Live Life in the Bike Lane

If the fitness boost and An Inconvenient Truth haven't convinced you to commute by bicycle, consider this: Even at an easy pace, urban trips of less than three miles are generally faster on a bike. It's only beyond seven miles that cars consistently have the edge in the city.

    Photo: Photograph by Dwight Eschliman

Gear
(1) With electric lights and an enclosed chain, the eight-speed BREEZER UPTOWN 8 ($1,099; breezerbikes.com) may be the most practical commuter on the market. (2+3) Add Breezer's SUPERSIZE GROCERY PANNIER ($57) and BIZ PANNIER ($105) for hauling loads. (4+5) Even if your bike comes with lights, you can never be too visible at night; KNOG's silicone BULLFROG ($28; knogusa.com) and FROG ($12) lights wrap around any part of your bike. (6) CATEYE's sleek HL-EL 410 light ($40; cateye.com) can be affixed to your helmet, putting a 185-candlepower beam right where you're looking. (7) The waterproof-breathable ILLUMINITE XENON jacket ($120; illuminite.com) has a loose cut that fits over work clothes and millions of microscopic reflective particles that make you sparkle like the Vegas Strip. (8) The BELL METROPOLIS ($74; bellbikehelmets.com) offers urban (read: non-racer) styling and upgrade options like a taillight, a rearview mirror, a rain cover, and insulated earflaps.

Let's Do This
Test your route on a weekend first, to get a sense of the time and effort involved. And keep an eye out for shortcuts and scenic detours that might now be open to you.

You Are a Vehicle
Bike laws vary from state to state, but all 50 decree either that bikes are considered vehicles or that cyclists have the same rights as drivers. This means you've got to obey all traffic laws. (Yes, use hand signals.) But it also means that motorists have to treat you like another car.

On That Note
If there's no bike lane, ride on the right side of the rightmost lane. But hold your ground. If there's no shoulder, the road is too narrow, or you're moving at the same speed as traffic, feel free to take the lane. Regardless, always get in the middle of the lane at intersections to make yourself more visible. More info: bikeleague.org.

Don't Sweat It
Backpacks and messenger bags aren't the best options for bike commuting. You'll tend to sweat under them, and the straps will wrinkle your clothes. Stick with baskets and panniers.

And Lock This Way
Bike commuting won't save you money if your ride gets stolen, which is what happens to an estimated 500,000 U.S. cyclists a year. Lock things properly and you won't have to worry about how to get home.

Pick a highly visible area and lock your bike to a secure object that can't be easily removed and that your bike can't be lifted over.

Use two locks: Hook a U-lock through your front wheel, frame, and whatever object you're locking to, and run a chain or cable through both wheels, the frame, and U-lock, then around the stationary object. Our picks: The ONGUARD BRUTE STD ($72; onguardlock.com) and KRYPTONITE's NEW YORK CHAIN WITH EV DISC LOCK ($85; kryptonite.com).

Take the slack out of the cable or chain and fill up as much space inside the U-lock as possible. This makes it tougher for thieves to pry them open or use tools on them.

Register your bike with the police and/or at nationalbikeregistry.com.

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