A man commutes to work

A Beginner’s Guide To Bike Commuting

Follow these bike-to-work steps to change your habits and infuse your life with adventure.

Commuting by bike is basically a life hack. For one thing, it might be the easiest way to squeeze more adventure into your daily routine. It can also help you save a ton of money, get more exercise, and even fight climate change. 

According to one study, if you bike to work just once a week, you could keep half a ton of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere each year. According to another, swapping a car for a bike for just one trip each day—even for something as simple as dropping by a neighbor’s house—could cut your personal carbon emissions by a whopping 67 percent

But, like so many things that are good for us, commuting by bike can be easier said than done. It can be intimidating to find a safe route, choose the right gear, and rearrange your morning routine. So, follow this step-by-step guide to help. Use it to start changing your habits and reap all the rewards of commuting by bike.

1. Find your bike. 

The first step to bike commuting is—you guessed it—getting a bike. If you’ve already got one, dig it out and make sure that it’s tuned up and road-ready. (You can either take it into a bike shop or Public Lands store, or tune it yourself.) 
If you don’t have a bike yet, no sweat. Buying new is always an option, but most cities have second-hand bike shops or community nonprofits that can teach you how to choose and fix up a bike without paying much. Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist are also great resources for finding a set of gently used wheels. Any bike will do, but different bikes will perform better on different terrain. 

For asphalt roads and bike paths… 

Road bikes tend to be best for most commutes because their skinny tires create much less friction on the road, reducing the amount of effort you’ll have to put in during your commute. The only downside to skinny tires is that they can be more prone to punctures, and flats are harder to fix. 

For dirt and gravel roads… 

If your commute will take you down rural roads or poorly maintained streets, you might want to choose a mountain bike or gravel bike. Both can handle more varied terrain, and their tires tend to be simpler to change. It’s also often easier to find inexpensive, second-hand mountain bikes than it is to find used road or gravel bikes. 

For big hills or hot weather… 

If you want to bike to work but don’t want to show up to that all-hands meeting drenched in sweat, consider commuting by e-bike. You can still pedal as much as you want, but a pedal-assist electric motor can provide the added oomph to power up hills when needed.

2. Learn the lingo. 

Before you start biking alongside cars, make sure you know your hand signals: A left arm straight out means turning left, while a left arm bent at the elbow in an “L” means turning right. Of course, if you want drivers to heed your hand signals, they need to notice you in the first place: Always bike wearing bright-colored clothing and equip your bike with lights (see below).

3. Map your route.

One of the easiest ways to map out a bike route is to enter your location and destination into Google Maps, then click the bike icon at the top of the page to show cycling directions. This feature usually does a good job of linking together bike paths, greenways, and bike-friendly roads to suggest a relatively safe, direct route. Similar tools like Bikemap.net and RidewithGPS.com—which has a companion app that speaks turn-by-turn directions as you ride—are also great options.  

Once you have a route, try it out on the weekend to see how long it will take and build confidence ahead of your first workday commute. 

 man carries his bike on a work commute

4. Get the gear.

You can bike to work wearing just about anything, but there are a few key pieces of gear that can radically increase your comfort. Yes, you’ll eat some upfront cost to get properly equipped, but a comfortable ride is critical to making a bike commute feel sustainable (i.e., spending a little now can save you a ton in gas and car maintenance later). 

Bike shorts 

If your commute is only a couple miles, you may be able to bike in jeans or slacks without issue. But if you’re going to be in the saddle for more than 20 minutes, bike shorts can make a huge difference in your comfort. Insulated cycling leggings can also be a great option for cold-weather commutes. 


When temperatures drop, your hands are the first to get cold. Invest in wind-resistant or waterproof gloves for cool or damp days. Fingerless bike gloves can also be nice for longer rides—they feature padding in the palms to help prevent hand fatigue. 

Wind or rain shell

If it’s wet or windy, going downhill on a bike can generate some major chill. Shell up to stay warm and keep your power blouse dry. 

Bike rack or panniers 

One of the best ways to avoid sweating through your work clothes is to upgrade from a backpack. Instead, carry your stuff in a basket, strapped to a rear rack, or in a set of panniers (bags that fasten to racks on either side of your wheels). 


Riding through puddles can send a rooster tail of water arcing up behind you—which looks cool until you see the muddy spray it’s left along the back of your blazer. Fenders (arch-shaped pieces of metal or plastic that fit over your wheels) can keep the spray contained, and spare you a trip to the dry cleaner. 

Bike lock

Unless you’re parking your bike indoors on both ends of your commute, it’s smart to have a sturdy bike lock. Steel U locks tend to be the most secure, but there are plenty of locks to choose from depending on your needs.


A good helmet is a must, especially if you’ll be biking on roads. Choose a helmet that offers a good balance of weight and price, and make sure it fits well. 


Flashing LED lights make it way easier for cars to see you, especially at night. Pick a red light for the back and a white light for the front. If you’ll be parking your bike outside, get lights that are easy to remove to avoid risk of theft.


A simple bell can make all the difference when you need to make yourself known to others, especially biking on busy streets (or if your state legally requires you to have one). 

Repair kit 

Just as flat car tires can make you late for a meeting, so can flat bike tires. Always carry a repair kit with you just in case of emergencies (and know how to use it).

5. Own the road.  

Different cities have different biking infrastructure. Some roads have bike-only lanes, while other towns are interlaced with greenways and bike paths. If your city doesn’t have bike-friendly options, often the best thing to do is to ride in the middle of the lane where cars won’t be tempted to squeeze past you. This is legal in most states if the shoulder is narrow, gravely, or otherwise feels unsafe. Remember that bike laws vary in different regions of the country, so be sure to look up laws for your state before you ride.

6. Find a riding buddy. 

As the saying goes, there’s safety in numbers. Cars are more likely to notice you if you ride with a buddy. Having company also makes early mornings, cold weather, headwinds, and even flat tires way easier to manage. Either poll your office to look for interested commuters, or consider joining a local bike club to make friends and link up with other cyclists. Try searching your zip code on the American Cycling League’s website or use USA Cycling’s Find a Club tool to find local groups. Failing all else, pop in your local bike shop and ask about upcoming group rides.

7. Build a routine.

There are plenty of ways to build a habit, but when it comes to commuting by bike, it’s best to start small. If you live far from work, start out by biking your shorter errands—even just to the grocery store or a friends’ house—to start building fitness and confidence. Then, once or twice a week, do a half-commute: Ask a coworker to give you and your bike a lift on one leg of your journey. (Pro tip: Stash extra clothes and toiletries at the office so you have less stuff to lug back and forth.) Eventually, work up to doing the full commute. 

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.