Archives for category: Commuter Survival Guide

In this installment of the Bicycle Roots Commuter Survival Guide, we’ll give you some helpful tips on safely navigating city traffic and avoiding common accidents. We’ll also fill you in on what you need to put together your own Roadside Repair Kit, and share  our suggestions for products to make your commute safer and more dependable.

Braving the streets of New York on your bicycle is no mean feat. You’re dealing with impatient New Yorkers at their worst… not to mention that they’re driving cars, basically two-ton killing machines. The most common incidents between cyclists and cars are the left cross, right cross, and the dreaded “dooring”. We’ll give you tips on how to avoid these common accidents and navigate even the most dense traffic safely.

Bicycle Roots staff member Danny showing off his hand signals.


Getting “doored” is so common, it’s practically a rite of passage for the urban cyclist. Virtually everyone on the Bicycle Roots staff has been doored at least once, and while dooring rarely causes serious injuries, it can be painful and terrifying.

Dooring generally occurs when a car or taxi stops to let out passengers. These vehicles rarely pull over to the curb in order to let their passengers out; instead they’ll let passengers out into traffic or else they will double-park, often in bike lanes or the shoulder of the road where a cyclist is likely to be. Compounding the problem, exiting passengers are unlikely to check for bikes when they open the door (even if they open their door into a bike lane). Unfortunately, until bikes become so ubiquitous that it’s unconscious for drivers to habitually look out for cyclists, dooring is likely to occur frequently.

There are a few things that you can look out for to help prevent a dooring accident. As you pass by parked cars, keep an eye out for people inside. If the passengers have not yet exited the car, give that particular vehicle a wider berth. In fact, it’s much safer to ride 2-3 feet away from the shoulder of the road, so that you can safely bike past any opening doors. Do not be afraid to take the lane! If you ride fearfully, hugging the curb, you are much more likely to get doored.

You may also want to pay attention to a car’s rear lights. Cars have braking lights in order to signal to other vehicles that their velocity has changed. If you see a car’s rear lights come on in otherwise smoothly-moving traffic, be aware that passengers may be exiting the car.


Many cyclists are involved in incidents when they are taking turns, especially left turns. Most of the bike lanes in New York City are on the right hand side of the road, so drivers expect cyclists to always be on their right. It catches drivers off guard when a cyclist shifts into the lane to make a turn; it

It’s very important to learn your hand signals and to use them well. Hold a signal for at least 3 seconds so that motorists recognize that you are signaling your intent to make a turn, rather than mistaking it for a careless gesture.

Hand signals in action…. Danny shows how to safely make right and left turns. Check out his lane-taking skills!

You may want to consider taking a lane rather than riding in the shoulder of the road, especially if you are riding in an area that does not have bike lanes. By doing so, you can ensure that you are not in the driver’s blind spot and increase the probability that they will notice your hand signals.

When making a left turn, you will want to be in the left side of the lane, close to the median if you’re on a two-way street. Signal your intent to change your lane, looking over your shoulder ass you do so. You will also want to signal when you reach your turn in order to alert drivers behind you as well as oncoming traffic. If you have to stop in order to wait for a break in the traffic, do so. Drivers may honk, but do not let that intimidate you into making a dangerous turn. When they honk, it means they see you. If they see you, you’re probably safe.

Advanced riders may want to use a turning car as a “shield” against oncoming traffic, by making the turn on the left of the turning car (if turning left) or the right of the turning car (if turning right). This move is for advanced riders ONLY; if you are unable to keep pace with traffic and accurately gauge traffic patterns do not attempt this move. Commute Orlando has an in-depth article as well as illustrations to help you master this maneuver.


Featured products for building your roadside repair and flat fix kit, available now at Bicycle Roots.

Many commuter cyclists are motivated to make their way via bicycle because public transportation in their area can be unreliable: stalled trains, random delays and service outages, and large swathes of the boroughs are under-serviced by trains and buses in the first place. For many, a bicycle is a reliable and relatively quick option.

Once you’ve got your commute down, you don’t want to be stalled by a flat tire in an area far from a subway station or an open bike shop! One of the easiest and most basic repairs you can do on your bike is to change a flat. Once you’ve mastered this art, you’ll be able to fix a flat everywhere with just 5 compact and easy-to-store items.

For a mobile flat-fix kit, Bicycle Roots recommends the following items: 2 extra tubes (ask one of our mechanics which tubes you need if you’re not sure), a tire lever, a multi-tool with a full range of Allen keys, a road pump. If you have pin-head . If you’re the thrifty sort and have the patience to locate the source of the leak at the side of the road, you may want to consider adding a patch kit.

The Topeak Mini-Morph in action. You’ll definitely appreciate how easy the fold-out foot pad and up-and-down pumping makes inflating your tires on the go!

Your trusty road pump is probably the most significant investment you’ll make in building your roadside flat-fix kit. At $34.95, the Topeak Mini Morph road pump is compact, versatile, and easy to use. Compatible with Schraeder, Presta, and Dunlop valves, the Topeak Mini Morph comes with a mounting bracket that can be used to securely affix the pump to your frame. You’ll save valuable cargo real estate on your racks or in your bag. But what makes the Topeak Mini Morph extra special? Unlike most road pumps, which require you to pump in-and-out, the Topeak Mini Morph has a fold-out foot pad that will allow you to pump up-and-down. This makes it relatively easy to pump your tires, as you can employ the full weight of your body to push down on the pump. With traditional road pumps, you have to rely on the strength of your arms and shoulders, and the resistance increases with the pounds over square inch of air pressure. You’ll definitely appreciate the extra leverage the Topeak Mini-Morph offers when you’re inflating your tires that last 20 psi!

More and more New Yorkers are using their bicycles as their main form of transportation, commuting back and forth to work and running their errands by bike. With service cuts to subway and bus lines as well as intensive repairs that knock entire corridors of the subway out at night or on weekends, bikes make a reliable (and often quicker!) alternative to public transit. But cycling to work can require some adjustment. We’ll be answering some frequently asked questions and sharing some of our favorite tips and products through the week to help ease the way for those making the transition.

Mechanic Joe with his commuter bicycle, crescent-fresh and modeling his favorite commuting wear. You can wear your everyday clothes on your everyday rides without showing up looking like you’ve ridden a century on your way to work.

I’d like to start commuting by bicycle to work, but I’ve never ridden in Manhattan before. I’m a little nervous about what to expect.

Traffic in Manhattan is no joke! There are tens of thousands of motor vehicles on the streets on any given day, especially during the morning and evening rush hours when bicycle commuters are likely to be on the streets. New Yorkers are not exactly known for being patient, and perhaps they’re at their crankiest in the constant stop-and-go of city driving. It can understandably be intimidating, especially for a new rider.

If you don’t really have much experience with urban riding, it’s OK to take it slowly. Make sure you know the rules of the road and how to properly use hand signals. Plot a bicycle-friendly route to work in advance using Ride the City or Google Maps’ bike directions option. Before your first bike commuting day, you may want to take a couple of weekend or evening trips along the route to get a sense of how long your commute will take you. It’s always good to give yourself an extra 10 or 15 minute cushion to make sure that any road closures or traffic don’t make you late for work.

The New York City Bike Map is an invaluable resource for commuters, as it’s highly portable, shows a complete map of the 5 boroughs, and has all bike lanes mapped. Keep an extra one in your backpack or pocket, and even if you have to change up your route, you’ll still get to your destination safely.

Where should I park my bicycle?

Check with your building’s management to see if they have secure bicycle parking. Some buildings close their garages and freight entrances early, so you may have to adjust your schedule or park outside if you’re working late to avoid having your bike locked up for the night.

If your building does not have safe bicycle parking, you’ll want to invest in a heavy-duty, New-York worthy lock. Bicycle Roots recommends any Kryptonite U-Lock (in various sizes from $59.99) or the Abus Bordo Granite X-Plus lock ($169.99) for compact, easy-to-carry, nearly-impossible-to-destroy bike protection.

The Abus Bordo Granit X-Plus doing what it does best…. keeping your bike exactly where you left it.

In general, if you have to park your bike on the street, you’ll want to make sure it’s highly visible (a high density of foot traffic will discourage a thief from messing with your bicycle). If possible, park it on a rack or a secure pole (no construction scaffolding or fences!), and make sure that your wheels are safely secured either with pinhead skewers or a heavy-duty cable. We have a few more tips on safely locking your bike and other security measures you might want to consider if you keep your bike outside on a regular basis.

What should I wear to commute by bicycle?

If you work in a bike shop, it may be socially acceptable to wear your sweat-drenched padded-chamois cycling shorts, jersey, and cycling shoes everyday. For everyone else, there are a few things to keep in mind: Justas everybody has their own personal style, everyone has their own biking style. It really depends on what you feel comfortable wearing, how you ride, and the dress code at your job.

If you’ve got a short and easy commute and your job is fairly casual, your regular clothes should suffice. In general, clothes that are cut closer to the body are better for riding. Wearing a long, flowing skirt or wide-legged pants increases the chances that your clothing will get caught in the wheels or drivetrain or that you’ll show up at work with chain grease on your work clothes. You may want to pack a change of clothes when it rains, to ensure you’re dry and presentable on the job even in inclement weather.

If you have a longer commute, or your work environment is a little more conservative, you may want to consider changing at work. Wear whatever is comfortable to ride in on the way in, but try and get to work a bit early to change out of your riding clothes. Keep an extra blazer or sweater and a professional pair of shoes in the office to minimize what you have to carry each morning. You’ll be able to throw the blazer on top of what you’re wearing, change your shoes, and look instantly polished.

It might be an investment, but if you work in a very conservative office, you might want to consider buying a portable clothing steamer, which can be found for $30 and up in department and home-goods stores. Even if you get a little wrinkled on the way in, the steamer will get you looking crisp and professional in a matter of minutes.

Can I ride in a skirt?

Sure! In general, skirts that are knee-length or shorter and cut fairly close to the body are better for riding. Long or flowy skirts may get dirty more easily or caught on your bike as you ride. If you want to wear a long skirt, you may consider tying a knot at your knees to safely gather excess fabric.

Some women prefer to wear bicycle shorts underneath their skirts for practical reasons. It’s not necessary, but it does minimize the chance of wardrobe malfunctions. That being said, there are no specific “do’s” and “don’ts” when it comes to bike style. Just make sure you’re comfortable and safe, and everything else is secondary.

There are a few clothing designers who have started to produce fashionable cycling clothing for women. Often, they’re made from fabrics that will wick sweat to keep you dry and cool and stand up to frequent washings but are still fashion-forward. Nona Varnado  designs and manufactures one of our favorite lines of cute clothes that are as comfy and fashionable on the bike as they are off. We’re also a big fan of Vespertine’s cool reflective safety gear (in stock now at Bicycle Roots!)—you won’t look like an MTA track worker or other construction personnel when wearing one of their flatteringly-cut reflective vests.

I ride to work, but I arrive all sweaty and gross.

Commuting isn’t a race—unless you’re already running late. Riding for transit is different than riding for athleticism. You may prefer to keep an easy pace (10mph or less) to avoid getting too disheveled or sweaty on your way in to work. Wear layers, especially on cooler days, so you can remove outer layers as your body begins to warm up.

Over the years, we’ve found that baby wipes soaked in astringent work wonders. The editor recommends taking a handful of wipes, putting them in a plastic bag, and dousing them with a few squirts of a gentle facial astringent. When you get to your destination on a hot and sweaty day, you can easily wipe away the residue of sweat and grime, and the alcohol in the astringent will kill the bacteria in your sweat and skin that can be a little, shall we say, fragrant. You’ll also probably want to keep extra deodorant, face wipes or face wash, and perhaps a comb at work to help you freshen up.

That’s all for our first installment of the Bicycle Roots commuter survival guide! Part two is scheduled for Wednesday, and it’s all about surviving the mean streets of New York. You’ll learn how to avoid common accidents, what to do if you are involved in an incident, as well as the 5 things every commuter needs to have on them at all times.

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