Overcoming Commuting Obstacles: There’s no good way to get there by bike!

Ed. Note: The Overcoming Commuting Obstacles article was originally published in Bicycle Times #15, and offers solutions to common commuting roadblocks, written by a variety of people in a variety of places. I’m publishing each obstacle/solution as its own short post, one or two per day all week. 


By Winona Bateman

My friend looked at me like I was nuts; she knew Santa Fe, New Mexico, like the back of her hand. “You’re riding your bike around Santa Fe? Nobody rides a bike in Santa Fe.” I paused and thought about the other cyclists that I would pass while meandering around town. Then it hit me: perhaps she wasn’t seeing many cyclists in Santa Fe because she wasn’t looking for them, or perhaps as a diehard motorist, she was missing them because she took all the best routes for cars.

I’ve commuted and ridden in several large cities and communities: Minneapolis, San Francisco, Santa Fe, and now Missoula, Montana. Looking back on that conversation, I realize that, for the most part, whenever I have thought about how to get from point A to point B by bike, I have basically thought about routing in a similar fashion to our cartographers here at Adventure Cycling Association, who create bike-friendly (and enjoyable) routes for bike touring. What quiet, low-traffic roads are available to me? What delicious cup of coffee might I score on my way to work? Can I take a scenic route such as our pretty river trail, even if it’s slightly out of the way? How can I combine all three?

At times in my life though, a very direct route was better for me, especially when I first started commuting by bike. (I was really worried about “wasting time” back then.) However, the most direct cycling route can often be a major thoroughfare for motor vehicles as well. In this situation, I would time my commute just before or a bit after the major commuting hours to avoid a rush of cars.

I’m also a big fan of taking the lane, and have always done so. Heck, when I first started commuting by bike, I just assumed I had to act like a car—nothing else really made sense to me. But now, if there are several major arterials to choose from, I will generally take the one with a bike lane or “sharrows.” Still, in my experience, taking the lane is an especially important skill for roads with a higher volume of motor vehicle traffic—it helps you to be seen better in certain situations or establish enough room to ride, and is critical when making a left turn.

Many cities produce bike maps, detailing the local bicycling routes and trails. These can assist you in creating routes that combine quiet, bike-friendly options in combination (or not) with more heavily trafficked thoroughfares. Scouting your route by car might also be helpful—be sure to do it at commuting time as traffic volume can vary greatly throughout the day. A quiet road at 10 a.m. might be roaring at 5 p.m.!

Other great resources include local bike organizations, bike clubs, or shops. Why not get some tips from people already riding in your community?

Online resources that may be helpful include:

Google Maps (Get directions” button, then click on the bicycle icon): The bicycle-friendly routing still in “beta” and not always accurate, but it’s getting better as user input is accepted. When I input my daily Missoula commute Google routed me onto the most direct—but busiest— streets. In practice, I take an alternate route that follows our railroad tracks and includes my favorite coffee spot.

Ride the City: This site includes info on over 20 metro areas in U.S., plus cities around the world. One incredibly cool feature is the ability to choose a “safer route” or a “direct route.”

bike firering

Illustration: Julia Green

Stay tuned for more tips for overcoming different commuting obstacles, including rain, cold, kids who need to be at school, and being out of shape!

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