Biking for Transportation

MOTHER EARTH NEWS – I first learned about biking for transportation when I visited my grandparents in Germany more than a decade ago now. They lived in the countryside, where you’d often walk past or through small family farms to get where you were going, and at any given point in the summer, you had to watch out for ‘horse apples’ on the smaller roads. My grandmother used to collect this free fertilizer and use it in her garden.

A family friend offered to take me via bike to a town near Lake Constance (also known as the ‘Bodensee’ in German), which borders southern Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. The trip was only 10 kilometers (about 4.5 miles), but involved a route that I was certainly not prepared for.

Reader, it was largely uphill.

In all her enthusiasm about showing me the beautiful German countryside, my friend had wanted to take me along the scenic route ó and had drastically overestimated my abilities. I had to walk my bike uphill for the last quarter of the trip, and we decided to take a more level route home. Despite the agonizingly sore muscles the next day and then the next week, I was intrigued by the idea that the bike wasnít just something you played with in the neighborhood as a kid, but rather it was a tool that could help move you from one place to the next, under your own power.

Now, one of my favorite modes of transportation is biking. I love biking down to the library or to the local parks. My area is slowly becoming more inclusive and mindful of cyclists and the necessary infrastructure to support them. If youíre able to, consider biking down to a place youíd normally drive. Here’s how to get started, whether you have a spare bike in the garage or youíre looking for a new ride.

  • Know what to check for in a used bike can save you time and money down the road.
  • Many aspects of bike maintenance can be done yourself.
  • Bike baskets and other cycling equipment are handy for helping you transport goods and groceries.
  • Invest in a sturdy and reliable bike lock to keep your ride safe.
  • Try your hand at constructing a DIY bike cargo trailer.

In ìTips for Buying a Used Bike,î adapted from The Urban Biking Handbook (Quarry Books, 2011), Charles Haine offers guidance to help you find a used bike thatís perfect for your needs. He recommends a careful examination of the bike frame for any dents, cracks, or damage. Check out the brakes and make sure that both the front and back brakes work. Take a test ride of the bike to make sure it’s something you can work with, and ride a variety of bikes before you make a purchase to learn what you prefer. Lastly, know how to identify a stolen bike. An expensive bike being sold cheaply is a warning sign.

Learning how to maintain your bike is easier than you might think. Dave Glowacz provides some troubleshooting tips for common bike problems. Check that the wheels are free of debris and scan for any damage to the tire. A small screwdriver can help remove glass or other embedded materials in the tire if necessary. Make sure the tires are inflated to the correct pressure. The wheel will also need to spin freely without making contact with either brake pad or the frame. If it does, adjust the wheel by loosening the axle nuts or quick-release lever and then reposition the wheel. For more tips, see ìBike Maintenance: What to Check Before Riding,î adapted from Urban Bikers’ Tricks and Tips (Wordspace Press, 2010).

Having a bike basket can make your ride much more productive and conducive to the flow of modern life. In ìBike Basket Options and Alternatives,î adapted from Everyday Bicycling (Cantankerous Titles, 2012), Elly Blue goes through the variety of bike baskets and other cycling equipment, and shows how determine what equipment is best for your needs. A front basket is a classic, but did you know about bike panniers? Blue goes over the uses of bungee cords, rear baskets, front baskets, tie-downs, backpacks, and even the humble plastic milk crate. Also, find instructions for a DIY bike basket if youíre feeling extra thrifty.

Brad Quartuccio shares his tips for keeping your ride from being stolen.† He discusses the various bike locks available on the market: U-locks, bike chains, and cables. Invest in a sturdy lock: remember, your bike is only as safe as your lock and locking technique. He recommends locking the frame to a secure post; a chain link fence or signpost may not deter determined thieves. Donít lock a U-lock or bike chain so that it hangs on the ground, and if possible, completely avoid cable locks, as they’re easily cut. Lock your wheels as well: You don’t want to come back to a one-wheeled bike.

Lastly, if you’re feeling handy and particularly inventive, a DIY bike cargo trailer might be the next step in your cycling journey. Kyle Chandler-Isacksen details how he built one in only 10 hours and for one-fifth of what it would have cost to buy it new.† Using a mix of salvaged and new materials, he created a cargo trailer perfect for hauling heavier loads. Give his journey a read; you never know what it might inspire you to build for your bike!