Commuting by bicycle can be easy and convenient. With high gas prices, plus the ongoing expense of parking and insurance, many new riders are looking to eBikes as a possible solution to high commuting costs.
With a little guidance, best practices, and some simple tips, anyone can be a bicycle commuter. The flip side is mistakes that are easy to make, which can make you late for work or otherwise ruin your trip. If you'd like to get started commuting by bike, watch out for these mistakes:
Mistake #1 - don't bite off more than you can chew
Modern eBikes are faster and more efficient than ever, which can tempt new riders into commutes that are overly ambitious when it comes to terrain or distance. When you're just starting out, it takes some time to learn effective techniques for packing your bike, choosing the best route, and locking up your bike.
It makes sense to start with some trips that are manageable, leading to a sense of accomplishment while your experience grows. You can do it! - but start with an achievable goal. For example, you might set an initial goal to replace 2 round trip car commutes per week with a bicycle to start. Set a new goal to rider longer or more often once your initial goal is met and you're commuting with confidence.
Mistake #2 - not bringing the tools required to fix a flat tire
A flat tire can happen to anyone, anywhere. Even the best eBikes that sell for $10,000 or more are not immune. While you can reduce the risk of a puncture by using good equipment, it's not possible to completely eliminate flat tires - that's why you should pack spare tubes, a pump, and the required tools to change a flat tire anytime you leave home.
You should bring the items to fix a flat with you, even if you don't know how to make the repair yourself! You never know when you'll find a good Samaritan on the road or trail who is happy to help - but you must have the right gear with you. You can buy some of these items all together in a repair kit, or shop individually.
Don't leave home without:
- A spare inner tube. You might want two just in case if you have a long commute or ride on roads with lots of debris
- A way to re-inflate the new tube (a pump or CO2 cartridge kit)
- Tire levers
- The tool (if required) needed to remove your wheel from your eBike - some brands include the required tool for the axle nuts with the bike
Mistake #3 - running short on battery power
It can take a few rides until you fully understand how your speed, hills, headwinds, and the level of pedal assist or throttle usage you choose affect the battery life on your eBike. Range charts published by your eBike manufacturer are useful for making an estimate, but ultimately, only on the road testing will do.
Running out of battery charge mid-commute is a drag, so until you understand the range of your eBike, it makes sense to bring your charger on your commute, so you can try and charge during the day while you're at work or school. Leaving a second battery charger at the office is also a good strategy, since it reduces the amount of weight you'll need to carry.
Mistake #4 - waiting to get started because you don't have the right bike, gear, or clothing
Other than basic safety equipment (helmet) there really is no "wrong" way to commute by bicycle. Does a battery bicycle, especially an eBike; panniers, and a fancy rain jacket enhance your experience? Absolutely! But they aren't a requirement - it's more important to simply get started.
After you commute by bike for a bit, you'll have a better idea of the type of equipment that will best suit your needs.
Mistake #5 - relying on car maps, or your knowledge of the route from driving experience
The route you ultimately take to your destination by bicycle won't be the same as the one you'd take in a car. Don't expect that the routes you're familiar with from driving a car are the best for bicycling.
Commuting by eBike allows you to access better, shorter, and faster routes that aren't accessible to cars - like cutting through city parks or using protected bike lanes. Take a moment to look at maps focused on bicycles instead for better opportunities. Pete Prebus, our resident eBike expert put together a great list of apps for your mobile phone that can help you find better/safer/faster bicycle routes near you.
Mistake #6 - not having a backup plan
Most days commuting by bike will be relaxing, refreshing, and fulfilling! Breakdowns or other problems are rare, but expected - you're going to get lost, puncture, forget your lunch, or your dress shoes - it's OK!
Have a plan so that you can still get to work or school on time "just in case." That might mean leaving a spare set of clothes at the office in case of rain, keeping some frozen TV dinners in the break room freezer, or asking for a flexible schedule that gives you some leeway with arrival or departure times.
Don't hesitate to use the support networks available near you for bicycle commuters - in my community, the County of San Bernardino offers a "guaranteed ride home" program in case you can't make your normally scheduled bicycle commute (in the case of sick child, for example.) Your city or county likely offers similar programs that can be part of your "backup plan."