how to bike commute safely

Chart credit: American Journal of Public Health


Born of Dream and Desire to Bike

I want to be a bike commuter. I don’t want to have to sit in traffic. I want to save some more money. I’d like to lose some weight. Being able to take the train sometimes would still be helpful… But I don’t know anything about bikes, I mean besides the obvious parts – wheels, pedals, brakes and such. How am I supposed to do this? I don’t really know anyone else who rides quite so far – I live in the suburbs and I’m scared. Is it safe? What about riding at night? 

That was me a few years ago. I had moved to the suburbs and had a transit choice to make. In and amongst a lot of the other questions in that thought process was: how do I do this safely? The trip was twelve miles each way and there wasn’t necessarily going to be a lot of support if something went wrong. I wanted to do it right and I refused to be discouraged by doubts.

Commuting Safely

Each bike commuter comes to this in their own way, and maybe this is something you do? Maybe you’ve been thinking about it? The  American Journal of Public Health recently published a study with data coming from Canada. Part of that report includes the image above. Outside Magazine and The Atlantic: Cities have also mentioned this study.

“The genius of this study is that each biker was used as his her own control. On a map, the researchers traced each route with the riders and identified where their accidents had occurred. A random sampling of other points on those same routes was used to compare with the injury locations. That means that the final results weren’t skewed by the fact that some bikers were male or young or drunk, or that the weather was bad some days, or that some bikes themselves were wonky. The researchers then visited all of these locations – about 2,100 of them – to classify them among the 14 route types. And the final statistical analysis confirmed that, indeed, accidents happen when we don’t build (or paint) cyclists their own infrastructure.” -Emily Badger, The Atlantic Cities

The authors found, just as depicted in the chart above, that cycling infrastructure was a major player in less accidents, something that came as rather surprising given the urban design ethos that prevailed up until the present.  John Forester’s “vehicular cycling” had been the common sense of city cycling infrastructure design up until only recently. As Emily Badger says in The Atlantic, “accidents happen when we don’t build (or paint) cyclists their own infrastructure.”

Taking Action

Taking a moment to examine the chart we find that if the option to ride on a cycle track, bike path, or bike lane presents itself, that’s the first choice. Entwined with these options come local bike routes and streets with traffic calming. Major streets with parked cars and no cycling marks at all are the least preferable. Getting to know your city on a bike may feel a bit different than by walking, in a car, or train – but over time and with some exploring you can identify a route that works for your ability and comfort level.

When I rode in from the suburbs I had access to a separate, paved path classified as multi-use but predominantly used by cyclists for all but the first half mile and last few blocks of my commute. When winter came and the days got shorter this path was not illuminated sufficiently and so I had to do more street riding for better lighting. It took some study and exploration to find roads that were well lit, calm, and that I felt comfortable with. And it was well worth the effort. I was able to cycle well into December of that first winter, until the snows came.


I lost more than the usual 13 pounds beginning cyclists tend to lose in their first year. My bicycle paid for itself in saved commuting costs in less than a month. And I didn’t have to ride every day to accomplish this. Sometimes I took the train or the bus or participated in a carpool. Over time it came to be that getting from here to there by bike is my favorite way to get around.

Everyone at Montague HQ commutes by bike: some every day, some mix driving or public transit in a bit more. If you’ve been thinking about bike commuting, either as it’s own activity, combined with driving or public transit and you’ve got questions, we’re happy to help out! This speaks for itself, but having a folding bike doesn’t hurt either, then the multi-modal is a snap, as the saying goes.




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