your bike, OK? So that means helmet hair is something you’re going to have to deal with.
Dry shampoo comes in handy when you need to freshen up to make yourself presentable for the office.
3. Plan Your Outfit Around Your Commute
Riding your bike to work is a lot easier when you don’t have to do a complete change of costume when you get to the office. Opt for lightweight, breathable fabrics like cotton or linen to minimize sweat during your ride. If you wear skirts or dresses, throw on a pair of bicycle shorts or leggings underneath. (Long skirts and dresses are best avoided, though.)
Keep a spare shirt handy in your backpack in case you sweat more than usual or you ride through dirt or dust. (It happens.)
If you need to pack your clothes and change at the office, a travel-size bottle of wrinkle spray comes in handy. No, your outfit won’t look freshly pressed, but it will smooth things out a bit.
4. Lighten Your Load Already
You’re saving money by bike commuting. But unless you want to fork over that money and then some to your chiropractor, keep your backpack as light as possible. Investing in saddlebags or a bike crate will be well worth it if you have lots of stuff to cart to and from work.
5. Ask Your Employer for Storage Space
Bikes are best stored indoors, where they’re less likely to get stolen. Plus, they’re more likely to rust when exposed to rain or snow.
Here at The Penny Hoarder’s headquarters in St. Petersburg, Florida, we’re lucky to have a passcode-protected bike closet. If your workplace doesn’t have a designated space for bikes, ask your employer to create one — or at least if there’s an acceptable place that you can stash your bike.
If that’s not possible, keep your bike locked up in a busy area with two different types of locks.
Your car isn’t the only thing that needs a tune-up: Your bike should get a tune-up anywhere from every few months to once a year, depending on how much you ride. Expect to pay $30 to $80.
6. Be Prepared for Bad Weather
Here in Florida, storms are a bit unpredictable. I keep a kid-size poncho in my backpack that I can pop out if it starts to drizzle. The kid-size part is key because it’s short enough that it doesn’t get in the way of pedaling.
Obviously, when there’s lightning or extreme weather, you shouldn’t be biking. So have a backup plan for the days that you aren’t able to bike to work.
Make sure you know of a parking option that doesn’t require a monthly pass, a bus route that’s close to your office or a co-worker who can give you a ride. Otherwise, you’ll need to work the occasional Uber or Lyft into your budget.
7. Don’t Give up Your Parking Pass… Yet
So you’ve had your first successful bike commute? Congrats!
Still, hang onto your parking pass for at least a couple weeks. It’s great when bike commuting happens without a hitch. But what happens when you’re running late, you have a doctor’s appointment before work or you need to run home at lunchtime?
Once you’ve experienced a few disruptions to your regular routine, you can better assess whether giving up parking is feasible.
Is Bike Commuting for You?
This isn’t really an if-I-can-do-it-anyone-can type of thing. There are a lot of reasons bicycle commuting has worked for me:
I have a flexible schedule. I only work daylight hours. My workplace is casual. I live and work in a bike-friendly pocket of St. Petersburg, Florida, which means I don’t have to deal with snowstorms and subzero temperatures. I don’t have kids to shuttle to and from school or day care. Most importantly, I feel safe bike commuting.
If you want to try it, commit to doing it three or four times over the next months. Take it from me: Your first try may not go perfectly. But after three or four times, you’ll get the hang of it.
What if you hate it? Then it’s probably not worth whatever money you save. Your ideal commute is one that doesn’t leave you frazzled before you’ve even gotten to work.
But don’t be surprised if you get hooked. I find my workdays a lot more enjoyable when they start and end with a bike ride instead of circling a dusty parking garage. And the $75 I’m saving is a pretty sweet bonus.
Robin Hartill is a senior editor at The Penny Hoarder. She edits and writes stories about bank accounts, credit scores, home buying, insurance, investing, retirement and taxes. She is also the voice behind the Dear Penny personal advice column, which is syndicated in the Tampa Bay Times Sunday business section.