by Rob Potts January 20, 2023

E-BIKE COMMUTE TIPS AND SAFETY TIPS (FOR WORK, RUNNING ERRANDS)

If you’ve clicked here, you're at least somewhat interested in using your bike as a form of transportation and not just recreation.  This isn't so much an article on how to do that as my checklist from my riding experiences and information I've found on the internet.  You can commute on any bike, but really, E-bikes combined with our trail system, have made commuting a reality for exponentially more of us than if we just all had regular bikes.  Before the advent of E-bikes, it just wan't practical for me personally, as I don't often just go to work and stay put.  An E-bike has given me the ability to commute to work on a regular basis, and get there more quickly.   

It's worth noting, we wouldn't be here if we didn't have this amazing trail system, that is continually expanding.   If we all only had the roads to ride our bikes on, and share them with cars, it would be a very small percentage of people willing to commute to work on a bike.   If you've seen pictures of people riding in the Netherlands, where about 98% of everyone rides a bike on a regular basis, this wasn't the case in the 60's - 70's.  Cars had taken over by that time and bike usage was decreasing substantially,  There was a resurgence of the bike in the 80's and for that, it was critical that cyclists had safe places to ride.  

Why commute on a bike?  If you're reading this, you've already thought of some reasons.   For me, there are several.   When I'm driving in my car, there are a number of distractions:  The radio, the cell phone that keeps me connected to the world all the time.    When I ride to and from work - I can't answer my phone!  Now theoretically I could mount it on my handlebar and maybe talk.   But I don't want to see or hear my phone while on my bike, so I put it in a pocket or bag.   It's hard to overstate the feeling of freedom that creates.  When people call and can't get me, I just apologize and say - sorry, I was on my bike.   We're way too attached to these devices and this forces me to take a break.  

The other reasons are that I don’t spend money driving my car that day; I’m more awake when I get to work; It’s a lot more fun, It’s a good time to think, pray, etc;   I don’t have to schedule in extra workout time, as I've built it into my day.  By the time I've gotten to work, with only a few miles on the trail, I've already greeted a number of people I wouldn't otherwise.   Plus, I see things on my bike I'd never see in my car.   When we go slower, we see things we'd not otherwise see.  A few miles of this, just puts me in a much better mood than when driving my car (this section is on my commute, just north of the NWA Mall).   

 

 

Cycling a short ride in the morning and another in the afternoon also boosts our metabolism more than one longer ride in the evening.  Plus, what If I have a long day at work, and when I get home I debate couch versus bike (which I've done many times with the couch winning). When I ride my bike to work, I don't have any choice but to ride it back.   

It's also great for the environment. With so much debate over gas and electric cars, I like to ask - why aren't we discussing bikes as a significant part of the solution?  The skeptic in me assumes it's because cars and energy are very big businesses, they've got the money and they're the one pushing the narrative.  The much much smaller bike industry doesn't have the voice of the others, though it's growing.   

In summary, I do it because commuting to work makes for a better version of me.  I'm happier and healthier physically, mentally, spiritually, and I'm contributing something back to society.   I like being outside, and between home, work and my car, I'm inside way too much.   This is an opportunity to work outside time into my day.  Frankly, the picture below is a big part of it.  Right now, only about 3 of my 9 mile commute is on the trails (will be like 7-8 by the end of 2023) and just a few minutes on this each day really changes my outlook when I start work. 

 

Before getting an E-bike, I only occasionally commuted on my bike.  The reasons were many:  I didn't want to get to work exhausted and all sweaty;  In a headwind, cycling can be tough - the E-bike eliminates that foe;  If I've had a rough day at work, I want to look forward to riding, so on an E-bike I can pedal just as hard as my regular bike, or take it easy.  But I definitely don't want biking to be something I don't look forward to;   Regular bikes make mid day lunch or other errands difficult;  And mainly, I can get there a lot faster on my E-bike.   I routinely average 18-19 MPH on the streets on my E-bike, compared to 14-15 on a regular bike on my route.  When I get to hills, the difference is even more pronounced.

That being the case, commuting to work on an E-bike (or any bike) presents some challenges and limitations that we don't have when we drive a car.  So it's important to go over them.  

Here is my outline and tips for commuting.  There are surely some things I've missed, but I think I've got most of them.

GEAR

- Your Bicycle (and your abilities). How fast can you continually ride, is it an E-bike (if so, how fast);  I’ve got a 20 MPH E-bike. At times, I wish I had a 28 MPH to keep up on some of our roads.  That’s probably my next purchase as about 5 of my 9 mile commute is on the roads. At 28 MPH, I'm pretty close to the 30 - 35 MPH limit roads I ride on.  E-bikes give some benefits others don’t. You can accelerate, climb hills and get closer to the speed of traffic with an e-bike

Not All Bikes are equal. There’s a couple of areas I commute on where I could not get there as safely as I’d like on a paved trail bike.   So I have ridden through a number of fields along the side of the road to get safely where I’m going.

Rear Hub E-bikes.  One advantage rear hub drive e-bikes have is the ones that also have a throttle only drive. My bike is pedal assist only.  While that’s fine for getting to and from work, sometimes I will run to lunch or a nearby meeting.  I’ll often take a throttle bike so I don’t have to pedal at all.

- What are you carrying?  You can carry on a backpack and/or rack on your bike. Either will affect your balance somewhat. You don’t want a bag that will shift the weight;  A rack will affect the balance of your bike as you’re getting on and off.

There are many options for racks, bags, etc. Topeak is one brand that makes a great lineup.  Not all bikes have enough braze ons (places to bolt racks) for adding racks.  I carry both a backpack and have a Topeak Rack and bag to carry all my clothes and gear needed for the day.  I also have a smaller bag I can put on my handlebars, but really only need that on big trips. 

- Safety Gear: Helmet, bright clothes, lights, rain gear, gloves, sunglasses.

I ride with a bright yellow jacket, two bright red lights on the rear and two on the front of my bike. At all times one of the rear lights is flashing and the other solid.  Same on the front.  Someone has to be really not paying attention to miss me. Day or night, I am well lit up. 

Do not discount the importance of gloves. If you fall, they can save your hands a lot of road rash.

Bike Mirror or similar device.  I ride with a Garmin Varia Radar Device, which notifies me as cars approach from the back.  This is an amazing safety device.  But mirrors work great too. 

Sunglasses.  Even on a cloudy day, a bug can cause you problems.

- Bike Gear:  Bike lock, spare tube, flat fix kit, tire/tub patches, multi tool.  Can I use fix a flat like on a car? That would be a rare case it worked. A few things to know for flat prevention:

  • Not all tires are created equal. A more durable road tire will protect you much better than a cheap one;
  • Many tires/wheels can be set up tubeless, with tire sealant inside, in case of a puncture.  This seals most small holes when they occur.  I've had tubeless tires with sealant save me a few times; 
  • Sealant (Slime) can be placed inside tubes. Personally, most of the time I've seen slime in tubes, it didn't work well but did create a big mess to clean up;  
  • Take one of our maintenance classes and practice before you go. You do not want your first time changing a flat to be on your commute!  There are plenty of videos online as well.  

- Apparel: You can ride in biking clothes and change when you get there, or street clothes.  Either will work.  that being the case:

If you’re unsure of how much clothing you need for colder weather, dress in layers.  Padded bike shorts are you friend for longer rides.  I always wear a very bright jacket or jersey.  If you’re wearing riding gear, when packing your other gear – pretend you’re getting dressed! Forgetting your shoes, or shirt, etc. may have you partially dressed in cycling gear will give your coworkers a memorable experience.  So go through the same process packing your bag, that you would getting dressed.   I've made this mistake on several occasions.   Your coworkers will appreciate things like deodorant as well!

BEFORE YOUR FIRST RIDE:  Ride your route before you commute to work the first time. You’ll get a good idea of how long it will take you, without the pressure of getting to work on time.  You’ll also see things to avoid or make your commute better, and figure out how sweaty you’ll get / how much cleaning up is needed.  Are you wearing your work clothes or riding clothes and do they have shower/changing facilities.

PLANNING AND TAKING YOUR FIRST RIDE - TIPS

- Figure out how many areas can you ride roads or bike paths on;

- Not all streets are the same! Figure out if you’ve got shoulders, which streets are the most lightly traveled, are there any trails in your area;

- Finding The Bike Trails. All the cities here have maps for their respective city, on their websites. With Fayetteville arguably having the best online maps;

- Go to Google, type in Razorback Regional Greenway Arkansas, use the maps search instead of all.   Where it says “layers” at the bottom, click on that and choose bikes.  It’s a pretty comprehensive overview of all the bike trails.

- Avoid Riding on Sidewalks. These are often more dangerous than streets.  I will ride on sidewalks that have long, extended sections without a lot of driveway crossings. 

- Don’t get too close to parked cars! A sudden door opening will ruin your day

- In the Bike lanes on the sides of roads, watch out for debris! This is why a trial run is important.

- Always Alert pedestrians that you’re passing. A quiet bike going by at speeds will always surprise them.

- Right to the right, but not too far. Don’t get too close to the curbs.  Plus, cars can see you better if you’re not at the extreme right.  Plus, cars behind you are less of an issue than parked cars. 

- At Stoplights, don’t stay off to the right. Merge in with the cars so they see you.

- Hand signals are great.  I don’t assume everyone knows them – I point with my right hand to the right and left hand to the left, so it’s obvious.  I don't think everyone knows the left arm up, bent at a 90 degree angle means I'm turning to the right.

- Pay attention to where the sun is early morning and in the afternoon.  We’re often better seen in total dark with lights than we are at sunrise and sunset. So think through your route.  If you’re going to be riding home when the sun is hitting the eyes of the cars going the same direction as you, that’s when it’s important to design your route so you’re on those roads that put cars behind you, for an extended amount of time.

- In slow moving traffic, it’s much better to get right in the mix with cars, rather than hug the curb where they’re more likely to pass you;

- If you’re holding up multiple cars, it’s often better to pull over and let them pass, if there’s a safe place for you to pull over;

- Keep your hands near the brakes;

- Riding on Highways:  A lot of our highways have wide shoulders and road bikers will often ride these.  They’re good options if that’s all that’s available.  Personally, I don’t like them. Cars are moving too fast for me.  Fortunately, I don't have to use any highways to get to work. 

- Intersections with both a light/crosswalk and a stoplight – what to do?  I do both, depending on where I am at. Is one safer or better than the other?  I really don’t see much of a difference.  You’ll normally see more experienced road riders using the street lights and less using the crosswalks, but that’s not always the case.  For me, If I'm riding on the road in an area, I use the stoplights that cars use, and if I'm on the paved trail, I use the crosswalks.  The less a bike moves from trail to road and vice versa, the better.  From a damages standpoint if you’re hit, consider how it would look to a court. 

- When crossing intersections, wait a bit and be extra careful of any cars running lights. You may be right, but you’ll still lose.

- Motorists in front of us, turning right, often pose one of the biggest risks.

- Some will pass us to the left, then turn to the right and They underestimate how fast the bike is and will turn with too little notice. Ride defensively.

- Follow the rules and be polite! Go over and above to follow the rules of the road.  The more we do that, the more it will endear drivers to us. 

- Don’t ride with earphones.

- Paved trails can be hazardous too, just at slower speeds.  Really, just be aware of what’s going on around you. Kids, dogs, other riders pedestrians, Bigfoot, etc.  Just pay attention and assume people will walk out in front of you. Warn them when you’re passing.  Be aware of other riders down hills, around curves and going through tunnels. Our tunnels here are amazing.  Take it easy going into them!  Always assume someone will cross over into your lane. 

Where to Put Your Bike at Work/Destination:  I would never leave my bike outside at work all day, even with the best of locks:

- There is no lock that can’t be cut in half, with the right tools. But the thicker the better;

- If your cable is long enough to go through your frame and a wheel, then route it all the way through. Also, make sure you’ve actually locked it; 

- If you’re stopping for lunch, dinner, etc., lock your bike and keep it in sight;

Have a Backup Plan:  Most of us probably are not completely ditching the car for year round commuting, though it’s doable most of the time.  Of the hundreds of times I've commuted to work, I've not yet had an issue (knock on wood). 

- In addition to your flat fix kit, Bring a multi tool for minor repairs;

- Be prepared. If you happen to snap a chain or have a serious mechanical issue, you’re going to need to call someone to pick you up. 

- We do have some bus routes in our area, so be aware of those if they might work for you;

What About Commuting Part Way?    The day I finished this, I did that.  I drove to my first early morning destination, then rode to various meetings, saving me about 20 miles in my car.  One of my meetings was on the top of Mt. Sequoyah - no way I'm riding up those streets on my regular bike.  Many people will drive their car to a trailhead, park, commute to work on a paved trail and at the end of the day ride back to the trailhead.  

CARS ALWAYS WIN, EVEN IF THEY'RE IN THE WRONG.  SO PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR SURROUNDINGS ON THE STREETS. 

I get to go over this bridge twice a day when I commute.  The difference of riding across this, compared to driving my car, really improves my day.   Especially when I've had a stressful day (which has been most every day since Covid started). 

Here's a shot in the Netherlands.   Just another day there.   A lot of the debate over gas versus electric cars could be settled if we can pull this off.  Photo from DutchNews.NL

ADDITIONAL MAPS OF THE TRAILS - CLICK HERE

 

 

 



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