[Ken Kifer's Bike Pages]
ARTICLE: Tricks and Tips for Bicycle Commuting
Here are some useful small suggestions that are useful in an urban environment to solve problems such as locking a bike, finding a safe place to leave it, standing the bike without a kickstand, carrying a package, and patching a tire.


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Tricks and Tips for Bicycle Commuting

NOTE: This page will present fairly randomly many of the little solutions I have found to small problems. Some are the same as in my Tips and Tricks for Bicycle Touring. Most of them will be tips, but some will undoubtedly seem a little tricky, hence the name. You won't find all of them useful, and you may already be doing others, but you may some worth thinking about.

Keeping a Bike from Being Stolen

First, the desirability of the bike for resell will influence its chances of being stolen. Therefore, it's best to not have your bike looking like a million dollars if you are going to have to park it outside. For a humorous treatment, see How to Detail a Classic Bike.

Second, where you leave a bike is more important than how you lock it. The best place is inside your building, near your office, where only a few people, who you know, are likely to see it. Next in safety, is a very public place where people are passing every minute. While thieves will see your bike, they are not going to cut your lock in public. When I stop at a store, I park my bike right in front of the main window, so I and everyone using the store can see the bike at all times. On many occasions, when there was a bike stand located around the corner, where no one would observe a theft, I locked my bike to a tree or against a wall in front of the building instead.

Third, it's important to lock the bike properly, considering where it is parked. If it is parked in a busy area for a short while, all you need to do is to run a cable between the front tires, so the thief would have to carry the bike to take it. But for more security, also attach the frame to some object, so the cable has to be cut or the U-bolt broken in order to steal it. A cable plus a U-bolt plus attaching the bike to an object is needed when the bike is going to be left in an unbusy area for some time.

The chances of theft vary greatly from place to place. I was locking my bike in my local town when a passerby observed, "Not much sense in locking a bike in this town, who else would ride one?"

A Simple Trick with a Cable Lock

Most cable locks consist of a long cable with two loops in the end plus a padlock. It's always more secure to lock the bike to something, with the cable passing between both tires, but sometimes, say when wanting to attach the bike to a wrought-iron bench, the cable won't reach far enough. Then you can use this trick, and there are two variations:

1) Put the cable through the hole or around the object you wish to lock to, put one eye of the cable into the other, and pull tight. Now you have nearly the entire length of the cable available for use. Put the cable through the front wheel, and then the frame, circle around the rear tire and the main tube, and finally lock the cable eye to the cable on the other side of the tube. If the cable is not quite long enough for this, just lock the cable eye to one of the stays.

2) Loop the cable around the main tube and rear tire, put one eye of the cable into the other, pull tight, and then take the cable through the front wheel of the bike to whatever you want to lock it to. There you can loop it as before to lock.

Getting Permission to Keep Your Bike in a Safe Place

Some cyclists touring Japan would find a place to camp, and then they would try to ask permission. One person would take them to the next person and so on. No one ever said that they couldn't camp, but no one would ever give them permission. They finally caught on and camped without asking permission. No one had enough authority to question them.

When I was a student, I asked if I could bring a canary from home. I was told that I could not, because if I brought a pet, every other student would bring a pet. By the end of the year, I was the only student without a pet, and yet my pet would have caused the least trouble. Unlike the other students, I had made the mistake of asking.

So, if you want to put your bike inside your office building, the best solution is to not ask anyone but to just do it. If you ask, you will be giving authority over your life to someone else. There's a dozen reasons for that person to say "no" and only one for saying "yes."

However, pick your spot wisely. Be sure before you park your bike there that it will never be in anyone's way. If you have to be summoned to move your bike, it is likely that you will be asked to park it outside. Think not only about the space that you and your fellow workers use, but also about the space used by the maintenance people as well.

Standing a Bike Upright without a Kickstand

Probably to make them a little lighter, most bicycles are now sold without kickstands, which makes them hard to park for the simple dash into the post office.

Fortunately, I have known of a simple way to make a bike stand up by itself wherever there is a curb or other low, curb-like object, such as a low wall, raised flower bed, or suitable rock. For this trick to work, the curb must be higher than the lowest place on the pedals' rotation and lower than the highest place; it works best when the curb is about three to five inches high.

First, the bike is placed against the curb, with the rear wheel touching, the front wheel slightly turned into the curb and touching also, and the bike slightly leaning away from the street. Then the crank is rotated backwards until the curbside pedal is flat against the curb. The bike will stand on its own, balanced by the two tires and the pedal. The bike can't move backwards or forwards due to the tires and the pedal.

Extra Clothing at the Office

If you can, it makes sense to keep some extra clothing at the office, even if you do not normally change there. An extra change of work clothing will allow you to look presentable if some misfortune should happen on your way to work, and some extra warm or waterproof clothing can help you get home if the weather should unexpectedly turn bad.

Layering for Winter Cycling

I live in Alabama, so I don't have to cope with ice and snow on the roads in the winter, but it still gets very cold. Rather than purchasing a down parka and heavy wool shirts and socks, which would be expensive and not used very often, I depend on layering to keep me warm. This strategy not only reduces clothing costs, but it helps me cope with highly variable Southern winter weather. Layering is an efficient way of keeping warm, as several light layers are warmer than one heavy layer.

Let me explain how it works. I get up to ride into town on a very cold morning. I put on two pairs of warm but light socks, some light-weight polypropylene thermal underwear over my regular CoolMax underwear, a light wool shirt, some warm pants, a sweater on a milder day and a down vest on a colder day, some Gore-Tex rain pants on a colder day, my yellow Gore-Tex jacket, a beanie cap to cover my ears, a hood over that, and a pair of light-weight polypropylene gloves. I need to purchase for this winter a pair of over-gloves and a warmer cap with flaps for my ears to use in place of the hood.

In the afternoon, when I ride back home, the weather is likely to be much warmer. Since I am wearing layers, it's easy to remove some. The rain paints and the sweater (or down vest) go into a pannier, along with the beanie, and then the ride back home is more comfortable that if I had to wear a heavy coat and pants. If the weather is even warmer, I can find a place to remove the thermal underwear. Finally, if the weather has become quite nice, I can carry my coat on the bike as well. If I don't have enough room for all this clothing in my panniers, I just put it in a throw-away bag and secure it to the rear pannier with some cord.

Waterproof Bags

There are two kinds of waterproof bags: plastic and waterproofed nylon. The second will never tear, but it will allow water to seep in, especially as it gets older. The first is watertight, but can easily develop a tear. For electronic items easily destroyed by water, I use both. For items that need a tough container but that can tolerate a little water, I use just nylon bags. For maps and papers, I use plastic only, but a couple of layers.

Rather than buy ziplock bags, however, I use the bags given away at every store with one's purchases. While I refuse as many of these bags as I can, I still end up getting several a day, so I have constant replacements for any torn or damaged bags. Although I can't seal the bags, I tied the openings closed and use one inside the other with the openings on opposite sides. I've never had anything damaged through using this method, not even in violent storms.

Carrying Cords for Packages

Wherever I go, whether on a long trip or around home, I always carry some pieces of polyethylene and/or nylon cord on my bike. Then, I always have a means of tying an extra load to the carrier. My polyethylene cord is almost as thin as string, but it is much stronger and tougher and won't rot. It's somewhat better than nylon cord for small loads, as it won't stretch much, making knots easier to untie. My nylon cord is much fatter, but still very light. It has to be stretched tight or the package will work loose. It's somewhat better for tying a heavy package because of its bigger knots. A cord is lighter, more compact, more adaptable, and safer than a bungee cord. A bungee cord can easily get caught in the spokes if one end works loose while you are not carrying anything.

Marking the Leak in a Tube

The most frustrating moment in repairing a tube by the side of the road is losing sight of the leak. It's easy to see a leak when the tube is blown up and ducked under water. It's very difficult to mark the tube and even more difficult finding that tiny hole after the tube is dried and deflated. The other day, when dealing with such a problem, I reached into my pocket, looking for a pen, when I found a toothpick instead. I stuck the toothpick into the hole, and voila, losing sight of the hole was now impossible. From now on, I am going to carry a toothpick in my patch kit. The toothpick is also handy for puncturing the tube of glue.

When no water is available for finding the leak, I pump the tube very full and see if I can detect an airflow against my skin. The lips are especially sensitive. This only works, unfortunately, for a fast leak.

Long Tubes

I have my bike equipped with Schraeder tubes. I prefer them to Presta for touring because the valve stems are more rugged and the tubes can be found in any town. However, for some strange reason, the 27" tubes made by many manufacturers are an inch or so too long for a 27" wheel (and would be even longer with a 700c wheel). The extra length makes installing the tube more difficult, and then the tire is likely to have a bump in it, caused by the extra length. My cure for the bump is to completely deflate and then reinflate the tire (without messing with the tube) when I stop for a break. After doing this several times, the bump is likely to disappear.

However, a solution I like even better is to use a 26" tube. Of course, it must be the narrow 26" tube, designed for tires from 1 1/8 to 1 3/8, as the fatter tube won't work at all. Look at the box carefully. This tube has to be stretched to go over the rim, and I have found that the simplest way to do this is by partially inflating it, which actually helps getting it inside the tire. However, when closing the bead of the tire, it is best to first let most of the air out of the tube.


How to Lock a Bike  Shows ways to savely lock up and leave a bicycle. Also, Where to Park it Safely.

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