Bike Commuting Can Save the World, April 2009 issue

Brian Mohr
Posted March 24th, 2009

Photo by Brian Mohr,

Throughout the 10 years I lived in the Rockies, I rode my bike everywhere—to work, to the grocery store, to meet with friends, to the trailhead, and for hours and hours, just for the fun of it. Neither the rain and snow, nor freezing fog, would stop me. I felt like I could go anywhere, anytime, for little or no cost. Often, cycling was more practical than driving. It was always more of an adventure. And it kept me in great shape.

Now, like many Vermonters, I live in a rural area, where town is miles away and friends are even farther. Hopping on my bike to grab a few groceries before dinner is not a convenient option. And because I work out of my home, commuting by bicycle doesn’t work too well, either. Still, beyond recreation, I regularly find a way to put the bicycle to good use. Be it weekly errand runs to town, a springtime ride to the ski hill, or berry-collecting missions closer to home, there is no limit to the utility of the bicycle.

After many years of all-season bicycle commuting, many months spent bicycle-touring and countless two-wheeled adventures close to home, I’ve assembled the following thoughts for those interested in bike commuting, or simply maximizing the utility of your existing bicycle.

Nearly any type of bike can work well for commuting. For short to medium distance commutes (10 miles or fewer), I would recommend a comfortable cross, hybrid, or mountain bicycle that is professionally fit by your local bike shop. These bikes are generally more durable than road bikes, and can more easily accommodate fenders, racks and wider tires. Trek’s FX series bikes, especially the Trek Allant bike (which comes equipped with fenders and a rack), are especially well suited to bike commuting.

Vermont’s got plenty of hills, so be sure your bike’s got plenty of gears. Equip it with a small front chain ring and a large rear sprocket for easy climbing, especially when loaded with extra luggage/groceries. Bicycle tires with a good tread pattern or knobs for extra traction are a good choice for Vermont’s mixed road surfaces. Keeping your bike well tuned, learning to perform basic repairs, and equipping your bike with a basic repair kit (especially for fixing the occasional flat) is essential for keeping it fun.

Without fail, equip your bike with full-coverage front and rear fenders. Any good bike shop can get you set up in no time. Full-coverage fenders allow you to brave wet, slushy, and muddy roads with ease, and they keep excess mud and grease from building up on your bike frame and components. Even if you plan to ride only on fair-weather days, fenders are indispensable when you encounter that unexpected wet spot or afternoon rain shower.

If you ride regularly, you are bound to get caught in the rain, sleet, or snow. However, the right clothing can make riding in these conditions easy and often, fun. Pearl Izumi and Specialized both offer full lines of foul weather gear for cyclists, with Pearl Izumi’s Octane Jacket being a popular choice for wet conditions. If it’s warm enough, I prefer to let my legs get wet, pack a towel, and change into dry clothes after my ride. For heavy, soaking rains, nothing beats a good, old-fashioned rain cape. Oregon-based J & G Cyclewear offers a Rain Cape that you can easily pack and can slip over your clothes in seconds, and when combined with their helmet cover and rain pants, will keep you relatively dry all around. Also, consider the variety of foul-weather shoe covers on the market that will keep your feet warm and dry, too.

Concerns about being able to carry items like groceries, materials for work and school, or flowers for a friend keep too many of us from putting our bicycles to greater use. However, with a good cargo rack, panniers or rack bags, or a bicycle trailer, you can comfortably carry just about anything you’ll need in your day-to-day life. The BOB Yak Trailer is a one-wheeled utility trailer that easily attaches to the rear axle of most bicycles. It is unsurpassed in its ability to carry up to 70 pounds of groceries or gear. My wife and I have traveled for months at a time with BOB trailers, and continue to use them regularly on trips to town, bike-supported skiing adventures, and more.

Ortlieb, Jandd Mountaineering, Pacific Outdoor Equipment, and Trek offer a great variety of panniers and rack bags that are well suited for carrying the things you commonly need to carry. Simple, grocery-bag carriers, like the Trek Grocery Bag Pannier, and quick-release, waterproof panniers that convert to comfortable shoulder bags are especially popular with commuters. For a quick cargo solution, securely strap a common milk crate to the top of your rear bike rack, throw in what you need, and go.

Every cyclist needs a simple bike bell. I’ve found that bike bells not only make people on the street smile, but I believe they are the most effective tool for increasing bicycle awareness.

Front and rear bike lights are also essential for keeping you visible to other motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians, and of course, for illuminating the path in front of you. Cateye’s Single Shot Plus is a reliable, rechargeable handlebar light with a flashing mode that makes it easier for motorists to see you during the daytime or in urban settings. Cateye also makes a variety of taillight flashers which can be clipped to your jacket or bag, or mounted to your bike. Wearing bright, reflective layers and making sure your bike is well equipped with reflectors or reflective tape is also a very good idea.

The English writer H.G. Wells once stated, “When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race.” I feel the same way. Cheap oil and modern, car-oriented development have left us with few incentives to ride our bikes. However, in these changing times, more of us are discovering that cycling, instead of driving, if only once a week, offers great benefits to our personal health, social fabric, and our wallets. Indeed, if there is one thing that can get our world onto a better path, the growing use of the bicycle might be it.

Writer and photographer Brian Mohr lives in Moretown, VT. He works closely with his wife, Emily Johnson, and regularly contributes to publications such as the New York Times, Vermont Life, National Geographic Adventure, Backcountry, Skiing, Patagonia Catalog, and Vermont Sports. He can be reached through his website,

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