From A to B: A Commuter’s Manifesto

From A to B: A Commuter’s Manifesto

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With the spring racing season upon us, there is a lot of talk about the pros– what it means to be pro, how to look pro, and so on.  There are two things that distinguish the professional cyclist.  The first is talent, which is a mysterious thing and best left for another discussion.  The second thing is that the pros ride every day.  This is so simple that we forget its importance.  We also forget that it is ours for the taking.

To be a commuter is also to ride every day. To do something every day is to experience it from all sides.  Rules are broken, rides are fast, rides are slow, the bike is filthy– and we keeping riding.  We ride to get somewhere, and then we ride to get back. We ride without a computer, without matching kit, without a training goal.  We ride because it is simply a way to get from A to B.  There is no glorious finish line and no support team, yet we share something with the cycling elite: every morning, we wake up, look outside, shrug at the weather, and get on the bike.  The gesture is small but when accumulated over years it becomes sublime.

For those who are toying with the idea of commuting, some simple advice: go all in and do it for a full two weeks.  At first, it will seem complicated and annoying.  The logistics of your work clothes and your bike gear outweigh the enjoyment of the ride.  You will think about how much simpler your weekend training rides are without all this stuff to cart around.  You will find reasons not to ride – just for today, you will tell yourself.  Doing it everyday, however, will breed efficiency, and after two weeks your routine (and the amount of gear) will become streamlined.  With a set of habits in place (my wallet goes here, I leave me shoes under my desk, etc), things will seem easier.  With enough time, the details of your commute will fade to the background and you will enjoy the ride itself.

Then your bike will not just be your tool to get from A to B, it will be your freedom…just like the weekends, except every day.

// Accessories and Gear // Look Pro

  1. Marcus:
    yes, I think the logic “If I lived further from work i would ride more” can be quite easily solved by lengthening the journey…
    Think Jim missed mentioning a few of the Rules that many commuters (non-velominati I hope) seem to follow religiously:
    1. Every other commuter must be passed as soon as possible. Extra points for choosing a time to overtake that puts you and/or them in danger.
    2. Never, ever let yourself be slowed down by a rider ahead of you. This especially applies if your ride takes you on a dedicated bike path that sees bikes going both ways in close proximity. A nice extension of Rule No. 1 is to move into the other lane to overtake at just the right time so riders heading in the opposite direction have to slow down.
    3. If riding on a path also used by walkers and dogs make sure you speed up whenever they are nearby. They always act predictably so higher speed is better.
    4. Every day is a new edition of the Commuter World Championships. Only you know the start and finish point of this race but everyone else is your competitor. Beat them all.
    5. When on the road, act unpredictably. It keeps car drivers guessing. Make sure you ride in such a way that slows them down and if in doubt, break traffic rules so you get ahead of them. Cars are also Commuter World Championships competitors..

    SHEER FUCKING GENIUS. There is a strip of road downtown Seattle that I call the Commuter Dragway. All these dingfoozles sit there at this one light, in their sit-up-and-beg positions and their YJA’s and wait for the ding of the green light. Then it’s off to the races, and they drag race eachother down to the next light. Absolutely nothing Casually Deliberate about it.

    That said, they’re out on their bikes, in the rain and cold, doing something I’m not. Good on them, the wankers.

  2. @Cyclops
    I’m with everyone else here, mate – just add some K’s to the route! I’m struggling with the opposite problem, but like I said, I have to get off my ass.

  3. Lots of great comments.

    I’ve been cyclo commuting for around nine years now and I’m at the point where getting in a car, dealing with lights and traffic, and wacko drives chugging coffee is far more of a nightmare than the idea of heading out in rain or ice or snow.

    I hope I never, ever have to drive to work. I don’t know if this will be possible, but I’ve been able to pull it off for awhile now. Fingers crossed, hope my luck continues. I can’t think of a worse way, for me personally, to start the day than to jump in a car and deal with road-raging cagers.

    It’s been said, but for anyone considering it, just go for it! I normally have to work on my non-cyclist friends to commute, since they don’t like the idea of riding in traffic. But, if you are already a roadie you have to be used to “sharing” the roads with cars. Plus, you can definitely justify a new bike – rain bike, snow bike, ice bike, cyclocross.

    @ Collin – woah, year ’round in MI on bike #1? I might shed a tear putting my top machine through that. Six crashes. Glad you lived to tell about them. Going down on ice and snow is just a given if you commute all year. But, you almost become good at crashing, knowing how to protect your face and teeth and use your hips, arse and side to take the worst of it. I can mentally call up the feeling you get when you are riding along, suddenly realize you are on black ice and say a little prayer and just hope you can keep it up, or not go down so hard.

  4. @Ron
    Yeah, it was pretty heart-wrenching at times. The guys at the LBS thought I was nuts, but what should I have done, drive? Terrible idea that. The ice/snow crashes typically aren’t too bad as you tend to hit and slide. I managed to survive the winter with only one bent deraileur hanger and destroying all the bearings in my rear wheel (but the replaced ones are soooo smooth, I’ll take it). Now with bike #2, it’s an all steel and aluminum cross bike, so I can throw proper tires on it next winter, and crash away.

  5. Found this a couple of months ago.
    So commuting by bicycle decreases employee absentee-ism, which improves worker productivity and lowers sick-day costs, thus increasing corporate profits leading to gains in the stock market thereby augmenting CEO and Wall Street bonuses and take-home pay, which leads to increased individual political contributions to business-friendly anti-regulation conservatives, who decimate worker protection legislation and defund OSHA, causing degradation of the workplace environment, declines in workplace morale, increased on-the-job accidents, and sky-rocketing absenteeism, which results in….

    I think Cyclops got it right.

  6. Brilliant – and true – post! Thanks!

  7. Ok then, if there were a list of things that MUST happen in order to start a commute regimen (equipment? weather? shower? clothing? etc?) what would it consist of? I actually want to talk about this on a podcast this week. As one who has to ‘dress’ for work, I find the hassle of clothing alone holds me back. HELP!

  8. Wish I could bike to work again. I used to ride the 15km each way every day. Then I took a new job where I work at home, and I can’t commute any more. Now I do my best to get out and ride during lunch, but too often work gets in the way. Not today though. I’m putting the bibs on right…now…

  9. A change or two of clothes at work plus shoes (carrying in every day is a pain in the ass).
    Moist towelettes. (showers are rare and unnecessary in my book unless you are absolutely feline in your bathing needs)
    Deodorant if one tends towards fragrancy.
    A restroom stall to apply all the above.
    Any carrying device (backpack, pannier) that doesn’t scream bike messanger wannabe. (leave that to the professionals)
    A safe (preferably inside) place to lock/store the bike.
    Show your employer the article I linked to above to pacify management.

  10. The direct route to my office results in 12 miles of urban hell – unfriendly drivers, crappy roads. In the first two weeks of commuting, I think I had 5 close calls with cars. I refuse to give in – so I adopted an alternate route. The new route initially takes me in the opposite direction from the office, but puts me on a combination of untravelled rural roads, parkways, and some bike path. The new route is 35 miles each way. Now, for reasons other than the danger, I hate those occasions where I have to take shorter route. That time to & from the office has become precious to me.

  11. Great post and comments. My commute set up:

    I shower when I wake up as usual – then get suited up. My ride is far enough to warrant the full kit. Saves time, showing at work (facilities are available) would be a hassle for me. I rarely arrive at work completely sweated out. Seattle tends to have cool mornings, even during the summer.

    I keep a few pair of pants and shoes at work. Occasionally will leave a few shirts also. Spare underwear as well. Going commando a few times will remind you to keep some spares around. I carry everything else in a Timbuk2 messenger bag: Shirt for the day, underwear, rain jacket, lunch, cell phone, wallet (etc), spare tubes, patch kit, mini pump and a few tools.

    Work supplies a secure bike room. I usually change right in my cubicle – look around, coast is clear – boom, done in seconds. Coworkers think I’m nuts. Way faster then carrying clothes into the restroom or wherever. I’ve also used a nearby storage room at times. I’ve hit my building with 10 minutes to spare before a meeting, then sit down with my heart still racing. Call me loopy.

    Arriving at work completely soaked from pouring rain does throw a monkey wrench into the operation. I dry everything as much as possible with paper towels, turn off all screen savers on my PC and Macs (I work in IT), then hang my clothes over the monitors or machines. 8 hours later, dry and toasty. As mentioned, coworkers probably think I’m nuts.

    Nice weather, I ride my carbon Ibis. Rainy weather, old school steel Ibis ‘cross bike with fenders. Fenders are a must for commuting – trust me on that.

    I’m damn lucky, since 90% of my commute is on the Burke-Gillman Trail that runs into Seattle. It’s a killer sweet set up. Some days a I cruise and check out the lake views. Other days I run into fellow bike pals on the trail and we’ll chat the whole ride. Other rides turn into full on hammerhead drafting sessions with people you don’t even know. Huge fun. My commute is 17 miles each way. 34 round trip. With rush hour traffic, I can ride in about the same amount of time as driving. Sometimes it’s faster.

    The ride home is always sweet. Work is done and you’re on the bike – feeling a bit smug about it all. Do it.

  12. Jim is modest here. Their family is a one car family and the car stays with Jess. Jim rides every day all year long. Trench foot is more of an issue than frostbite in Seattle, and the roads are clogged with birkenstock/wool-sock wearing posers on fixies with 8 inch wide handlebars. It’s enough to test a man’s spirit.

    When we both lived in Massachusetts and we both would walk dogs before work he asked me if I was riding in that day. Not so much, it’s below my lower threshold (which was 25F), it was a clear cold-ass morning, maybe still in the high teens F. Oh, I’m riding in, he says, in his not so subtle, you are a pussy, way.

    I passed him on the way in, my passenger window rolled down so I could give him a nasty taunting. I was happy to not be riding. He reported later he had to lie on his office floor for ten minutes quietly moaning until his hands warmed up enough to get any of his overwear off. Heheheheee. Kid is tough.

  13. Have I stumbled onto the Bicycling forum?

  14. @Oli Brooke-White

    Can you help me find a new wheelset? I weigh 300 lbs, and am looking to only spend $300. Perhaps you can recommend some low-spoke count off-brand carbon clinchers from China?

  15. @Oli Brooke-White
    hear hear

    The only bike setup worth mentioning today is Cadel’s TT position – his bars are now BELOW his top tube. Great win in Tirreno-Adriatico… could his “less is more” approach this year bear fruit in July and/or September?

  16. Rule #9 is much cooler commuting than it is on the road bike. Sorry, but it’s true. Once you’ve got your routine down””as Jim noted””then showing up to work wet is as easy as coming home wet.

    I live less than 3km from work. That was largely intentional; family of five and we’re still a one-car family (and the car doesn’t get a lot of kms put on it at the best of times). Quick and convenient to get to work (most of it along a rail trail), but options to expand the distance.

    The lone addition I’d make is to make sure you have the right equipment. Good shoes, rain gear, gloves, etc. And, for the love of all that is Merckxy, obey the rules””even if in this case they’re municipal traffic laws. Nothing bugs me more than commuters who think they’re a law unto themselves.

  17. Steampunk : And, for the love of all that is Merckxy, obey the rules””even if in this case they’re municipal traffic laws. Nothing bugs me more than commuters who think they’re a law unto themselves.

    Hear, hear. You wonder what makes many drivers dislike cyclists? It’s (some) cyclists. Some cyclists are all cyclists’ worst enemies. It ain’t difficult to be courteous and considerate on the road – like indicating when you’re gong to turn or change lanes. It ain’t difficult to not do dumb, annoying things – like overtake on the wrong side, go to the front of the queue at the lights then take off slowly, etc. It ain’t difficult, in fact, to wave or nod the occasional “thank you” to drivers who give way to you – even when they are required by law to do so. It ain’t difficult, in other words, to take some modest steps to encourage drivers to think “Hey, maybe cyclists aren’t so bad after all”. And all this is worthwhile because it also ain’t difficult to lose badly in a confrontation with two tons of fast-moving steel piloted by a hostile.

  18. @Marcus
    Congrats to good cadel.
    You may be on to something there. While I can only go off the pictures, he’s certainly looking more focused and determined, rather than the serious but disheartened that’s his usual display. There was even a hint of a smile/satisfaction with himself. Different ‘tude, better, nay full potential realised (?) rider this season? I’ll contemplate further after the Tour of Catalonia

  19. ^^^^ Good Cadel might finally be seeing the benefit of some better teamwork?

  20. @Jamin
    i think he is, they seemed more of a presence at the front of the peloton for the T-A, i hope he is in the form for july, i like the way he rides and as i’ve said before, i’d always prefer a competition between more than two individuals as is gives better racing

  21. @ Oli & mcsqueak – ah ha ha, the Bicycling forum.

    Don’t know if it is just me or not, but the more time I spend here, the less I spend on any sort of cycling forum. The Rules are all here…

  22. mcsqueak:
    @Oli Brooke-White
    Can you help me find a new wheelset? I weigh 300 lbs, and am looking to only spend $300.


    or I need a heart rate monitor with a GPS and blood sugar tester that weighs less than 20 gm.

  23. @Ron

    When I first started cycling I really found the various forums online pretty useful for learning a lot of good information, but eventually you just see the same questions posted over and over and over…

  24. Thankfully someone has put into words what I’ve always felt about commuting. Thanks to Steampunk too for mentioning #9. In winter just making the commute sometimes seems like achievement enough. For many time poor parent types the commute can make up the bulk of riding time in any week. I do wonder though, what happens that makes a once perfectly normal person start rocking panniers and high vis?

  25. This was a great post. I live in the snowy north (Winnipeg,Manitoba) and commute year round. It is finally starting to melt around here and this post was pretty inspiring. Cyclocross bike is the way to go for anyone who is considering tackling the daily ride to work. I am a father of 2, one car family as well and the 30 km or so that I put in every day going back and forth to work really helps get those rides in. One other thing, if you can swing it and you live somewhere messy (rain and snow) singlespeed is the way to go. There is so much junk on the roads here that gears for the commute makes no sense.

  26. All this commuting talk made me remember a favorite story of my uncle…

    My uncle was working as a chef in SoCal and rode his bike to/from the restaurant. He was rather wild at the time and didn’t think much for…well anything really. Anyhow, he would occasionally take raw steaks, shove them in his socks, ride home, and cook them for dinner. His roommate at the time, who told me the story, always declined those meals…

  27. !

  28. mcsqueak:
    When I first started cycling I really found the various forums online pretty useful for learning a lot of good information, but eventually you just see the same questions posted over and over and over…

    Exactly! Yep, when I started out I read a variety of forums all the time. I definitely learned a great deal & and I’ll still consult them when I’m doing some mechanical work I’m not that comfortable with or maybe to check some product feedback. They helped me a great deal, but yes, now I find them to be repetitive. I’d rather be out pedaling than reading.

    And on top of that, they can be a bit annoying. You have the surly mechanic who doesn’t feel he gets paid enough picking fights with people, others who should just be riding far too worried about gear, and all sorts of other nonsense. Don’t frequent any of them much these days. Plus, more time to banter on here!

  29. You have the surly mechanic who doesn’t feel he gets paid enough picking fights with people

    Hey, I resemble that remark!

  30. Cyclops:
    My problem is that it only takes me about ten minutes to get to work by bike so it ain’t really worth it unless I’m riding after work.

    that is flawed logic fella.

  31. others who should just be riding far too worried about gear

    Ahem. I occassionally subscribe to the school of thought that there’s no such thing. The rest of the time I may admit that you could, under certain conditions have a point.

  32. This is a great post. I’ve been commuting for the last month-plus and have been loving it. The wet weather is coming in, and I just got a pair of quick-release fenders for my bike, which helps keep me drier.

    @Dan O‘s response is very well written. I’ve gotten into that groove as well, and have really been enjoying the ride. We have showers here at my work, so I just shower after I get in. My coworkers think I’m nuts for riding in the bad weather, but my ride’s only 10km and takes me usually about 18-20 minutes, so meh.

    The added benefit to commuting – as others have posted – is that it gets me out on the bike. The miles really add up, so I’m happy ’bout it.

  33. @Gianni
    A second to Gianni’s respect for Jim and his commute commitment. It is impressive and runs deep. And it’s obnoxious, you punk.

    Long ago, Jim, being Jim, convinced me that I was a huge agina (lacking the V, pardon the anatomical pejorative) for complaining about wet weather while visiting Seattle. As a result, when I moved to Montana I committed to year-round commuting as a way to flash the proverbial garden hose. Suffice it to say that my winter commuting kit now includes a full arctic puffy jacket and a ski helmet. Having stayed rubber side down for over 10 years, I’ve now gone down twice this winter, and on returning home one a particularly chilly evening last month I happened check the thermometer outside my house and found it reading -19 F. Merckx is it cold here. Still, so far so good. Now if I could just figure out how to keep the beer from freezing up in the nozzle of the bidon on the way home…

  34. Joshua:
    Now if I could just figure out how to keep the beer from freezing up in the nozzle of the bidon on the way home…

    Time to step it up to hot sake (日本酒 test to see if this site supports more than just umlauts) in the bidon.

  35. Ha, ok so this site doesn’t handle non-english characters very well… it just wiped out half of that post.

    At any rate, “time to step it up with hot sake in the bidon”.

  36. @mcsqueak
    What? Once I took out the “<-” (which makes any HTML page think you’re entering half an opening comment or some fucked up tag), it handled the Asian charade just fine.

  37. Frank, yeah I didn’t even think about it interpreting the symbol as an opening tag, despite all the posts using HTML.

    Plus it’s fun to make you clean up my sloppy posts. You’re like my commenting domestique.

  38. @Cyclops
    then remove your seat.

  39. Sorry to bring up and old post but I need some velominati commuters advice on a wheel set upgrade. As my commuter is also my bad weather training bike I’m stuck on whether to go for the some 20mm depth 24 spoke count clinchers or to go for the more classic 36 spoke 20mm depth rims?

    I can see a case for both being acceptable, the low spoke count wheels just look cool, but there is a lot to be said for the classic look of the high spoke count. My commuters an alu frame road bike I don’t use a rack but it does have guards on it.

    Even typing this out I’m starting to convince myself on the high spoke count I guess I’m just after a more experience follower of the rules to confirm they would be correct?


  40. Started commuting to university on bike, after a week it seems like my bag just need to carry my two locks and maybe a clean shirt if its very hot and i really hammer it. Other than that everything is perfect, wear my bib under my normal jeans or shorts so,normal shoes are in the local we have for our program and when i arrive i can leave my helmet and my cycling shoes there. Only problem right now is that i am looking for a rain jacket with a jersey like fit and unless i get me a long sleeve jersey that is not 100% waterproof no other product seem to fit the requirement of the thight fit. Any advice ?

  41. @westy

    then remove your seat.

    Had a terminal saddle moment couple of days ago, seat post bolt shattered and had to do 7 km without a saddle. On the the plus side I now know I can do 7k out of the saddle…

  42. @mark

    Forgot the down side, still haven’t found a replacement bolt and the replacement post I had to buy to get me home sucks cause I cannot get the ride position I had before. Suggestions for a decent 27mm post gratefully accepted

  43. @mark


    Forgot the down side, still haven’t found a replacement bolt and the replacement post I had to buy to get me home sucks cause I cannot get the ride position I had before. Suggestions for a decent 27mm post gratefully accepted

    ZIPP Service Course SL (27.2) 275mm or 350mm with/without 20mm setback. There’s a bargain out there somewhere.

  44. @mark
    I’m pretty sure Thomson do a 27mm post – light and very strong.

  45. @Oli

    I’m pretty sure Thomson do a 27mm post – light and very strong.

    Thomson Elite begat 3T Palladio (returned) begat fi'zi:k Cyrano begat Zipp Service Course SL begat Zipp Service Course SL Beyond Black

  46. @mark
    Remember Control-Tech? They’ve been forgotten (by me).

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