How to Start Commuting by Bike

By Elisa Sturkie





It’s been over two months since most of us have been able to safely head into work, and even longer since we could ride the T without thinking of the threat posed by COVID-19. For some, remote work is coming to an end: with Massachusetts entering into phase one of reopening on May 25th, Tufts researchers will be getting back into their labs, and some offices can resume work at a reduced capacity. Yet, with the Baker-Polito administration admitting that public transportation “unavoidably creates some risk” for COVID-19 transmission, many are still wary of taking the T.   





This is where the Office of Sustainability can help! With spring in full swing, there is no better time to maintain social distancing and start your bike commute. Somerville is ranked fifth nationally in number of biking commuters per capita, and is especially friendly to new bikers–something I know firsthand. Also, Massachusetts is the fifth most bike-friendly state in America, with Boston earning a “Silver” as a Bike Friendly Community. I started biking to work last summer for the first time, and it helped me to be healthier, more sustainable, and to explore new trails and bike paths in my community. I really couldn’t recommend it more. So, how do you get started planning your bike commute?  





1. Get a bike!  





In need of a bike? There are plenty of ways to purchase a bike sustainably in the Boston area–and many of them will also save you a little money! I got my bike used from Facebook Marketplace for a little over $50 in a move-out sale. Craigslist also has used bikes you can buy from neighbors, and until retail reopens, Cambridge Used Bicycles is conducting online bike sales with free delivery options within a five-mile radius of their store.  





Buying something used is of course more sustainable, but if you’d like a new bike, go to your local bike shop or buy from a smaller vendor online rather than from a big box store if you can. Here are the most environmentally conscious bike brands. Also, if your commute is actually pretty far and you have some money to spend, an electric bike will help you get to work fast, without all the sweat. If you’re trying to decide on a road bike, hybrid, or upright, check out this helpful webpage





Be sure to buy a helmet and bike lock! U locks are the most recommended form of lock, as they are much harder to cut through than cable locks, which prevents bike theft. 





Have a bike you need to fix up? Bike Boom in Davis Square is open for tune-ups and bike assembly, and now offers a contactless bike pickup and delivery service. Loads of other Boston-area bike shops are open now too. 





Not sure you want to commit to buying a bike? Join Blue Bikes and take out a shared bike whenever you like, without any of the upkeep! Speaking of upkeep… 





2. Take care of your bike!  





So now you’ve bought a bike. How do you keep it in good shape? It’s as simple as ABC: Air, Brakes, and Chain. Make sure you keep the right amount of air in your bike’s tires. Check the sidewall of your bike’s tires to be sure you know the correct amount of air pressure, and keep a bike pump and patch kit handy in case of a flat. Next, check your front and rear brakes to be sure they engage properly. Finally, keep your bike’s chain lubricated and clean to extend the life of your bike!  REI has some great how-to videos on the bike basics if you’d like a step by step.  





3. Plan and practice your route.  





When biking to work, never underestimate the importance of a practice run. I did and ended up sweaty and astonishingly early to work for most of my first week as a bike commuter. Be sure you know your route and what you need to commute comfortably and safely– even if that means packing a change of clothes. You’ll thank yourself later. Want some help planning your route? Trail map is here to help! You can also use Google Maps (click on the bike image), or if you work on one of Tufts’ Boston campuses, you can sign up for a Ride Amigos account here, and use their platform to plan your trip. 





4. Stay safe on the road!  





Lastly and most importantly, read up on cycling road signs and the rules of road biking. Hand signals are essential! When turning left, stick your left arm out straight; for a right turn, signal with your left arm, but bend your elbow ninety degrees (as if you are about to give someone a high five). It’s also important to be visible to cars, especially if biking at night (bike lights and reflective gear are a must!). Bikes are more vulnerable than cars and learning bike safety is the most important part of biking. Be a cautious rider, always being aware of your surroundings and stopping at red lights. Try to ride on roads with bike lanes and bike trails, or roads with bike sharrows, if there are no bike lanes near you, always ride closer to the right side of the road. Roads are safer for you than sidewalks, trust me! 





Have more questions? The Office of Sustainability has a great webpage about biking at Tufts, and a quick bike guide which might help, and we’re happy to take questions! Now that you have all the basics, hopefully you’ll be able to make the jump to a bike commute with confidence. Soon you’ll be exploring new bike paths, maintaining social distance in the fresh air, and getting to work sustainably!