In the last post, I talked about the pros and cons of different bikes for your bike commute. Now it is time to think about the route you will take to get to work. Planning your route is as important as picking your bike. I am always exploring different ways home especially when I have the time to turn around if the roads do not connect the way I thought they would.
How am I going to get there? Or in other words which direction should I ride to get to work? When planning your bike commute you need to think through your route. More than likely you are not going to ride the same route you drive to work, I know that I do not. Usually when you drive you go the fastest way between two points. Driving, I usually jump on the interstate and then cruise up a 4 lane divided road into the heart of the city but biking I will take a smaller road with slower speeds to the downtown. When you are bike commuting, you are taking into account traffic volume, distance of the ride, and the amount of time it will take. All of those impact your timely arrival to your place of employment. Taking a different route by bike is one of the hidden benefits of riding to and from work. You can see and experience more of the city you are riding in with a bike. If a shop or something catches your fancy you can stop and take a look a lot easier with a bike than a car. Plus it is much easier to find a parking space for your bike!
One of the best tools I used to figure out my route was to start with Google maps and use their bicycling button. This is a good way to check out traffic. You can drop the little man icon which gives you a view of the street on the map and a look at most streets. I was familiar with some of my route but there was part of it that I wanted to see before I was riding my bike down the road. It also helped me to be familiar with landmarks at key turns along the way. Once I got a route from Google I printed off the directions and took a test ride one Saturday.
Planning your route is an important step but I also believe taking a test ride or two of the route is beneficial. It lets you see what the ride is like. When I was taking the test ride I realized on one section that this would not work. I had to rethink my route. I was coming down a decent hill and trying to make a turn onto a gravel parking lot. It was very difficult to do safely with people in cars coming down the hill after me (I needed both hands to stop and could not signal that I was stopping). It was further complicated by cars coming up the same hill at decent speed. I did not want to turn into the parking lot too fast and wreck on the gravel.
A test ride also lets you see a glimpse of what the traffic might be like. I took my first few test rides on a Saturday which allowed me to enjoy the ride without as much traffic on the road. The problem is that each day traffic is different. Making the test ride also allows you to see how difficult or easy the ride is without having to work (do your job) in between your rides.
So far we have covered getting a bike and helmet for your commute and tips for planning your route. Stay tuned the next post I will cover exploring your facilities at work.
This is part of my Quick Tips for Bike Commuting series. You can find the table of contents post here.