Bicycle Commuting

I started bicycle commuting in 2003, but stopped in 2008 after changing employers.  At first it was just a couple days a week and I didn’t do it during the cold winter months.  But sometime in 2004 I realized I preferred my bicycle commute over driving.  Traffic in Phoenix is getting worse everyday, but the bike lane is just about always clear.   I only drove to work when I have some kind of personal or business off-site commitment that forced me to take my truck.  I also figured out that a base layer really helped in the cold months, so I didn’t even mind too much when the temperature dropped.  My drive took anywhere from 25 minutes to 45 minutes depending on traffic.  My bicycle commute is 18.5 miles and took 50 minutes to 1 hour and 10 minutes depending on wind and luck with lights.  I usually rode to work in an “easy distance” recovery heart rate zone.  If I has intervals or hills on my training schedule I’s work them in on my way home.

For anyone thinking about bicycle commuting, I highly recommend getting a copy of Ed Pavelka’s “Bicycle Commuting for Fun and Profit” available as an eBook from

Ed’s eBook has great tips for a beginning bicycle commuter and helped me overcome some of the worries I had before I decided to give it a try.

If you live in the Phoenix metro area you can use the Maricopa County bicycle map to find a safe route to work (request a free hard copy by calling 602-254-6300):

2008 MAG Bicycle Route Map DOWNLOAD

If you live in Mesa, you can also get a Mesa city bicycle map (call 480-644-2160 to request a hard copy). Mesa and Scottsdale both have canal systems with paved bicycle paths so if you live near any of those you may not have to ride on the road too much. I don’t know about the other areas of town.

I rode my route over several weekends to time it and to ensure it was safe enough before I started. I also leave home and work before the heavy traffic starts. The fastest route for me is to go down McKellips, but it’s not safe at all where it goes through the reservation between Country Club and McClintock, so I take Brown to 8th Street to McClintock instead. There’s one section where McClintock goes under the 202 where there isn’t a bike lane, so I ride on the sidewalk to stay out of traffic through there. I think I’m at more risk when I drive on the freeway now than when I bicycle commute. It seems like the more congested roads get the crazier people drive! Then again, maybe I’m just getting old… Ha!

I’ll occasionally add another 15 miles or so (and some nice hard hills) to my ride home by going down Power Road to Bush Highway and taking Usery Pass/Ellsworth back to Brown Road. Also in Metro Phoenix, your direction will impact how hard you have to ride. Normally wind blows east to west in the morning and shifts around to the south and west during the day. So I have a tail wind on my way to work and either a cross wind out of the south or a tail wind on my way home making my route pretty easy in both directions. The only exception is monsoon season when the wind will come from all directions (often on the same ride).


Everyone has personal preferences, but here’s what I use:

Front Light:  Cateye HL-EL500
Comments:  This is the brightest LED headlight I’ve ever seen.  Battery life is phenominal.

Rear Lights:  Any multi-LED red light with a strobe option.  I also use a single flashing LED red light that clips onto my trunk.

Rack:  Topeak MTX BeamRack
Comments:  Great rack because it has a quick release, so I can remove it easily for regular rides or I can move it back and forth between my Trek 5200 and Specialized Langster fixed gear for commuting

Trunk:  Topeak MTX Trunkbag
I originally used Performance Bike’s Transit Pro Epic, but the straps that connected the trunk to the rack started to tear after about two years of use.  So I switched to the Topeak MTX Trunkbag DX.  So far I like the trunk.  I miss the back pocket that was on the Pro Epic, but other than that the two trunks are pretty similar.  The key difference is that the DX can slide onto the BeamRack, so it doesn’t use velcro straps, which is pretty darn nice.  We’ll see how long this trunk holds up to daily use.

Identification:  I use wrist and ankle straps from RoadID.  I also have an engraved identification tag with contact information from RoadID that is strapped to my right shoe.

Bikes:  I usually ride my 2002 Trek 5200, but will occasionally also ride my 2004 Specialized Langster fixed gear.

Sunscreen: Coppertone Sport SPF 30 Sunblock Spray
Comments:  This is an alcohol based spray available either in a continuous spray can or pump spray.  The alcohol dries fast and stays put — it doesn’t run and lasts for hours.  I spray some on my hand to put on my face.  This is the best stuff I’ve found to block the 110+ degree summer sun in Phoenix.

There are a number of articles available with information and tips regarding bicycle commuting. One of my readers, Sara, suggested an article on Home Advisor, Commuting by Bike: Safety Guide and Tips.  The article has a short blurb on commuting, then discusses long distance travel. But at the bottom of this article is a list of great resources to learn more about bicycle commuting.  Great find Sara!

It is important to also understand how to maintain your bicycle to ensure it is performing optimally.  Thank you to another reader, Samantha, for pointing me to the Beginner’s Guide to Bicycle Maintenance by Steven Thomas.  Another useful link and great find Sam!