Commute by Bicycle
The bicycle is the greatest invention. If the distance to office or school is not that far, consider commuting by bicycle.


  1. Exercise is incorporated into daily life.
  2. Less stress by not being trapped in traffic jam.
  3. Save on travel cost, such as petrol, toll and parking.
  4. Less frequency in filling up car petrol tank, saving time.
  5. For a car, regardless how energy efficient it is, one litre of petrol gives a very low milege. For a bicycle, the energy equivalent to one litre of petrol gives an extremely high mileage.
  6. It can be faster to travel by bicycle than car in a city.
  7. Reduction of air and noise pollution.
  8. Contribution in easing up heavy traffic, giving way to fire engine and ambulance.
  9. It is fun.

What is not needed for a commuter bicycle

Go back to the basic. Expensive bicycle is not necessary. A bicycle is meant to be simple and minimalistic. Some attempts to complicate the design of bicycle have failed. It is not worth it to spend a lot more on special features.
  1. Carbon or aluminum alloy frame and fork. Although lighter and not rusting, they are not as strong and may fail after ten years of use. Such bicycles should not be used for carrying a person. Riding on aluminium frame is less pleasant because its shock absorption ability is lower. Especially avoid carbon frame because the manufacturing process is less friendlier to the environment. Any SAE steel grade will do. DP780 steel and chromoly steel are lighter but much more expensive.
  2. Disc brake, both hydraulic and mechanical. They are heavier. Hydraulic oil is pricey. Hydraulic brake is only needed on downhill mountain biking.
  3. Coaster brake. It is riskier because the bicycle will not stop with one foot on the pedal and there will be no brake if the chain drops off. The pedal cannot be moved to starting posiition without lifting the bicycle. It may overheat at hilly area.
  4. Front derailleur. It adds extra weight. It leaves a clamp mark on the seat tube. The shifter takes up the space on the handlebar where a bell should be installed. Especially look for bicycle that does not have a front derailleur. Depending on one's ability to pedal up a slope, choose bigger or smaller chainring. For example some bicycles come with 50-tooth chainring and some come with 46. Smaller chainring is lighter. The chainring can be changed. Before buying a chainring make sure the bolt circle diameter (110 mm or 130 mm), number of bolt holes (4 or 5) and number of speed are correct. The specification is engraved on the chainring.
  5. Suspension. It usually comes with aluminium alloy frame bicycle to absorb the shock from the frame. It dampens or saps the energy on normal road and uphill. It is heavy. Cheap suspension rusts after some time, causing the bicycle to look ugly.
  6. Shaft driven. It is not designed to go uphill as the cog may break when doing so. It is heavier.
  7. Tubeless tyre and sport rim.
  8. Double wall rim. It is usually used for high pressure tyre or off road.
  9. Quick release for wheels and seat post. Some strangers may mess with the quick release when the bicycle is parked at a public place. Theft of seat post and wheels has happened. As for the seat post, it may slip because the gripping power of quick release clamp may not be strong enough.
  10. Freehub. Although freewheel may wobble due to off-center machining, freehub is more expensive than freewheel hub.
  11. Bar end extensions. They may accidentally hook on something.
  12. Adjustable stem. It is potentially creaky and wobbly even very firmly tightened.
  13. Threadless stem. Although it allows easier swapping of stem, it may creak or flex due to having two pieces: threadless stem and its adapter. Get a bicycle with quill stem angle and height suitable to oneself so that no swapping is needed anyway. Swapping is only needed when the rider has changed.
  14. Folding bicycle. The folding joint can fail. In DFMEA (design failure mode and effects analysis), line item on folding joint is added for folding bicycle but not on normal bicycle. That means there is such risk. Besides that, frame flex happens at the hinge joint, giving a less pleasant ride. If one really wants a foldie due to space constraint or hopping on train, get one that does not break the top tube in half, at high price.
  15. Drop or touring handlebar. The size is too big.
  16. Bicycle side kickstand. To park the bicycle, just do the following. Use something to keep the lever of the front brake pressed to prevent the front wheel from rolling. Turn the handlebar to the left. Press the tread of the back tyre perpendicularly on something vertical and flat, such as a wall.
  17. Luggage carrier. It is not always needed and adds weight. Just use a backpack.
  18. Mountain bicycle. As the name implies, it is specialty bicycle for off-road use.
  19. New bicycle. Used bicycles are less attractive to thieves. Occasionally secondhand bicycles that still look new are available. By not getting new bicycle, earth resources are conserved too.
  20. Brand name.
  21. Wheels with Presta valve. It is usually found on performance bicycle with narrow tyre. This valve is thinner so the hole on the rim can be smaller. However such wheels cannot be pumped at petrol station without using an adapter. It is alright if the bicycle of choice happens to have this.
  22. Minimum tyre pressure over 50 psi. Higher pressure gives higher speed on paved road but gives more shock and may puncture more easily. Puncture can happen even after running into a pothole. Usually wider tyre needs lower pressure. Wider tyre contributes to shock absorption, producing a more comfortable ride. It is alright if the bicycle of choice happens to have this.

What is needed for a commuter bicycle

If the bicycle does not have any of the following, do not get it. Be patient when looking for a bicycle until it fits all the personal requirements. Do not buy bicycle online unless the bicycle model has been personally tested before. It may be difficult to find a bicycle that fits all personal requirements so be ready to do at least one customization. If one already has a bicycle, customize it to fit the requirements instead of buying a new one.
  1. Saddle position should be high enough that the leg is nearly straight when the foot on pedal is at its lowest (6 o'clock) position. The length of crank arms also contributes to thsi factor. Knees will be painful after riding if legs bend too much. Thus if there is knee pain after riding, the seat post needs to be extended immediately. That means while seated on the saddle one can only stand tiptoe on the ground. The height of the saddle is wrong if one can stand with feet flat on the ground while seated. Mount the bicycle to test this. Longer seat post can be purchased. When getting a bicycle, get the right size. The size is the length of the seat tube. For example a rider with 175 cm should get bicycle size of at least 52 cm. The length of crankarms also affects this factor.
  2. While standing over the top tube with feet flat on the ground, there should be a comfortable gap between the crotch and the top tube. This is to ensure one does not gets hurt when straddling the top tube.
  3. Upright riding position. It is easier to see forward in this position. Leaning forward too much is a common complaint among casual cyclists. The shoulder will not feel comfortable when the riding position leans forward for a long time. When riding such bicycle, change to upright position temporarily by not fully gripping the handlebar whenever the road is safe enough to do so. Test the bicycle by mounting it. When raising the stem, the minimum insertion line must not be fully visible or else the stem may loosen during cycling, causing loss of control. Get a quill stem extender if needed.
  4. Knees do not interfere with the handlebar when pedaling and turning.
  5. Wheel diameter suiting one's condition. Get the diameter, and width, which are common in the neighbourhood so that it is easier to find replacement. Take 700C and 20" for examples, which are usually associated with riding on road. They usually have smooth-tread tyre, giving less rolling resistance.
    700C can climb curbs more easily.
    700C is more visible to motorists.
    700C looks better for male rider.
    20" is lighter and thus easier to carry.
    20" needs smaller storage space and can be put into the boot of some cars after detaching the front wheel.
    20" is more efficient than bigger wheel at low speed up to about 20 kmph and is as efficient at medium speed.
    20" is sufficient for distance up to about 20 km.
    20" is nimble in city traffic where there are frequent stops.
    20" can be used by kids in the family.
    Note that 20" has two types of diameter: 406 mm and 451 mm. 406mm has wider tyre. Narrower tyre, although lighter, may cause the rider to fall if the tyre runs into a gap on the road that is parallel with the tyre.
  6. A chainring guard and a chain catcher (also called dog tooth). This is to avoid the chain from dropping.
  7. Availability of rear derailleur or internal hub gear, suiting one's condition. A rear derailleur with six sprockets is sufficient. For more sprockets, the chain has to be narrower so it does not last that long. Multiple speed bicycle is for the route that has a long distance of going up a slope. If the destination is not on a mountain, multiple speeds are not needed. People have been riding bicycle without any derailleur. Multiple speed bicycle is actually a specialty bicycle. For urban cycling, multiple speed bicycle is over-engineered. If there is a small stretch of slope along the way, just try to climb it. If the cycling cannot continue, just get down and walk. Walking or running up a slope may be faster than cycling. The body can get stronger over time and one can finally do it anyway. Cycling on single speed is already more relaxed yet faster than running. Benefit of single speed:
    - Lighter bicycle (shorter chain, no extra sprocket, no shifter set).
    - Free up attention to shift gear to traffic.
    - Free up time from maintaining derailleur, mainly on re-adjustment from time to time.
    - One can learn to harnest momentum for easier ride.
  8. Mudguards (or called fenders) to ensure clean riding on wet ground. Short mudguards and "ass saver", although less effective, are still better than having nothing. But ass saver obviously does not protect against the road spray from front wheel. Too bad many bicycles do not come with full mudguards because bicycles are thought to be recreationally ridden in good weather. Full mudguards keep both the rider and bicycle clean. A commuter bicycle is meant for all weather. For bicycle without mudguards, spend some effort to get them installed, even if custom-made. But to save the hassle, it is best to get a bicycle that already comes with full mudguards. If one does not like fixed mudguards, at least get detachable plastic ones that can be kept in the backpack. They can be attached to the saddle and the down tube when needed.
  9. In bicycle design for men, usually the top tube connects to the top of seat tube instead of middle of the seat tube. This design gives a stronger frame. It is also easier to lift the bicycle with one hand when needed.

To prepare for the ride

  1. Install a rear reflector, a wheel reflector and a detachable bright front light. If desired, also install a side mirror and a bell.
  2. Get a good lock. The lock when being hung on a bicycle should not interfere with riding.
  3. Get the permission from the building manager at the workplace to park the bicycle. Some building managers may be unfriendly towards parking of bicycle and may lock the bicycle.
  4. Get to know where the nearest bicycle shop is along the route and its opening hours.
  5. It is best if the rider knows to fix a flat tyre. Bring along a spare tyre tube, tyre levers, a wrench and a pump.
  6. Bring along clothes to change if desired.
  7. If desired, put a bright soft rod at the back, parallel to the handlebar. The rod should have the same length with the handlebar. Motorists coming from the back will be more careful when seeing the rod.
  8. Wear gloves that can protect the palms in case of fall.
  9. Tuck in shoe laces. The shoe lace can be stuck on moving part accidentally.
  10. Roll up pant legs.
  11. Do not put on music. Hearing is important in cycling. Anything that can distract the hearing must be avoided.

When riding

  1. Mount the bicycle by standing over the top tube first, then step on the pedal to get on the seat.
  2. Pedal slowly so that our knees are not hurt and we sweat less.
  3. If the bicycle has a rear derailleur, use the smallest sprocket by default. Shift to the higher sprocket only when climbing a slope or stopping at a traffic light. If one is used to the larger sprocket, it is more difficult to use the smaller sprocket. Stop pedaling for a moment when shifting.
  4. Do not ride near the door of a parked car as it may be opened suddenly.
  5. Be alert of any lurking bad guy, such as the snatch thief.

Caring for the bicycle

  1. Keep the bicycle somewhere without exposure to sunlight and rain.
  2. If the bicycle has a derailleur, shift to the smallest sprocket when the bicycle is not in use. This minimizes the frequency to re-adjust the derailleur. The higher tension at the bigger sprocket can gradually displace the adjustment of the derailleur.
  3. Make sure the chain is clean for optimum efficiency. Wax the chain instead of putting grease or oil. To wax the chain, disconnect the chain from the bicycle. If the chain already has grease, wash it in a closed glass container with petrol, diesel or thinner. Then leave the chain to dry. Meanwhile, sprocket and chainring can also be cleaned by using cloth or paper towel. After that put the chain and candle wax in a can. Do not heat the can directly on fire but put it in boiling water bath because wax can catch fire at high temperature. Once the chain is fully immersed in melted wax, take it out immediately and leave it to dry. The can of wax can be used again next time. Finally re-install on the bicycle.
  4. When fixing a flat tyre, always check the condition of rim tape (or called rim strip). Rim tape protects the inner tube from being punctured by the spokes. If the rim tape has a hole exposing the spoke, replace it.
Enjoy riding!
2015-06-16; updated: 2017-02-19 by Ong Seng Aun.
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