Bike Commuting Basics: Join the Crowd, Know Your Stuff

sd_urban_2011-327Corvallis is a small city with plenty of bicycle commuters. Communities across America have seen an increase in bicycle commuters, so much so that the number of people biking to work has increased 60 percent over the last decade, according to a 2014 U.S. Census Bureau report. In figures, that means commuter numbers have gone up from less than 500,000 in 2000 to nearly 800,000 by 2012—and those numbers continue to grow.

There are benefits for your mental and physical health that come along with biking to work—or to yoga, happy hour, etc. Along with paying significantly less for maintenance and not having to worry about filling up your gas tank, commuting by bike can also help you miss morning traffic jams and allows you to see and experience your surroundings in a whole new way. Plus, riding a bike is a great way to add more physical activity into your daily routine.

Local bike mechanic and bicycle enthusiast Trevor Heald agrees that the benefits of commuting by bike are many, like reducing the parking and traffic load in the city and fresher air for all of us to breathe, to name a few more.

You’ve Got to Maintain
Heald also knows a thing or two when it comes to the basics of bicycle maintenance, safety, and figuring out that you may not actually want to purchase that squishy sofa cushion of a saddle.

“The two most important points of regular maintenance on a bicycle are tire pressure and chain lubrication,” he said. “If you ride most every day, plan on lubing your chain every couple of weeks and more often if you ride in the rain.”

For step-by-step instructions on how to properly lube your bicycle chain, you can find plenty of helpful information online, like YouTube tutorials. Asking your local bike mechanic is another solution, and a great way to “keep it local.”

Heald added that the recommended tire pressure for your tires is usually listed on the side of the tire itself. As a rough guideline for how often to inflate your tires, he recommends once a week for skinny road bike tires and once every three weeks for fat mountain bike tires.

“Learn how your tires feel to a firm squeeze when inflated to proper pressure and give them the squeeze check often,” he said.

Heald added that all bike maintenance is “theoretically within the reach of most bike owners.”

“The [Corvallis] Bicycle Collective and the library’s bicycle repair section are both great resources in that venture. For many people, it is worthwhile to take their bikes to one of the four bike shops in town. They’re all quite good. Shop around until you find one that suits you,” Heald said. “A good relationship with a bike shop is worth cultivating for many reasons. Bike shops are more than businesses; they are great resources to the cycling community. For example, most of the information I am furnishing here comes from my experience working at Cyclotopia.”

Have Your ‘Kit’ Ready
A few helpful tools come along with general maintenance and upkeep. Get ready to make a few new purchases once you decide to become a bicycle commuter. Buy yourself a small pouch that can fit behind or under the post of your saddle, or fit hidden away in your backpack or panniers (those bags that conveniently attach to a bike rack and make carrying your possessions easy… plus, less back sweat!).

In order of importance, Heald recommends purchasing a lock, fenders, lights, a “fix-a-flat” kit (including an axle nut wrench, a portable pump that clips to your bike, a tire lever, a patch kit, and a spare tube), a cargo rack, and a bell.

“It sounds like a lot, but indeed I fit all that stuff on my bike. I would be hard-pressed to give up any of these items on my commuter,” he said.

If you’re trying to save money, buy tools as you need them and look for used and sale items on Craigslist or at one of the local shops downtown. The Corvallis Bicycle Collective also has tools for people to use during shop hours, if you’re interested in learning more about bicycle maintenance or looking to do more of your own repairs but don’t own your own collection of gadgets.

Choose a Winner
If you’re going to be riding a bicycle around the city, or on longer commutes, you want to choose something that is right for you.

Heald recommends test riding as many bikes as it takes to find the one you like best. Don’t be afraid to take the bike for a decent test ride, either.

“I recommend taking each bike out for maybe 10 minutes, then when you’ve narrowed your choices down to just a few, take each of those for a longer 20- to 30-minute ride,” he said.

The horizontal dimension of a bike is more critical than the vertical height when it comes to getting a proper fit, according to Heald.

“But make sure you can stand over the top tube of the frame, flat-footed, with a couple centimeters of clearance below your crotch,” he added.

Nerd Out for Bike Safety
Sometimes you need to stand out—or at least be noticeable in low light and rainy and foggy situations—once you transition to two-wheeled commuting. Get over how nerdy you’re going to look right now, and buy yourself a quality helmet, lights for the front and rear of your bicycle, and even a light for your helmet or backpack if you’re feeling extra cool. For those of you who are willing to commute in the rain and chillier temps, you already earn a few extra cool points. Why not pick yourself up some warm gloves, a lightweight hat, quality rain pants, and a sturdy waterproof jacket, too? You’re about to open your world up to a whole new range of neon and Day-Glo hues like you’ve never experienced before. And you may not be able to resist that funky 80s-patterned vest that’s bright enough to make your blind grandma squint—and we don’t blame you.

Rules of the Road
Sure, it seems simple enough—you just need to get on your bike and ride. But knowing basic rules of the road will keep you and the people around you safe. Just like you would do in a vehicle, keep your eyes on the road, stay in your lane, signal, and don’t get distracted by texting or talking on the phone.

“Safety is a state of mind. Free yourself from distractions and focus on your surroundings when you’re on the bike, particularly if you’re sharing the road with other vehicles. You are legally and morally obligated to ride as if you are handling a deadly weapon, no different from an automobile,” Heald said.

Again, this is where knowing the “rules of the road,” making yourself visible to other motorists and pedestrians, and wearing a helmet to protect your dome piece all come into play.

 Now, get out and ride. Yes, even if it’s raining. That’s what those sweet new rain pants are for.

Local Bike Shops Aplenty

If you’re trying to find your ideal two-wheeled steed, have questions, or need gear or repairs, check out these great local bike shops.

Bike N Hike
401 SW 3rd Street

Corvallis Bicycle Collective
33900 SE Roche Lane, Unit B

Corvallis Cyclery
344 SW 2nd Street

435 SW 2nd Street

Peak Sports Bicycle Shop
135 NW 2nd Street


Affordable Options

You can find tons of older and used bikes on Craigslist, and local bike shops carry demo models and used bikes, too. Also remember to keep an eye out for local bike swaps in the area. Look for old road or mountain bikes that fit your size, throw on a good set of fenders and a rack or two, and ride to work. Think old Raleigh three-speeds or Trek hybrid frames. As long as it has flat bars, thumb or grip shifters, and a pair of working brakes, you should be good to go.

If you’re looking for something new and shiny, there are plenty of commuter and hybrid bikes to choose from at your friendly local bike shops. Prices will obviously vary depending on the style, brand, and model of bicycle you want.

 Internet Options
For everything from Dutch-inspired step-thru to road and Mixte frames, check out brands like Public Bikes. There are many bike models, fun colors, and gears and gadgets to choose on websites like If you’re scanning the Internet for your next commuter bike, you can plan on spending anywhere from $200 to $2,000. It just depends on your budget and your bicycle of choice.

By Abbie Tumbleson