Bike Commuting 101

If you’re new to bike commuting, going by pedal-power may seem a little intimidating. Here are a few tips to get you on a bike and on your way to a better commute:

Step 1: Find a bike that’s right for you

With so many styles and sizes to choose from, finding a bike that’s right for you can seem overwhelming. Being comfortable on your bike is the most important thing, so try stopping by a local bike shop and testing out different styles and sizes. Talk with the shop attendant about how you’ll be using the bike (commuting? grocery shopping?), and they’ll be able to tell you your frame size and suggest different bikes to try. If shopping for a bike still seems intimidating, ask a bike-minded friend, family member or co-worker to go with you when you look at bikes; they’ll know what to ask and look for in a bicycle. Once you’ve tried a few different bikes and have a better idea of what you want, you’ll be ready to buy a new or used bike that’s perfect for you!

Step 2: Plan your route to UW

There are many resources to help you find a great bike route to campus:

  • Transportation Services’ Commute Options program is your one-stop shop for learning all about your commute options, including bicycle route planning.
  • Google Maps provides bicycle directions! Enter your start and end points and let Google do the rest. Please note that some directions are still in beta.
  • Ride the City gives you three different routes to choose from. Just decide whether you want a “Direct,” “Safe,” or “Safer” route.

Once you decide on a route, test it out! Try your new route on a weekend before your first commute to campus. There should be fewer cars out, and you’ll get an idea of what to expect from your route during a regular commute. Consider asking a friend or co-worker who already bikes to ride with you the first few times.

Putting your bike on a bus? Try our practice rack!

Transportation Services has a full-sized practice bus bike rack to you to try out 24/7. It’s located in front of our building at 1320 NE Campus Parkway. Using the bus bike rack is easy, and trying the practice rack a few times will give you the confidence to load your bike on a real bus.

Step 3: Know where to park your bike at UW

The UW campus is home to more than 5,500 bicycle parking spaces, including racks, lockers, rooms and houses. If you have questions about parking your bicycle at a specific building, contact the building coordinator to see what your bicycle parking options are.

Step 4: Accessorize

In addition to your bicycle, certain accessories are required by law, and others will make your experience on a bike much more enjoyable. Here are our “Top 5” recommended accessories:

  1. Helmet:

    The law requires you to wear a helmet when biking. Helmets are designed to prevent injury from a single impact, so replace your helmet if it absorbs a major impact. Helmets should be replaced every three-to-five years due to materials degradation.
  2. Lights:

    The law requires you to have a white front light and red rear reflector when riding at night. We recommend a solid white front light, at least one blinking red rear light to go with your rear reflector, as well as helmet and wheel lights.
  3. U-Lock:

    A stolen bike will ruin your day, so protect your bike by locking it up with a high-quality U-Lock. Learn about proper locking techniques here.
  4. Fenders:

    Keep your bike, body and the folks riding behind you dry by investing in full front and rear fenders!
  5. Bike Bell:

    Politely alert pedestrians and slower-moving bicyclists that you’re about to overtake them by ringing your bell. Ringing your bell makes you more predictable as a rider, which makes it safer for folks around you.

Step 5: Attire-ize

Just because it’s wet outside, doesn’t mean you have to be. Keep yourself warm and dry by investing in rain gear for fall and winter riding:

  • Rain jacket:

    Look for something waterproof, light and breathable. Jackets designed for biking also usually have a flap that protects your backside from the elements.
  • Rain pants:

    Look for something waterproof, breathable and that won’t restrict your movement. Rain pants designed for biking often have built-in reflectors for improved night-time visibility.
  • Gloves:

    Keep your fingers warm and dry! Gloves are a must, especially for winter riding.
  • Cap:

    Take care of your head and ears by covering them up with a cap. Caps designed for biking typically fit under a helmet and have built-in flaps or bands that cover your ears. We also consider these a must for winter riding.
  • Booties:

    Don’t get cold feet. Waterproof booties will keep your feet warm and dry. These low-cost wonders fit over most shoe styles and are easy to slip on and off.

Step 6: Register your bicycle with UWPD

Losing your bike stinks. Register your bike with UWPD, and if your bike is stolen and later acquired by UWPD, they’ll return it to you.

The tips on this page are by no means exhaustive. If you have questions or comments about these or other aspects of bike commuting, feel free to contact us at

Got all of your gear and interested in taking your bike skills to the next level? Consider signing up for Transportation Services’ bike classes taught by certified instructors from Cascade Bicycle Club. Enjoy the ride!

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