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Monday, April 01, 2019

Bike Commuting: A Better Way to Travel

High gas prices. Expensive car payments. Traffic delays. Road rage. Expanding waistlines. There are many great reasons to consider traveling to work by bicycle. It's an effective, healthy, inexpensive, and fun alternative that is attracting more and more commuters all over the world.

Today, there's a lot of information on bicycle commuting available on the Internet. When I first created this bike commuting tips site, there were very few sources of information on just how to do it. And the more you know, the more enjoyable bike commuting becomes.
Most of the people I know travel by means other than the bicycle. For the most part, they're still internal combusters. Automobile drivers. It's the norm, isn't it? In a society like ours--where more money is spent advertising automobiles than is spent on the entire national mass transit system, where everyone's background assumption equates travel with driving--it isn't easy to make the shift to bicycle commuting. I can attest to that. As detailed in this essay, I made many mistakes. I did it all wrong.

This article isn't intended as the comprehensive guide to commuting by bicycle. It's not a "program" intended to work for everyone, in every situation. It merely relates the hard lessons learned by one cyclist over many years of riding to work everyday. My hope is that prospective bike commuters will avoid my errors. If nothing else, my experience demonstrates that it can be done. The addiction to driving can be broken, the necessity of mass transit strap-hanging can be avoided. The following might, just might, encourage others to discover how bicycle commuting can enhance their lives.

Bike to Work Guide: Save Gas, Go Green, Get Fit, by Paul Dorn/Roni Sarig
6 Myths About Commuting By Bicycle, U.S. News & World Report
Urban Bikers' Tricks & Tips
How to Live Well Without Owning a Car
Divorce Your Car! Ending the Love Affair with the Automobile


"The automobile has not merely taken over the street, it has dissolved the living tissue of the city. Its appetite for space is absolutely insatiable; moving and parked, it devours urban land, leaving the buildings as mere islands of habitable space in a sea of dangerous and ugly traffic."--James Marston Fitch, New York Times, May 1, 1960

Comments? Suggestions? Contact || Updated 04.01.19

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Pedaling to 10K

On my bicycle ride home this evening, I'll clock 10,000 miles on my cyclocomputer. It will be dark, so I took this picture at lunchtime. I believe at that point, this Cateye model will click back to zero...if I recall correctly. Usually the battery fails, or the odometer gets stolen, or maybe it breaks. Something usually spoils the milestone.

Some folks rack up this mileage in a few months. I accumulate mine in slow 20-mile chunks every day. No grand ambition to my pedaling, not trying to set a "personal best" or "outpace the competition." Just trying to get home. Sun or rain, heat or cold, windy or calm, just traveling between job and residence. Pretty unexceptional.

Hard to say how many 10K mileage increments I've traveled over my time as a bike commuter. Harder still to say how many more miles lay ahead in my future. But today I'll celebrate this modest accomplishment.

And probably get a new cyclocomputer. It's about time.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Equipment suggestions for bicycle commuting

This July I was contacted by a writer for Outside Magazine, regarding bicycle commuting equipment recommendations. I sent several paragraphs of suggestions, based on my experience. The October 2011 issue is now out, and my comments appear with only one suggestion. So I thought I'd share the rest of my comments here. I offer more equipment suggestions on my website, and elsewhere on this blog.

Basically, I was asked what I would recommend, either brands or features that are especially helpful, in the following categories: Wheels, Drivetrain + Pedals, Handlebar + Grips, Brakes, Lights + Lock. Here are my responses.


In general, commuting bicyclists will want to acquire stronger, beefier wheels than those used by recreational bicyclists. We bicycle commuters are often contending with more varied and challenging pavement surfaces (potholes, debris, etc.), and we are generally more heavily loaded, with things like a laptop, work materials, books, lunch, change of clothing.

My general advice to any bicycle commuter is to get the strongest handbuilt wheelset they can afford, and for most a standard 36-spoke wheel will work very well. Many bicycles come off the showroom with machine-made spec wheels, which may not always be the most reliable over time. Likely great for light recreational riding on weekends, and over a few years, no problem. For everyday hard urban bicycle commuting, you really need great wheels.

My main commuting bike is a hybrid. After breaking many spokes on an inexpensive 32-spoke rear wheel, I recently replaced my rear wheel with a 40-spoke tandem wheel, with a Sun ME-14A rim and Shimano HF-07 hub. I purchased this wheel online from Rocky Mountain Cyclery.

Basically, the advantage to me: I'm a heavier rider (200+) and frequently carry fairly heavy loads during my commute (2-liter bottle of diet cola, books, papers, etc.) I typically break many spokes, had wheel come out of true (wobble) and other maladies. I needed a "bullet-proof" rear wheel, and this one has been really great.

Bicycle commuters should also consider beefy tires for similar reasons. Spend a little more for durability and puncture resistance. It's worth the investment. I use Specialized Crossroads Armadillo tires on my everyday commuter. I also prefer the fattest and widest tire size allowed by my frame clearances. The minimal sacrifice in rolling efficiency is well compensated by the comfort.

Basically, regarding bicycle equipment, my advice is always the same: good durable frame, great durable wheels, strong puncture-proof tires. Get the most bike you can afford; in the end it will always pay off.

Drivetrain + Pedals

I pedal pretty casually in my dress shoes or sneakers; I tend to dress for the destination and not the trip. So my preferred pedal is a double-sided and sturdy BMX style, such as the Diamondback Sound pedal. Bicycle commuters who plan to go faster or want to wear clipless pedals may want to consider the flexibility of the Shimano PD-M324 pedals, which is double-sided with a clipless attachment on one side and a flat on the other. I have these on my touring bike, and they're great.

Handlebar + Grips

I don't really have any strong opinions on handlebars and grips. I prefer a more upright riding position, but all are generally fairly comparable.


I don't really have any strong opinions on brakes. Many commuters prefer disc brakes, but I've only used cantilevers and V-brakes.

Lights + Lock

The first consideration with a lock is to understand that EVERY lock can be defeated by a motivated thief. Learning good locking techniques (secure wheel and frame, remove lights, etc.) and accurately assessing the threats are critical to prevent the heartbreak of a stolen bike. I have used a number of different locks. My primary everyday lock for the high-theft college campus where I work is a Kryptonite Evolution u-lock, which I use to secure the frame. I keep my wheels secure with OnGuard locking skewers. Again, no lock is 100% secure. The key is to make your bike MORE secure than the other bicycles in the vicinity. My website has more suggestions on locks.

I've used a number of lights over the years, including the Light & Motion Stella 150. My favorite headlight right now is the NiteRider MiNewt 600 cordless, which is way bright, very lightweight, and is a smart cordless design. Use the brightest light you can afford. Not only will it illuminate your way, but you will get more respect from motorists. I've found the brighter the light, the more respect.

Image: luxomedia
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site

Monday, August 03, 2009

Cash for Clunkers: More auto-centric nonsense

Image of car in dumpster
From Yahoo News, 07.31.09:

House approves $2B more for 'cash for clunkers'
The House has voted to rush an additional $2 billion into the popular but financially strapped "cash for clunkers" car purchase program.

The bill was approved on a vote of 316-109. House members acted within hours of learning from Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood that the program was running out of money.

Called the Car Allowance Rebate System, or CARS, the program is designed to help the economy and the environment by spurring new car sales. Car owners can receive federal subsidies of up to $4,500 for trading in their old cars for new ones that achieve significantly higher gas mileage. (Read more.)
The absolute insanity of this is just staggering.

Transit is starving, Amtrak is wheezing, bicyclists and pedestrians lack adequate facilities, yet the government happily tosses billions and billions of (borrowed) dollars at motorists. It's like a giant national Oprah show: "Everyone gets a new car!"

Easy credit for the masses has vanished. Catastrophic global climate change looms. Oil is running out. (We can debate whether we're at peak, beyond peak or nearing peak, but we don't call petroleum a "non-renewable resource" for nothing.) Simply put, the "happy motoring" era is finished, period. We need to get smarter about our transportation investments, if we are going to continue to have any kind of sustainable economy. This stupid revanchist "cash for clunkers" scheme does nothing to wean Americans off petro-dependency and debt overload. And don't get me started on the social justice inequity of all this (low-income transit riders facing cuts and fare hikes, while middle-class suburbanites buy new Ford Escape Hybrid SUVs.)

Worst of all, it appears the environmental advocacy community completely laid down for this. I even got a message from the Sierra Club: "Put Cash for Clunkers to Good Use."

Where's the environmental benefit? The 1,000 gallons or so of energy "embedded" in the prior manufacture of the existing clunker will be scrapped, so the new more fuel efficient consumer can save maybe 50 gallons a year? Huh?

Sustainable transportation advocates have long been frustrated by the failure of mainstream environmental organizations, obsessed with fantasies about clean energy or efficient vehicles. Transit has been on the chopping block everywhere, with negligible opposition from environmentalists.

If Congress wants to save jobs with some subsidy to the auto industry, we should demand concessions. Say a $1-a-gallon surcharge on gas dedicated to transit, walking, and bicycling in exchange for this freebie to motorists.

Bicycle advocates active with Sierra Club, National Resources Defense Council, League of Conservation Voters, and other enviro groups need to demand greater efforts for sustainable, not efficient transportation. Our economic future will be determined by how quickly we shift from a transportation system based on driving alone to one based on bicycling, walking, passenger rail, and public transit.

Image: Web capture.
Visit: Cash-for-Clunkers: An ‘Expensive’ Way to Reduce Emissions, Wall Street Journal
Visit: When It Comes to Being Green, Cash for Clunkers Is a Lemon, Washington Post
Visit: Separating Myth From Fact on "Cash for Clunkers", Streetsblog
Visit: "Cash for Clunkers" Program Yields Dubious Benefit, Public Citizen
Visit: Your tax dollars at work to sell more cars, Baltimore Spokes
Visit: CARS Program is actually a C.R.A.P. Program, Get Energy Smart Now
Visit: Sustaining the Unsustainable,
Visit: Warning: Oil Supplies Are Running Out Fast,
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Baby on Board: Pregnancy and bicycle commuting

Image of a pregnant cyclist in Copenhagen
The following was edited out of the manuscript of my book, The Bike to Work Guide: What You Need to Know to Save Gas, Go Green, Get Fit. The question of bicycle commuting while pregnant has come up occasionally from site readers. Comments and suggestions are welcome.

While pregnancy is undoubtedly a time when women need to pay close attention to their bodies and use some caution in their physical exertion, it’s a complete myth that pregnant women shouldn't exercise and continue healthy activities they enjoy. Safe exercise throughout pregnancy offers many benefits to both expectant mother and child, including increased blood flow, greater oxygen delivery, stress reduction, endorphins, improved mood. Maintaining physical fitness improves a woman's stamina during delivery and speeds postnatal recovery. If you can continue to work during your pregnancy, you can make your trip to work by bicycle.

Bicycle commuting can be a particularly healthy activity for expectant mothers, even up to the week before giving birth. Of all the exercises a pregnant woman might choose, cycling is among the best because of its smooth motion and it doesn’t require lifting, jumping, or sudden stops. The level of exertion can be varied, making it easy for a cyclist to lower the intensity of her riding as her pregnancy progresses. Possibly the only physical activity more suitable for pregnant women would have to be swimming.

Before embarking on any exercise during pregnancy, it’s important to consult with your obstetrician or midwife. Your caregiver should be completely involved in helping you design an exercise regimen that will be to your benefit. As long as your pregnancy progresses normally and you have no prior health concerns (such as a history of problems during pregnancy), a caregiver may encourage you to stay active with moderate exercise such as bicycle commuting.

The key to any exercise during pregnancy is not to overdo it. It’s fine to exercise as often as you normally would, but it’s best to keep the intensity level slightly lower than usual. For instance, while you may normally aim to keep your heart rate at between 70 and 80 percent of maximum while exercising, during pregnancy it’s best to keep it between 60 and 70 percent. Be sure to drink lots of fluids, take frequent breaks when pedaling, and avoid overheating.

Continue to be cautious when returning to biking after giving birth. While you’ll no longer be riding for two, you still need to keep your body well nourished, especially if you plan to breastfeed. Don’t be in too much of a rush to lose the extra weight you may have gained over the past months--it will come off steadily if you eat properly and continue cycling.

Your suggestions for happy bicycle commuting while pregnant?

Image: Web capture.
Visit: Can pregnant women safely ride bicycles, San Francisco Chronicle
Visit: Pedaling Pregnant, San Francisco Bicycle Coalition
Visit: Bicycling and Pregnancy, American Pregnancy Association
Visit: Biking with a bump: Should you ride while pregnant?,
Visit: Preggo Velo, Tot Cycle Family Cycling
Visit: Riding while pregnant,
Visit: Bicycle travel, with kids too!, Bike Commute Tips Blog
Visit: Bicycling Safety Considerations for Women
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Out of excuses: You—yes, you—can ride your bike to work

Image of MUNI bus in San Francisco with Bike to Work Day ad
From, 05.13.09:

Paul Dorn knows that getting Americans to ride a bike to work instead of driving a car is quite the uphill battle. Even on a good day, he says, only a tiny percentage of the nation’s commuters use pedal power to get to their jobs.

He remains undeterred.

Given that this is national Bike to Work Week, it’s an apt time to pick Dorn’s brain on the subject. Between co-authoring a book (The Bike to Work Guide: What You Need to Know to Save Gas, Go Green, Get Fit) his bike commuting advice Web site and his commuting tips blog, he is well-versed in the subject.

"I'm fairly typical of most Americans in the sense that the day I got my driver's license, the bike went into the garage. I didn't really touch it again until my mid-30s, when I was living in San Francisco, and didn’t have a car," he said. His frustrating mass transit commute took 90 minutes. So he hopped on a bike, cut the commuting time in half, felt healthier, stopped paying bus fare and just generally started having more fun.

Of course, starting out in San Francisco helped. It’s a generally bike-friendly city, and Dorn...found a supportive cycling community to tell him about equipment, routes to avoid traffic and other advice. (Read more.)
It's Bike to Work Day in many cities across the U.S., including the San Francisco Bay Area. (BTWD in Sacramento is May 21.) This extensive article offers insights--many of them mine--into bike selection, bicycling safety, and advocacy for complete streets.

Bike to Work Day has been an effective promotion, encouraging commuters to reconsider their default transportation mode. A major challenge facing many prospective bicycle commuters is what we might call (with a nod to James Howard Kunstler) the "Psychology of Previous Investment."

Motorists have made a huge investment--social, psychological, emotional, and financial--in their automobiles. "I love my car" or "My car makes me look hot!" They've made payments on car loans and auto insurance. They are afraid of diminished social status: "Jeff's not driving, I wonder if he lost his job?" The characters on their favorite TV dramas and sit-coms drive; their friends, family, neighbors, coworkers, everyone drives. Cars evoke nostaglic memories; our parents took us on car trips, not bicycle tours. There's also the perception that bike commuters are either eccentric geeks or low-income transients. It's not mature or grown up.

Our entire culture has been built around the automobile. While the rest of the world built transit and high-speed rail, we built freeways and parking lots. In much of our country, it is truly unpleasant to walk or bike to destinations, which in sprawling suburbs are often separated by long distances and dull numbing strip mall streetscapes. In short, our public policy for the past 60-70 years has discouraged walking, transit use, or bicycling.

It's a challenge to consider shifting to bicycling.

Bike to Work Day is effective at raising awareness, as individual commuters and as citizens in a culture long-dominated by the auto-petrol industrial complex. BTWD offers a "safe" day to try bicycling, makes us confront our transportation reality, and causes us to examine our real options. And a few of us will try bicycle commuting, and possibly continue with it. Happy Bike to Work Day.

Image: San Francisco Bike Coalition.
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Sacramento Bee profile of multimodal bike commuter

Image of bicyclist Paul Dorn boarding the Amtrak Capitol Corridor in Sacramento
From the Sacramento Bee, 04.30.09:

Commuter: A 'multi-modal' journey

In 1992, Paul Dorn sold his car, which wouldn't be such a big deal, except he never bought another one. Now he has written a book showing others how to get by with less car use or no car use at all.

"The Bike to Work Guide: What You Need to Know to Save Gas, Go Green, Get Fit" (Adams Media, $7.95, 218 pages) focuses on helping the 57 million cyclists in the United States "extend the fun they have bicycling on weekends to their daily commute."

"I didn't set out to become a bike commuting expert. I had a modest goal of creating a Web site, and that led me to have an ongoing conversation with bicyclists," said Dorn.

Dorn is not a bike rider fixated on speed. He equips his touring-style bike with a rear rack. He usually rides wearing loose-fitting hiking shorts instead of tight-fitting Lycra. "People should ride whatever they are comfortable in and whatever suits their style," he said.

Asked his position on helmets, which are not legally required for adults, Dorn says, "I'm not one of these helmet-enforcement types. I'm not a bicycling advocate who accentuates the danger. I accentuate the fun. Bicycling is safe. More people die in bathtubs every year than riding a bike."

"There are so many people who ride bikes for recreation. The real challenge is to encourage them to ride it during the week, too. A lot of people get started for various reasons – to lose weight or improve their health or save the planet. But they persist with bike commuting because it's fun." (Read more.)
An overwhelming article in today's Sacramento Bee, by bicyclist and journalist Blair Anthony Robertson, with an impressive video by Andy Alfaro.

I'm glad my comment about "the ongoing conversation with bicyclists" made it through the editing process. By means of this blog and my website, I've been privileged to have an extensive dialogue with bicyclists and would-be bicyclists from around the world. Everything I know about bicycle commuting is the product of the comments readers have sent to me or left on this blog, and I've learned a great deal from the bicyclists in San Francisco, Davis, and Sacramento.

Let's hope this article encourages a few more folks to consider bicycle commuting.

Image: Andy Alfaro, Sacramento Bee.
Visit: Biking Journalist: Interview with Blair Robertson, Bike Commute Tips Blog
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site