Commuting by Bike: our panel at the New Amsterdam Bike Show

This weekend, we had the pleasure of hosting the first panel at the first annual New Amsterdam Bike Show in Chelsea.

Adam Pollock, Jessica Cassity, Dmitry Gudkov. Not pictured: Lara Lebeiko.

Our guest panelists were seasoned NYC commuting veteran and affable cyclist Adam Pollock, Prevention Magazine Fitness editor and newly minted commuter Jessica Cassity, and NYC bike portrait photographer Dmitry Gudkov.

The panel topic was something dear to many cyclists hearts: Best practices for bike commuting in the Big Apple.

We started off with a few stories about how long we’ve been commuting in NYC, and some good and ridiculous stories of our experiences on the road. But then we got to thick of it – how to do it best, and why we ride at all.

Despite the challenge of navigating city streets and the occasional run-ins with grumpy pedestrians and others, many cyclists love commuting because it is “liberating,” as Jessica put it. Freedom from the subway, the chance to make the travel to work about health and fitness and fresh air.

“It’s way more fun than the subway,” Adam pointed out, “even if you get less chance to read.” Jessica nodded and added that the fitness and freedom of a commute in fresh air is more liberating than any podcast.

So, what were their tips? Some highlights:

  • Equipment: Wear a helmet, and always have a lock, bell, and front and rear lights. Using a bell is dinky, but much more pleasant – and registers easier – than yelling.
  • Gear: Carry a spare tube and inflation tools (or at least cab or subway fare!) in case you encounter a flat tire. (Extra tip: Consider taking a repair class so you feel comfortable changing a tire; flat-resistant tires such as kevlar-enforced Armadillos or 4 Seasons are also helpful purchases.) Find a comfortable saddle!
  • Carrying Stuff: Whatever you carry, the lighter the load, the happier you’ll be. Messenger bags are cool but clunky. Front baskets or racks are cute and accessible. Panniers can carry more and are versatile without effecting steering. You’ll need a rack to mount them.
  • Clothing: Check the weather! “If there is a 60% chance of rain, there is a 100% chance I’ve got my rain gear,” notes Dmitry. Stocking up on bike-friendly shoes and jackets is optional, but always be prepared for precipitation – for you, and waterproof bag for any stuff you bring with you. If there’s no shower when you get to work, many commuters use – yep – baby wipes.
  • Locking your bike: There’s no perfect solution, just smart attention to detail as a deterrent. First, be sure all removable parts are locked (helpful tip: locking skewers). And most importantly, lock your frame and wheels to a secure, immovable object. Avoid locking to scaffolding. Commute on a good but only decent bike; don’t grow too attached to your bike. A new lock is still less than the price of a monthly MetroCard.
  • Riding: Communicate with others on the road! Use your arms to point directions and intentions, so cars and riders know where you are going. Make it easy for yourself to be seen: Lights at night, gestures, smooth riding. The more others on the road know what you are doing, the better for you. If you feel unsafe, ease in and protect yourself by taking a full lane. Also, protect yourself from opening doors by riding 2 feet from parked or stopped cars.

With all these pointers about equipment and techniques, though, what really matters is enjoying the ride.

“Don’t sweat the equipment too much,” encouraged Dmitry. Just take it easy and try it out, whatever you have. He pointed to one of his favorite commuter photographs, a rider in Prospect West on a kid’s bike and carrying his work supplies: a broom.

Photo credit: Dmitry Gudkov photography

One final tool that all commuters find helpful: A good map. Download one from the NYC DOT or map your route at Ride the City.

We’ll post on this more through the summer. What do you think? Any questions – or suggestions – we missed?

Another thank you to our great panelists who offered helpful advice to folks looking to get out on their bikes in NYC.

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About bicyclehabitat

New York City's neighborhood bike store since 1978
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