“When man invented the bicycle he reached the peak of his attainments. Here was a machine of precision and balance for the convenience of man. And (unlike subsequent inventions for man’s convenience) the more he used it, the fitter his body became. Here, for once, was a product of man’s brain that was entirely beneficial to those who used it, and of no harm or irritation to others.”
– Elizabeth West, Hovel in the Hills
A Bicycle for Every Rider
There are as many types of bicyclists out there as there are bicycles, each with their own styles, needs, and functions… Before you decide whether or not cycling is for you, consider the many options available. We found a great guide to bicycles that helps to explain the different styles of bikes out there on the road. Take a look!
Looking for a bike buddy for your commute? Check out myCommuteSolutions to get started.
City of Austin Bicycle Map
CAMPO’s Regional Bicycle Map
Williamson County, Texas Park and Bicycle Map
183 Shared Use Paths
Brushy Creek Regional Trail
The University of Texas Rack Map
Bike Commuting Options and Resources
Austin B-Cycle – Building on the national bike-share phenomena, Austin B-cycle provides a network of 24 hour/day, on demand bicycle stations to the urban core. With over 40 station operating in downtown Austin, B-cycle will get you from point A to B fast and easy.
BikeTexas – Offers educational resources, such as SafeCyclist Certification Traning, SafeCyclist Curriculum, and the BikeTexas Safe Routes to School Event Manual
BikeAustin – Provides information and resources
American Cycling Association – Hosts a number of cycling education courses
The Center for Cycling Education – Offers courses on essential cycling skills and laws
The National Center for Bicycling & Walking – Provides the Top 10 Bike/Ped Resources. You can find information from the League of American Bicyclists, Rails to Trails Conservancy, National Complete Streets Coalition, and more! Click here to get started.
Visit The Bike Cave, a bicycle cooperative, on the campus of Texas State University. Students can tune up or repair their bikes and there is even a cave tech on site to help with self-repair of your bicycle. If you are at UT, check out The Kickstand, which is the new university bike hub. You can register your bike, pump up your tires, and even purchase bike supplies. Go multimodal! All UT and Texas State buses are bike-friendly and have bike racks on the front of the bus.
Capital Metro (bus and train) and CARTS buses have bike racks available for riders. Capital Metro also offers Bike Shelters at several of their MetroRail and MetroRapid stations. You can find more information here.
Ready to get started? Check out this video from The League of American Bicyclists on Fitting and Adjusting Your Bike.
So you want to start riding a bicycle? Congratulations! Making this decision is the first step. Two things will make your first ride a pleasure rather than a pain:
Start slow. There’s no need to kill yourself when you start. Even if you’re already in good shape, cycling uses different muscles than other exercises, and your body will need time to get used to the new types of stress. Start out nice and easy, enjoy yourself, and progress gradually. Begin with a couple of miles and do them nice and slow. Have fun!
Be safe. Cycling can be dangerous, especially if you’re on the roads with all those crazy drivers out there. In the beginning, stay within your comfort zone. Ride during daylight hours, follow traffic laws, always yield the right of way, wear bright colors and reflectors, and wear a helmet. More safety tips below.
If you want to take a super comprehensive, short (3-5 hours) class that will prepare you for riding in traffic, teach you how to change a tire, and so much more, check out the Austin Cycling Association Traffic Skills 101 Class. Your safety and well-being is worth every penny!
Before you get hooked and turn into a complete bicycle nut, there are a few essentials every cyclist, no matter how casual, should have:
Helmet. Don’t ever ride without one. It can mean the difference between a bad headache and being a vegetable. Make sure it fits well (see this guide for tips on that, along with other equipment needed to get started).
Water bottle. Get one with a cage that attaches to your bike. Regular bottles don’t fit in this cage, btw. An alternative is a hydration backpack. In central Texas, it doesn’t take much to really get dehydrated, so whether you’re riding 3 miles or 30, it’s a great idea to tote some water along.
Pump. A portable pump that you attach to the bike is necessary, in case you get a flat or a slow leak. Walking your bike back home can turn a short jaunt into an hour-long ordeal. A floor pump is good to have at home, for easier pumping, but isn’t at all necessary. Gas station pumps work great, unless your valves are incompatible (converters are cheap and easy to come by).
Repair kit. Eventually, you will get a flat. A simple repair kit includes a patch kit, a spare inner tube, 2 tire levers, a multi-tool for bikes, all in a small bag that attaches to the bike. However, a kit is useless if you don’t know how to change a tire. It’s a simple skill every cyclist should know. Check it out!
Once you’re a die-hard, daily cyclist, your needs change a bit, and you may find yourself needing additional equipment:
Gloves. Essential for longer rides, and for hot weather. They absorb shock from the handles (cycling gloves are padded), minimize slippery grips (from sweaty palms), and most important, if you crash, your palms are protected.
Bike computer. This attaches to the bike and tells you how far you’ve gone, how fast you’re going, your RPMs, and all other kinds of good info. This is great for the competitive cyclist, the dieter, or the OCD type who loves to keep track of it all.
Glasses. These are a must. They block bugs and other debris from hitting you in the eyes, and help minimize glare on a bright day.
Shoes/pedals. The most efficient way of peddling is if you are using your up-stroke as well, not just your down-stroke (pulling the pedals up and pushing them down). To do this, you either need toe cages to put your shoes in, or the kind of pedals that lock into your cycling shoes.
Lights. These are a must if you ride when it begins to get dark. Not only for safety, but because it is the law (more on that below)
Racks. Essential if you want to transport anything. There are all kinds of racks and panniers (cycling bags) out there. A must-have for daily commuters.
Rules of the Road
While cycling is fun, it carries some risks. As you transition into regular bicycle riding, following a few simple guidelines will help keep you safe, and outside the reach of the long arm of the law.
Ride with traffic, not against it. Even though it may not feel like it sometimes, the bicycle is a vehicle under Texas law, and must be operated as such. Always stay on the right side of the road.
Obey all traffic laws, regulations, and signals. Cyclists have all the rights and duties that drivers do. Always yield to pedestrians.
Ride Defensively. Expect the unexpected- particularly at intersections. Don’t assume motorists see you—make eye contact before you make a move. Watch out for parked vehicles pulling into traffic, and always watch for car doors opening in your path.
Use extra caution making left turns. It is perfectly legal to make a pedestrian left: continue straight across the intersecting road, obey the traffic signals, turn left at the corner, and proceed as usual. Bicyclists may also dismount and walk in the crosswalks of the two intersecting roads. If traffic control devices specify the method of crossings, those directions must be followed.
Signal all turns and stops. Hand signals help you communicate with motorists, just like vehicle turn signals do.
Lights are required at night. Texas law requires that all bicycles on the road between sunset and sunrise must have at least one white headlamp visible at least 500 feet to the front. To the rear, either a red reflector(visible from 50-300 feet), or a red light(visible from 500 feet) is required. A flashing light is recommended due to its higher level of visibility.
Riding on sidewalks is dangerous! Seriously, sidewalks are for pedestrians. Additionally, on certain streets in Downtown Austin, as well as in University areas, riding on the sidewalk is illegal and may result in a citation. Remember, bicyclists travel at a greater speed and have less ability to maneuver than pedestrians, so crashes with pedestrians (which can be deadly) are more likely to happen on a sidewalk than off. Bicyclists riding on sidewalks often ride facing traffic and enter into roadways, surprising motorists, who do not expect to encounter bicyclists on sidewalks, so they don’t look ahead for bicyclists when turning in and out of driveways or side streets.
Overcoming the Obstacles of Bicycle Commuting
A growing number of people who ride a bike for transportation have figured out ways to overcome obstacles which prevent many potential bike commuters from giving it a try.
Obstacle 1: Safety
Route Selection is key to feeling safe on your ride to work. The safest and most enjoyable route for you to take on your bike is probably not the route you would use when driving your car. Generally, avoid streets on busy bus routes. Playing leapfrog with a bus is not only irritating but potentially unsafe. Alleys make bad shortcuts, known for poor surface conditions and unpleasant odors. And drivers are not looking for a bicycle to come out of an alley on to the street.
The Austin Bicycle Mapis a great tool for route selection because the streets are color coded based on factors like traffic volume, availability of shoulders or bike lanes, and incline. Another resource is other bicycle commuters. Ask people for their suggestions!
Visibility is about wearing wearing reflective clothing, using those blinking lights, and positioning yourself while you’re riding to increase the probability that drivers will see you. At intersections, stop behind a car where you can see the driver’s face in the driver-side outside rearview mirror. In addition to ensuring that the driver can see you, that position also makes you visible to cars on the opposite side of the intersection who might otherwise not see you before starting a left turn through the intersection.
Following the Rules of the Road will possibly have the greatest impact on your overall safety. If you don’t already know the Texas bicycle laws, please take the time to learn them before you start riding in traffic. Several local organizations provide traffic cycling skills courses and resources to refresh your knowledge of road rules
Obstacle 2: Distance
There is no rule saying that you must ride your bike the entire distance.
“Multi-modal transportation” describes the practice of using two or more forms of transportation to get to your destination. You could drive part of your trip to work and bike the rest of it. Over time you could gradually drive less, increasing the distance you ride to work, and eventually bike the entire way. Another option is to use the bus to transport you and the bike part of the way.
Don’t forget! Know the rules of the road and check out this informative video on bike safety!