I'm not positive but I'm pretty sure this year marks the 20th year I've been commuting by bicycle to work. Sure, that statement dates me and if I count commuting to school by bike too, its been over 30 years.
Are you interested in bicycle commuting or just think I'm crazy to have done it for so long? Well read on because I'm going to share a little wisdom and a lot of common sense on how it's done.
First and foremost, when you're job searching or home searching, make the commute a priority! When I moved to Portland, Oregon back in the late 80s I had a job. I knew where I was going to work so when I was looking for a place to live, the number one priority was that I was close to work; less than 5 miles. Since initially moving here, I've lived in five different places, but none farther than 5 miles from work. I could probably stop here as this really is the most important part of bike commuting, however then I wouldn't get to talk about the fun stuff, like the bike and gear!
Also important and simply weren't around when I first started bike commuting, are disc brakes. Seriously, these are a game changer for bike commuting especially in wet conditions. They allow you to stop much quicker than bikes using caliper or cantilever brakes and the upkeep is much easier. Twice a year I get my bike tuned up and they adjust the disc brakes and install new pads if needed. I think I've only replaced the pads on the disc brakes once or twice in 6 years, in comparison, old style brakes go through pads every couple months.
Aside from the bike, there's a litany of accessories to buy for it and most are personal preference except fenders, lights, and a helmet.
Fenders are a necessity if you're ever, ever going to ride in the rain. They will keep your backside dry and just as important, keep you from being the a-hole rider that spews water onto everyone behind them or passing them. You don't want to be THAT rider and because of that, opt for fenders that cover most of your back tire.
For me, since most of my route to work is well lit and I'm not riding in complete darkness, the lights on my bike are more for others to see me rather than for me to see where I'm going. Therefore, I opt for a simple front white blinking light and a red back blinking light. Both these lights have the option of not blinking but blinking lights let drivers know you're a bike and they can plan accordingly. I also like that these lights take simple AA batteries and not some fancy battery you have to run to a special store to get.
A helmet is just common sense, especially if you ride in increment weather. You can spend as little as $15 or as much as you want. I've crashed 3 times on ice and each time I fell and hit my helmet on the concrete before I even knew what happened. It was quick and there was no way I could have kept my head from hitting the ground. After a crash, it's always important to replace your helmet, they're only meant to withstand one blow. Oh, and by the way, don't try riding when it's icy out. Take the bus or work from home.
jacket one that will keep you dry from the rain on the outside and not trap the sweat on the inside. Along that same line, on really rainy days you'll probably want some rain pants. The past couple of years, I've been using a bike poncho to commute in wet weather. I prefer this to rain pants as I find rain pants slip around on the bike seat. I also recommend, for those really rainy days, a pair of shoe covers. They're not expensive (I've even seen people just rubber-band some plastic bags around their shoes) but are worth it.
It goes with out saying that when you're on a bike you're vulnerable. Your best line of defense is to act predictable which means follow the traffic laws, stop at stop signs and red lights, take your turn at four way stops, signal when turning and changing lanes, and ride in a straight line.
The best advice I can give for bike commuting is simply to try it. You'll discover over time what works well and what doesn't work but just try it.
And now if you've stuck with this post long enough to get to the end, for your viewing pleasure, here's a (bad) video of my commute.