Learning a good, safe route will be key to the quality of your commute. Although it’s legal to ride on nearly every roadway (except interstates or some restricted streets such as Marquette and 2nd Avenues in downtown Minneapolis), many bicyclists prefer riding on bikeways, trails or streets with lower speed limits or less traffic. Also consider scenery, lighting and stops along the way.
For a new bicycle commuter, joining the Commuter Challenge program is a good way to get started. Learn more about this free program and sign up at mycommuterchallenge.org.
Other resources for navigation include Cyclopath — an online route finder — and free bicycle maps for some metro-area counties, cities and even neighborhoods.
Develop a route to your liking by researching different ways of getting to your destination. Note the streets that bicycle commuters use and which might best meet your needs. Maybe one route is better on the way to your destination and another is better on the way home. To get comfortable with the timing and feel of the route (and to make sure that you are able to enjoyably ride it), practice on a weekend or during low-traffic periods.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation’s Share the Road campaign distills safety guidelines and much of Minnesota bicycle law and guidelines into eight simple points:
- Bicyclists may ride on all Minnesota roads, except where restricted.
- Bicyclists should ride on the road, and must ride in the same direction as traffic.
- Motorists must at all times maintain a three-foot clearance when passing a bicyclist.
- Bicyclists must obey all traffic control signs and signals, just as motorists.
- Motorists and bicyclists must yield the right-of-way to each other.
- Bicyclists should signal their turns and should ride in a predictable manner.
- Bicyclists must use headlight and rear reflectors when it is dark. To increase visibility, add a rear flashing light.
- Bicyclists should always wear helmets.
> sharetheroadmn.org is a great resource for more in-depth information on these points and a summary of all Minnesota bicycle laws.
Whether you are buying a new bicycle, resurrecting an old one or having one modified for commuting, talk with the staff at local bike shops and ask lots of questions. The right sizing and fit are very important — many styles of bicycles are available, and not all are designed for the types of riding you’re interested in.
Many advanced bicyclists have very specialized gear. You may find that some of this equipment is handy for you too, but you really don’t need all of it to get started commuting. Here are some basic considerations:
Although helmets are not required by law, wearing one can be the difference between life and death or serious injury in a crash. Rear reflectors (or lights) are required by law and are especially necessary for nighttime or poor weather riding. Light-colored, bright or reflective clothing makes you more visible to motorists. A mirror can also improve your traffic awareness. Use special caution riding at dusk – this is the most dangerous time for bicyclists. Always carry personal identification.
You’ll want a good lock (or locks) to protect your bicycle. Even if you can store your bicycle indoors or in a garage, it's still a good idea to lock it to something.
Lockers are available for rent through Metro Transit, the City of Minneapolis, the University of Minnesota and some employers as well. Find locations here.
Shoes and clothing can make a big difference in how your ride feels. Dressing for the weather and in removable layers allows you to adapt to conditions throughout the day. Fenders keep roadway water and grime from spraying you.
There are many ways to bring things with you. A backpack works, but can be uncomfortable on longer rides. Racks and bags (such as messenger bags or panniers) can be used to carry loads more comfortably. Bottles and cages are helpful for carrying liquids.
Carry change for a phone call or transit fare. Bring a cell phone. Join the Guaranteed Ride Home program. Learning how to fix a flat tire and carrying a spare tube and patch kit can get you moving again quickly – many local bike shops provide sessions that teach this simple skill. There are also many step-by-step resources online or ask another bicycle rider for a demo.