How do I bike?
August 8, 2019 4:41 PM   Subscribe

Bad News: My car has finally given up the ghost and gone to that big junkyard in the sky, and I can't afford a new(er) one at this time. Good News: I live just a little over two miles from work, so I'm going to get a bike and bike to work. People do that, right? Bad News: I haven't been on a bike since I was probably around 13. And I was never really that good at it. And I live in Phoenix, where it can be 115 degrees when I'm trying to bike. Please Help! Specific questions inside...

Okay, so I know basically nothing about bikes, so I need to know approximately everything. Here's some questions off the top of my head, but this is also an "I don't know what I don't know" situation, so any advice is greatly appreciated.

1. What kind of bike do I want? A commuter bike? I'm going to be commuting so that seems like it makes sense, but I don't know what that means as far as bikes go. A cruiser? They look comfortable.... I value comfort/ease over speed and the ride is all flat, FWIW.

2. Am I going to want to buy a different seat than what comes with the bike? Something padded and/or for women?

3. Helmets. Is there any way to keep my (long, curly) hair up off the back of my neck while wearing a helmet? Is there any way it can still look presentable at my destination? Should I just give in and cut it short (something that terrifies me because I have NO idea what the curls would do, but it would be SO much cooler....).

4. Clothes. What should I be wearing so I don't die of heat stroke biking around in Phoenix in the summer? Moisture wicking stuff? Leggings? A long sleeved white linen shirt?

5. Water/Storage. I'm thinking a hydration backpack is the way to go, but should I get a little one that mostly just holds the water and a few things and then get.... panniers? Saddlebags? A basket? A rear rack? Or should I get a larger hiking style hydration backpack that can hold more stuff? But then I'M carrying more stuff, so...

6. What don't I know to ask?

7. What should I expect to pay for all of this? My family can lend me a bit of money to help me get set up, which I need because this couldn't have happened at a worse time, financially, but I don't know how much to ask for. I saw some used bikes in the $200-300 range; is that a realistic amount for something decent? What about all that other stuff? What do I NEED and what can wait?

Thanks so much, MetaFilter!
posted by Weeping_angel to Travel & Transportation (39 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I recommend going to a local bike shop, or if that isn't possible in your neighborhood, REI. Tell them what you're looking for and your price range and then you can test ride bikes around their parking lots. If everything is out of your price range, at least you'll have tried out some bikes and hopefully have an idea of what you preferred riding and what size you need, then you can look on Craigslist!

I recommend a bike basket or paniers over a heavy backpack. But a hydration bladder pack sounds like a good idea if you don't want to be constantly grabbing your water bottle. I have a nice big wire basket on the back of my bike that can hold two bags of groceries. I also invested in a nice cruiser style padded seat to replace the super uncomfortable one that came with my hybrid style bike.

For clothes- if you're willing to change at work, bike shorts and a work out tank. And sunscreen, lots of sunscreen. Having never actually worn a helmet when living in AZ (I know, I know...), I can't give much advice on that.

I used to commute to work solely on my bike when I lived in Arizona. Granted, it was in Flagstaff, so my biggest obstacle was snow 😆. It might be a good idea to have a backup plan for triple digit days, like taking a bus or carpooling.
posted by mollywas at 4:50 PM on August 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

I ride a low-end cruiser and I think you'll want a budget of about $400, which might get you a basket, too, if there's a sale. You definitely want to go to a bike store, because a lot of choosing a bike is fit--how long are your arms compared to your torso, your legs, etc. You're just looking for a bike that feels like you're not stretching or straining when you're riding it.

I ride a Raleigh (this one) and it's got a big fat seat. If you wear skirts, make sure you get a step through; you might want one anyway. I got it with a rear rack and basket, and you'll want a good lock if you're leaving it at work. I think the idea of a water pack is great (good lord, 115 degrees!?!), but I don't like carrying my stuff in a backpack; it makes my back sweat and throws off my balance.

No clue about the helmet/hair problem, I'm sorry to say.
posted by gideonfrog at 4:55 PM on August 8, 2019

Make sure that your bike fits, and that you can stay hydrated.
posted by oceanjesse at 4:56 PM on August 8, 2019

In general, a two-mile one-way commute is not that bad when it comes to hydration, even in the desert southwest. Start off well-hydrated. Depending of course on your hours, your morning ride will be in the cooler part of the day, but the afternoon ride will be hot.

The more important point will be conditioning. It has to be developed. I would begin by riding in the cooler times of the day, a mile or two at a time, to build up. As with any other physical activity, keep it up to get better (and more relaxed) at it.
posted by megatherium at 4:57 PM on August 8, 2019 [5 favorites]

A bike shop would probably let you try on helmets and/or recommend one. The helmet sits more or less on the top of your head, so you should be able to have your hair in a low ponytail while wearing it. A new helmet is 100% worth it; don't get a second-hand helmet. Also you'll probably need a bike lock, unless you can stash your bike in your office or something when you get to work. If you'll be biking home after dark during the winter (unlikely at Phoenix latitude unless you get off work significantly after 5pm), you'll want a bike light as well (and maybe a red rear flasher). LED lights are great since they doesn't eat through batteries the way the old incandescent ones did.

Two miles on the flat should be a pretty easy ride, like ten minutes. As for sun, your forearms will be horizontal while riding and will absorb a lot more sun than they do when walking, so if you burn easily it would be wise to start out with some sunscreen.
posted by heatherlogan at 5:08 PM on August 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I bike, in Tempe, just over 2 miles to work most every day.

I have an upper biking temp limit of 110; during monsoon season that drops a bit. For me, Mr. Nat and I have one shared car and so if we have to go to work on days higher than 110, we drive together. (There really aren't that many, especially if you will bike in the morning and can wait to return until after 6 if you have to; the times of day when it's above 110 are mostly midday.)

The clothes to bike in really matter. I actually disagree with the bike shorts+workout tank; it is dry here (modulo monsoon season..), and very sunny. You can use the dryness to your advantage by getting the shirt you will ride in very wet before you start; it will dry about when you arrive at work, and you will stay cool from the evaporation.

Biking in Tempe/PHX and surrounds can be more or less comfortable depending on where you are in the metro area; some places, like where I am, even have separated bike lanes! (about 1/3 of my bike to work). Others have bike lanes that the stupid drivers are, well, stupid about. There's a bike map for Tempe that will tell you which streets have good lanes; probably exists for PHX too.

For biking, I wear:
1) regular work pants (they're cotton or cotton-poly blend). whatever you choose for pants, make sure they cover the inner thighs to avoid thigh rub (and are robust there if the rub is serious). I like long pants because then I don't need sunscreen on the legs.
2) sun-shielding loose long sleeve shirt (I got mine at REI ages ago), that you're comfortable getting wet. I put mine in the sink and get it sopping before I start. I have two so I can trade them off over the week; you're only wearing it for c. 30 minutes a day though so two is not necessary just nice.
3) helmet with the little shade thing in front on (helps tons with the brightness, outside is bright)
4) strong face sunscreen (this is nonnegotiable if you're going to be riding every day).
5) Bike-messenger style bag (mine is from Timbuk2; honestly if you want a messenger-style bag and don't care what it says memail me, we have a zillion of them from various conferences -- probably not perfect but they'll do in a pinch if you don't have to carry much); I try to keep what's on my back light less for weight issues (2 miles isn't so far) and more because the evaporative cooling technique only works if the shirt is actually exposed to air..
6) I wear buttondown style shirts over a camisole and just wear the camisole under the wet sunshirt; this way it's easy to change into the buttondown shirt when I get to work.

Other things to be sure of:
Make sure you have a good lock and generally don't leave the bike locked outside overnight if you aren't sure of the area. My colleague just had his bike stolen leaving it locked outside our building overnight last week.
If you have renters or homeowners insurance, there might be coverage for stolen bikes; find out *before* you need it (especially if this is your commuting vehicle!)
Have an alternate plan if it is stupidly hot (for me that's 110; maybe you can do hotter, or maybe you get a friend to drive you those few days, or get a taxi, or work remotely, etc) or, rarely, raining like the dickens (best method there is just to wait, but that can mean getting stuck at work for a few extra hours - if that's no-go for you, another plan is a good idea).
Make sure your bike tires are pumped up, it's hard to ride on soft tires. And you don't want to be working extra hard in the heat!
You'll want access to water while you bike; I don't actually find it that much of an issue most days, so I just keep a water bottle inside my messenger bag; but if you drink a lot while biking you might like to have a water bottle that attaches to the frame of your bike where you can easily reach it.

As for monsoon season, it is short in the grand scheme of the whole year. It will pass and biking will soon be much more comfortable. I really like my ride to work, and kind of hate it when I have to drive for some reason.
posted by nat at 5:17 PM on August 8, 2019 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Oh, about the hair: I wear mine in a bun, but the bun itself doesn't fit under the helmet; I just put it in a ponytail and then do the full bun when I get to work.

If you generally wear yours down, but it tolerates being up in a ponytail, a low pony fits fine under a helmet. The amount of time is short enough that you can probably pull the pony tail out when you get to work and still have the hair go back to its initial arrangement. I'd actually say long hair is easier to deal with under a helmet than short -- I used to have almost pixie length hair and that would often be, uh, exciting post-bike ride.

French braids also fit under helmets ok but are a royal pain so I rarely do them. If you're speedier at them than me it's a possibility though!
posted by nat at 5:21 PM on August 8, 2019

Response by poster: This is great! Keep 'em coming!

Quick followup: I work afternoons until late at night, so I'll be heading in to work at the hottest time of day and then riding home at night, so info about lights is totally relevant and needed.

Locks! Yes! What constitutes a "good lock"? The chain style are easy to cut, correct?
posted by Weeping_angel at 5:25 PM on August 8, 2019

I can't speak to biking in 115 degrees but in the 90s biking at a leisurely pace is more pleasant than walking because you aren't exerting yourself enough to increase your body temperature but are getting some breeze.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 5:27 PM on August 8, 2019 [3 favorites]

If you’re on a budget, I would recommend checking out You will probably need to take your new internet bike to your local bike shop for tuneup and/or assembly, but you will also spend A LOT less than buying a new bike in a bike shop.

I would strongly caution against Craigslist bikes, especially if you are new to bikes - it’s very easy to buy a bike with emergent issues that will need repairs or even possibly injure you (if something breaks while you are riding.)

And if you’re biking at night, you will definitely want front/rear led lights.
posted by gnutron at 5:31 PM on August 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: U-locks are good locks.

Also, I did not know this (I also have no common sense) but my local bike person told me it's important to pump air into my tires every 3-4 weeks.
posted by typify at 5:41 PM on August 8, 2019

Best answer: If you can braid your hair without putting it in a ponytail first, a helmet should go on fine - no lump at the back of the neck/head. It doesn't have to be a french braid (I can't french braid mine) and honestly it doesn't have to be very good - you're really just trying to protect it and keep it from getting all over the place while you're riding.

Ooh, one thing not mentioned so far: rear-view mirror(s). Knowing what's happening behind is a big stress reduction.

Also, don't be afraid to be the slowest person on the road, especially when you're starting out. You don't need a LOT of airflow to cool you down and it's fun to get a cruiser and, y'know, cruise. My favourite commutes have been bicycle commutes and I wish you much enjoyment!
posted by inexorably_forward at 6:04 PM on August 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have been commuting by bike in Tucson for most of a decade, and I endorse all the above advice, especially nat's.

One thing I'd add: if you have a choice in tires, don't cheap out. Phoenix roads are not in quite such bad shape as Tucson roads, but the desert plants are out to puncture your tires at every turn. I once tried to save $20 by buying a cheap tire, but within a month I had spent more than that repairing flats. I have had good experiences with the less expensive Continental brand tires, such as Town & Country or Touring Plus. Continental Gatorskins or Schwalbe Marathons are good upgrades, but probably more than you need.

Locks: you want a U-lock. Cables and lighter chains are vulnerable to bolt cutters. The cheapest U-lock at the bike store will be fine. If the bike you end up getting has quick-release components, especially wheels, make sure they are secured too; this might require getting an extra cable or chain that you can loop through your U-lock and the vulnerable parts. Generally, a U-lock alone will be enough to secure the frame and one wheel.

Lights: white in front, red in back. I wouldn't rely on a rear reflector alone. LED lights that recharge by USB are common these days and very convenient. The brighter the better, as your budget allows. I personally think it's better to run your lights on solid rather than blinking mode (most lights these days will do both).

As others have said, you want to keep your tires pumped up; this is the single most important thing to keep your bike easy to ride. If there is a bike shop close to you or your commuting route, many shops will allow you to fill your tires for free. If not, get the cheapest floor pump with a pressure gauge built in -- probably $20-30. Your tires will have the correct inflation pressure stamped on the side somewhere.

Finally, I agree with others that commuting by bike, even in Arizona, is surprisingly enjoyable; I would choose it over car commuting without hesitation.
posted by egregious theorem at 6:11 PM on August 8, 2019 [4 favorites]

Apparently I'm not done thinking about this... I don't know Phoenix at all but according to this BikeArizona page, you have some bike co-ops. Generally these are pretty friendly and budget-minded places and they might be able to help you find something cheap and reliable. They're likely to offer repair classes as well.
posted by inexorably_forward at 6:18 PM on August 8, 2019 [3 favorites]

Best answer: For biking at night, I bought these lights and strung one through my front tire. This was in addition to a white front light and a red rear light, as well as a reflective high-visibility vest that I put on over whatever I was wearing, and reflective bands that went around my ankles. All of these put together meant I felt quite visible and comfortable commuting at night even in an area with poor biking infrastructure and where people were not used to bike commuters.
posted by baby beluga at 6:22 PM on August 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

I've had coworkers injured multiple times when riding a bike to work, often by oblivious car drivers. They also have had things *thrown* at them. Intentionally.

I had formed the impression that biking on roads that cars drive on is dangerous. I Googled a bit and it turns out that it is 500 times more fatal than taking the bus. Scroll down on this page to see the ranking of most dangerous cities, of which Phoenix is #2.

Could you take public transport? Find a carpool? Have a family member cosign on a car loan?
posted by nirblegee at 6:25 PM on August 8, 2019

Your local independent bike shop is your friend. If they’re not helpful, look for woman-owned or feminist bike shops. They’ll have great advice.

I would avoid what are c allied cruiser bikes, which tend to be heavier than what I think you should get: a city bike r commuter bike. Sometimes they even come with a bike rack.

A pannier is great but not necessary. A cheap basket on the rack of your bike is more than plenty of storage space to start.

It’ll be hot, but go as slow as you need.
posted by bluedaisy at 6:33 PM on August 8, 2019

Buy used, higher end. You can sell it for just a little less in a few months if it’s not quite what you want.

This allows you to het higher quality than new, at lower price, even counting for a few buy/sell cycles for fit and preference.

Plan to learn, learn to plan!
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:37 PM on August 8, 2019

Best answer: Neutrogena makes sunblock in a stick form which I find preferable to using lotion > greasy fingers > slippery handlebars. Bicycle gloves (can be improvised) to protect the backs of your hands. Reflectors that are visible from the side. A bell to warn pedestrians who are stepping off the curb without looking because they don't "hear" a car? If riding alongside a row of parked cars, keep an eye on anyone inside; they are liable to open a door in your path. Learn how to patch a flat because the side of the road is where all the broken glass ends up. Does that tire sealant stuff work on bicycle tires?

I wonder if spray painting your bike an ugly color/s would make it less attractive to thieves.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 6:49 PM on August 8, 2019

Biking is great! This may be out of your price range, but an electric bike would be really nice for hot weather. For days when you don't feel like biking, check out a carpooling app called Scoop that matches you the night before with someone going in the same direction. In my area, at least, I've always been able to get rides that way. You do pay the driver a small amount, but they take you door to door.
posted by pinochiette at 7:07 PM on August 8, 2019

Best answer: I have searched for over a decade for a bicycle helmet-friendly haircut and have had many spectacular failures. The best strategy I have as a wavy haired person is to put my hair in a ponytail, pull my ponytail through the triangle of straps above the skull helmet tightening knob (you need a basic vented helmet for this, not one of those solid fancy urban helmets), and then take the elastic out of my ponytail. This means that my hair (shoulder-length or shorter) is off of my neck but not being permanently ponytail-fied by the time I reach my destination. Sometimes the helmet + wind + sweat makes my hair look pretty good, sometimes it looks ridiculous. When it is ridiculous I give up and put it in a ponytail or bun at work.

As for clothes, my work commute is 8 hilly miles each way, so in summer I wear a pair of loose mountain biking shorts from REI (they have pockets and waist adjusters and room for my biker thighs!) and a Smartwool T-shirt. I change into a dress at work + new bra and underwear (boob and crotch sweat from biking is a major thing).

My best lock combo is a u-lock for rear wheel + frame + bike rack, plus a combo lock for my front wheel to the bike rack or frame. Always take your lights with you. Also swap out any quick release seat lever for a non-quick release clamp, or figure out way to lock your seat to your frame with a luggage cable or something. Getting a rear rack + Ortlieb panniers was the best thing I ever did for my back, but a rear rack + milk crate + bungee cords was almost as good on my old beater bike. I just use a standard water bottle + cage on my frame, which was originally a cyclocross bike but I converted to Dutch-style handlebars once I hit my mid-30s and wanted more upright visibility and less back pain.

A small bike multi-tool/wrench in the depths of my pannier has been a lifesaver - I helped out a guy today with it today, in fact. For a long time I didn’t bother with carrying spare tubes/pumps because if I got a flat I could just put my bike on the bus rack and fix it at home (did that a couple times). So YMMV with tools. Puncture-resistant tires are worth the $$ but are usually too hard for my weak hands to install myself, so it involves extra money unless I ask my weird strong neighbor for help.

Send me a message if you need more lady-specific advice!
posted by Maarika at 7:48 PM on August 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

Buy used, higher end.

Used from a coop or local bike store - you want a technician to have looked over the frame for cracks, and make sure it's all set up properly and doesn't have hidden hazards. Also, you want to iterate through a few to make sure it's comfortable and a good fit.

They're likely to offer repair classes as well.

Or the Phoenix REI. If you know how to change tires, adjust your derailer (gears), and change your brakes, it's pretty liberating.
posted by sebastienbailard at 7:55 PM on August 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

If you want to stay alive, don’t wear earbuds while biking. I feel really old because this was never a thing before, but now I see it everywhere. Ditto with the people blasting music on their Bluetooth speakers. You need to be able to hear everything around you: approaching cars, weird noises your bike suddenly starts making, idiots on electric scooters doing stupid things nearby, etc.
posted by Maarika at 8:00 PM on August 8, 2019 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Just want to add something practical here to ease your mind. My 8 year old learned to ride a bike without training wheels maybe 2 weeks ago. Her 4th ever ride was 3 miles at about 7 mph. A 2 mile commute is very VERY straightforward. If you ride at a very comfy leisurely pace id bet it will be 10-14 minutes at most of riding. So hydration ... A bottle is fine, if you're dying drink at a red-light. Drink a normal healthy amount before and after your trip. Id make no other special efforts and would have zero interest in carrying a backpack. I literally have a 32oz generic yeti tumbler with a lid that doesn't even seal wedge in my bike bottle holder. Works a treat. Cost me about $4.

Also, depending on your disposition etc relating to box stores (ie walmart) i had nice luck buying a modest cruiser for sub $100 and having my local bike shop help me learn how to ensure it was assembled correct and adjusted well. I saved a lot while im riding more and more (especially with the kiddos now) and will definitely spend more and at the local shop now that i understand my preferences. Im happy to have discovered i HAVE preferences on a $100 bike and not a $500 one.
posted by chasles at 8:06 PM on August 8, 2019 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Panniers > rack or basket >>> backpack.

The backpack will raise your center of gravity and make you more unwieldy and cause your back to vent air less easily and sweat to happen more/faster. The rack or basket will one day be the cause of your gear getting wet, dusty, muddy or very easily stolen. The panniers are the best of both of those things.

Consider a mirror that clips onto the visor of your helmet. I found these so much easier than handlebar mirrors or manual blindspot checks. Sure, it took a bit of getting used to but after that it was a win-win.

Get a *nice* bike bell. The tone and feel will bring you a little bit of pleasure and it's good to have a way to get people's attention that doesn't involve failed first attempts nor your own breath. We have this one and have loved it.

nthing everyone else who says 1) bike shop of the localness for advice on 2) bike purchases of which you should get nicer but used if possible and for further advice on 3) routes and safety tips (and laws!) on your area.
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:10 PM on August 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Is there any way to keep my (long, curly) hair up off the back of my neck while wearing a helmet? Is there any way it can still look presentable at my destination?

When I had hair down to the small of my back, I braided it before riding. I would expect that after 2 miles (probably ~10-15 minutes), you could wear the same braid to work, but if you can't, it wouldn't be hard to carry a brush and re-braid.

You do not need to cut your hair short in order to take a 10-15 minute bike ride.

4. Clothes. What should I be wearing so I don't die of heat stroke biking around in Phoenix in the summer? Moisture wicking stuff? Leggings? A long sleeved white linen shirt?

I prefer to get my sun protection from clothing rather than sunscreen, because it's just less work, less mess, and less danger of under-applying or forgetting to re-apply.

So I'd wear a long-sleeved shirt, long tights, gloves, and a big bandanna that draped over my neck, all in some nauseatingly bright color. Blaze orange, hi-vis green, day-glo pink.

I can't advise you on material because I hear cotton works way better in dry heat and so maybe I shouldn't give my usual advice to avoid cotton like the plague.


For a 15 minute ride, you don't have to worry about hydration. I'm not even sure the water you drink during the ride will be absorbed before you finish. You definitely can't sweat fast enough to dehydrate in 15 minutes.

Which isn't to say that you shouldn't carry water, but that the water you carry will be to drink afterward, or if you have mechanical issues and need to finish your commute on foot.

What don't I know to ask?

Practice changing your tire and resetting a dropped chain at home. Carry a pair of gloves so that you don't get your hands messy if you have to do it on the road.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 9:14 PM on August 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

Anything (pannier, light, water bottle, basket, etc) that attaches to your bike can be stolen. Stick to a backpack; easier to balance too. People will swipe a quick release seat and post just for the aluminum scrap value; so special key that thing too.
High pressure, modern, Kevlar belted tires; such as Schwalbe has; are a boon to not having flats and being easier to push. Hub locks keep them on your bike too! Having modern tire pressure; 85lbs or greater; amazing. First thing to go on any bike purchase is the el crappo 65lb pressure tires. I'm on 700c tires; very common now; the 26" is kinda akin to a kids tire anymore. Flat/leak stop each tire with at least 4oz of the stuff too.
Helmets and hair loss? Eh, wear that stripe in the middle of your head with pride my friend. Gloves are an always present item also - simple, inexpensive, basic cotton weave ones like Nasbar etc has have always done me very well.
Hydraulic disk brakes are beautiful (and important) items indeed.
I've always bought used quality bikes, that I can verify aren't stolen; rather than new bikes. That being said; seems like the fancy suspension a wonka bikes get swiped Fast. And anywhere. As in like; buddy had his stolen while he was at church. They cut the rail rather than even mess with the modern U-lock metal. Modern 12V+ and more power portable cutting tools will slice about anything in less than a minute. Suspension seems to scream "steal me!" like little else does.

Two miles is a very doable ride no matter the weather. Slip a flat freezer pack inside your backpacks hydration or laptop sleeve, rock on.

I can't imagine driving all of a two mile trip twice a day for anything. One; that is at least a gallon of gas more or less (idle, stop, go, stop, go, idle, etc/whatever, look for parking, back out of parking, stop, go, idle, yuck.) every day. 2) after a while; it is less stressful to simply hop on the bike and go; and healthier too. 3) It takes less time to ride a bike.

I'm assuming you have a safe path to ride; or a sidewalk. I don't do streets where I live. City loses about three or four a year to 'safely' riding in the street. In bike lanes.

You can always replace the first bike you get with a better one! And move the tires right over to the new one. Enjoy your journey!
posted by buzzman at 9:15 PM on August 8, 2019

Best answer: It doesn't get quite Phoenix hot here but I was out riding yesterday and it was 37C (99F?) and full sun. I'm a pretty experienced commuting rider but I'm also a portly old guy so my experience isn't bike-bro level. Two miles, mostly flat, can be a simple, easygoing ride. I actually prefer to ride when it's hot verses walking or waiting for transit. At an easy 7-10 km/h there is enough breeze to keep you cooler and you aren't working hard enough to work up a real sweat.

1) For such a short ride a hydration pack is just a pain. Plus it puts a bunch of weight up high (bad for balance) and it puts a heavy layer on your back which will get all sweaty. Instead get water bottle cages for your frame; most frames have two sets of brazons for this purpose and having both is nice. Then just buy Gatorade/Powerade sport top bottles to refill for water. They fit the cages well and you don't need to worry about them getting damaged/lost/stolen/etc. When it is hot like this I fill them about a 1/3rd full and lay them on their side in the freezer. Add water just before riding and you have cold/cool water for 30-60 minutes.

2) Bags on a rear rack is my preferred transport system. I can't cycle effectively with something as wide as a milk crate on top preferring instead bags that hang on the sides. Many bags are designed to clip off and on in seconds which means they can be used as shopping bags etc. Side bags also keep the weight low.

3) Riding at night lights and reflectors are a must; the more/brighter the better IMO. I use a bright white light on the front (in BC there is a legal minimum) and both a steady and flashing LED on the rear (these are available at dollar stores for cheap and a pair of AA lasts approximately forever). Then reflectors front and rear and ones mounted in the spokes for side reflection. Depending on business of the roads you are riding on you might also want reflective clothing. I now have cycling clothing with reflective material but before I had all the gear I used to wear one of those tear away reflective vest you see construction workers wearing; cheap ones are only a few dollars. Cheap bike reflectors are sometimes at dollar stores as well or at WalMart. Where there is more than one reflector/light I like to space them out. My bags also have reflective strips.

4) Like nat I wear long pants when commuting; often just regular jeans. I usually wear a t-shirt of the moisture wicking variety and sunscreen for any exposed skin. I use electrical tape around my right ankle to secure my pant leg away from the chain. There are all sorts of fancy device you can buy for this but I find a wrap from a 60 cent roll of tape to be both easier and more secure.

5) I've got Continental Touring Plus tires, seem pretty decent. I carry a spare tube and a small pump but haven't used them in years. Also CAA will come out for bikes and give you a ride home if necessary; can't see why AAA wouldn't also if you are a member. Something to check into before you need it.

6) Seats: short term over such a short distance you are probably fine with whatever comes with the bike. Long term there are all sorts of fancy seats to address specific issues and body types; any decent shop will have a selection and be able to help you select one.

7) Bike gloves are about the only piece of bike specific clothing (besides reflective jacket) I bother with. The help both when you ride and if you have the bad luck to take a tumble (you tend to land palm first if you fall and gloves protect you from a nasty abrasion).

8) On bike selection: For such a short ride what ever is comfortable. Personally I'd avoid any sort of suspension (adds weight and complexity for minimal benefit).

9) A bell is a nice to have; seems more polite to me then yelling at people that you are coming through. A lot of cheap bells just hit the outside with a hammer; I prefer the style that operates internally making a classic bringbring sound.

10) Security: My good bike is about $1000. Whenever possible I try to store it securely inside. Certainly at my home and if possible at work. You'll know your workplace best but it can be worth asking if there is a store room or something you can store your bike in.
posted by Mitheral at 9:37 PM on August 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I lived in Phoenix/Tempe for six years, and biked for all of it, about the same distance you were biking! On a crappy $25 yardsale beater made-in-china Schwinn hard-tail MTB that I put slick tires on, no less! It wasn't great but it was good enough! Good news: Even in the hot, shitty part of the day, it's not THAT bad. Drink lots of water. Agree on frame-mounted cooler bottles, instead of a hydration pack -- I had two of the insulated plastic ones, and they were pretty great.

Whatever lights you get should be removable, and you should remember to remove them whenever you lock the bike. I lost several headlights to my own carelessness, between outdoor bike parking on the ASU campus and downtown Phoenix. I had everything on my bike that could be stolen stolen, in fact -- one year, while I was renting a condo at Southern and Mill, I walked out of the building in the morning and interrupted two kids trying to steal my front tire! (They got just far enough to really screw up the quick-release, so I ended up buying another one, heh). I also got my seat stolen one summer when I left the bike locked up inside a controlled-access section of my apartment while I was at an internship, but that's my fault for not moving it for several weeks. At this point, I'm a strong advocate for "store your bike indoors wherever possible" -- I have a vertical rack in my living room now, and it's plenty fine.

And yeah, I nearly got hit by a car at the 5th and Mill interchange, and the car was driven by someone I knew personally. Only one close call in six years ain't bad, but, yeah, be careful!

For whatever it's worth, I've got a Trek FX now. Cost about $800, but skinny tires roll real nice, and it's a great upgrade from my beater Schwinn (which I ended up donating to a bike co-op).
posted by Alterscape at 9:39 PM on August 8, 2019

Best answer: Route planning is a bit different for a bike than a car or a pedestrian. I suggest you look for your cities Bike Map to learn where there are dedicated bike paths (best), protected bike lanes (still great), regular bike lanes (okay), and where you have to directly share the road with cars. The most enjoyable path to and from work might not be the fastest.

Google Maps has a bike mode which has provided mixed results for me (it occasionally sent me through some challenging roads), but it is definitely worth trying.
posted by whisk(e)y neat at 2:24 AM on August 9, 2019 [3 favorites]

Best answer: 1. Commuter bikes are different from cruisers. You probably want a commuter. It'll be lighter, have better gearing (which still matters, even in the flat), and have attachment points for racks and such things. This is a large and growing category. I'd guess about $500 would get you a solid entry-level commuter new; $750-1000 would get you something fancy (again, new). Used bikes ABOUND so do some poking on that front first, though.

2. Saddles vary by butt structure. Sit on several. If your pelvis is larger or smaller than the saddle that comes with your ultimate bike, get one that fits, but don't stress about it TOO much. After you have some miles under your belt, you'll have a better sense what upgrade you'll want here, if any.

Saddles cost what you want to pay, from $50-60 to hundreds. Most higher-end ones are going to be racer focused, though, with little to offer a commuter rider.

3. All the long-haired types I ride with just go with a braid. Not sure what else you could do here, as I am a short-haired person with no on-point experience.

Helmets are also on a "what you wanna pay" kind of scale, but as with many things you get what you pay for. If you intend to wear it often (daily), it will pay to get a nicer, lighter, more comfortable model. Entry level here is dead cheap ($50?), but heavy and bulky and kind of uncomfortable. $100 gets you a nicer model. Mine is a close to top-of-the-line Specialized that retailed at $250, but my relationship with my shop meant I got a great discount. That's probably too high for you, but holy crap is it super super comfy.

You'll see helmets for commuters/casual riding (vs. road riding) that look less like a bike helmet and more like a traditional helmet. These are more attractive, but the lack of ventilation means that they're SUPER SUPER HOT. My advice would be to avoid them and get a nice road helmet. You're not really trading away protection by doing so.

4. Most bike clothes are moisture-wicking by default. Higher priced gear typically performs better on this front, but even basic stuff will be better than a t-shirt and gym shorts. There exist sleeves you can wear for sun protection that also, supposedly, provide excellent evaporative cooling; I haven't tried them, but friends swear by them. The long & short of it is that for any ride more than 20-30 minutes you'll probably be happier if you go kinda all-in on cycling-mode clothes and change when you get to work or whatever.

I have found that "good" jerseys are usually about $80-100 full retail, but are often discounted. Likewise avoid shorts that retail a less than $100 or so -- the padding and fit will likely be sub-par. Again, sales are your friend. I rarely pay more than 2/3 retail.

All that said, if your commute is really only 3 miles, you could probably start with just gym clothes and get bike-specific stuff later, after you recover from the initial bike outlay. You'll cover 3 miles in well under 30 minutes in most circumstances.

5. MANY newbies go with hydration backpacks to start, and nearly ALL of them abandon them. The large heavy bladder of water on your back is kind of miserable, and they're awkward to fill. The bike will have mount points for 2 bottle cages; just use those. Insulated bottles are WONDERFUL.

5b. Yes, panniers / racks. The world is your oyster here -- lots and lots of options. I know little about this market, though.

6. Not sure, but I (and probably most other) cycle-minded commenters here would be happy to receive MeMail followups if the mods prefer to avoid back-and-forth here on the green.

Probably the biggest thing you're not asking is about your bike shop. Find a bike shop that you're comfortable in. Most of them these days are kind of all-in on one of the big brands (Trek, Specialized, Cannondale, etc) & associated accessories, but this matters less than you'd think to the consumer. For example, when I was shopping a few years ago, I enjoyed test rides on the bikes I rode from several makers, and could've been happy on any of them -- so I made my purchase at the shop where I was most comfortable, and that's paid off.

7. I interlaced pricing data above. To START, obviously, you need a bike and a helmet, plus some bottles. I'd get gloves, too -- they protect your hands if you happen to fall (road rash on palms SUUUUUCKS) and also help manage sweat in heat. The rest could wait. People who have just started riding routinely only have one set of bike clothes, and do a lot of laundry.

8. BIKE FIT MATTERS SO MUCH. Even if you buy a used bike, work with your preferred local bike shop to get it tweaked to your body. This can make an enormous difference in comfort and enjoyment.

9. Someone suggested BikesDirect. I would not do this, especially for a first bike.

10. Others have amply covered security. Cheap locks aren't locks. Spend money here. $100 is reasonable. You want a serious U-lock or chain; do not get a cable lock.
posted by uberchet at 5:37 AM on August 9, 2019

RE procuring a bike: you'll learn more about your personal preferences after you do a little bit of consistent biking. So if I were in your position, I would ask around, borrow whatever you can find in an appropriate size that's collecting dust in your cousin's garage, take it to a bike co-op or bike shop for a tune-up, and try it out for a couple weeks before investing.
posted by metasarah at 7:09 AM on August 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

whisk(e)y neat: Route planning is a bit different for a bike than a car or a pedestrian. I suggest you look for your cities Bike Map to learn where there are dedicated bike paths (best), protected bike lanes (still great), regular bike lanes (okay), and where you have to directly share the road with cars. The most enjoyable path to and from work might not be the fastest.

QFT. Given your current novice status with bicycling, choosing the right path may also include how much activity or volume is on that path. Given your travel times, I don't think there'll be too much competition for space, but it's another thing worth consideration.

Also, learn and follow the rules of the road. While it's usually most comfortable and generally safer on off-road paths (some bicyclists can go pretty fast on those paths, leading to bad bike-on-bike crashes), cyclists have the very same rights and responsibilities as motorists ( Bike Laws), and as such, have full rights on the roadway along with cars and trucks (with some exceptions). I don't think you'll be jostling with motor vehicles straight away, but it's something worth remembering, both for yourself, and for other cyclists.

Maarika: If you want to stay alive, don’t wear earbuds while biking.

Also echoing this -- I have two sets of headphones, earbuds that block out most of the world, and open-backed headphones, which allow me to hear exterior sounds while still listening to music. I would never wear the earbuds while walking or biking, for reasons Maarika stated. But once you're comfortable with your commute and you want to listen to something, open headphones like these inexpensive Koss KSC75s (, still at $15 for the past few years) feel like a good balance of being able to hear music and the outside world for me.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:28 AM on August 9, 2019

Best answer: 2 miles on flat is a pretty ideal, amazing commute-- that's about ten minutes minutes while barely pushing the pedals (45watts for a 150lb person with a heavy bike). So, don't overthink it too much-- get a commuter bike that fits you, a helmet and some lights. Use the lights all the time (blinking during the day) and where possible, stay clear of any traffic that worries you.

I do a very short commute, and when I factor in the easier parking with the bike (I leave a lock permanently on the bike-rack at work), the walking to the parked car in both locations, the 'OMG THE CAR IS AN OVEN, *open windows to air car out* *turn on ac*' feeling, I'm quicker on the bike then the car.

The Komoot app is good at picking cycling friendly routes.
posted by Static Vagabond at 9:35 AM on August 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: How about checking out The Rusty Spoke Bike Collective looks like they offer used bikes that fit your needs for your price-point. Don't spend $100 on a lock to protect a $150 bike-- just get a cheap u-lock and park your $150 bike next to a fancier bike when you can.
posted by Static Vagabond at 10:00 AM on August 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: +1 on the idea expressed above that tires are super important when you are a bike commuter. A flat can mess up your whole morning/evening. Ask your bike shop for prices on "no-flat" tires. They are more expensive but so worth it to avoid the hassle of a flat and/or fees to get it fixed. I use Continental Gatorskins. You could also learn to fix your own flats on the road, but it is so much better to just not get flats in the first place.
posted by Mid at 12:31 PM on August 9, 2019

I am no biking expert but re: hair is too hot/don't want short hair problem, I recently got an undercut and love it. You can't tell the difference at all when you look at me with my thick hair down. I can certainly *feel* the difference in how hot I get and how long it takes to dry (so much faster!).
It's even cooler when I put my hair in a ponytail or bun.
posted by dotparker at 1:27 PM on August 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A few things I haven't seen mentioned in the excellent advice above -

Clean your chain every week or so. This can be an incredibly involved ritual, but I just run my chain through a rag until it stops leaving dirty marks, then add 4-5 drops of lube with the chain running and leave it overnight, then wipe the chain down again to remove any excess. You can find more detailed cleaning guides pretty easily (example), but my lazy way is better than nothing. This will prolong the life of your drivetrain and reduce the risk of black greasy smears on your clothing.

If you have gears you can get dirt off the cassette by flossing in between with a rag, but it will be easier with a cassette cleaning tool.

If you buy a used bike I'd probably recommend buying a new chain to go with it. Chains get looser with wear and when they're too stretched they derail more easily. You can buy a tool called a chain checker that measures how worn a chain is, but new chains come pretty cheap.

Again if you're buying a used bike, you can gently tap along the frame to check for hidden faults. An invisible dent will sound different when you tap against it. Don't buy a bike that has any faults in the frame; it's dangerous because it increases the risk of the bike shearing in half underneath you, and it's generally cheaper to buy a new bike than to replace a bike frame.

When I was a kid I could pedal around on a bike, but I wouldn't say I knew how to ride until I took a course offered by a bike advocacy group in my city which covered starting and stopping, turning, signalling and using gears (in five sessions over five weeks). They also offer basic and advanced bike maintenance courses.

You might find something similar offered by a nonprofit or a bike shop in your city, but there are also pretty good resources on YouTube covering similar material. I like of the Global Cycling Network videos. Here's their Beginner Cycling Tips playlist.
posted by aussie_powerlifter at 2:07 AM on August 10, 2019

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