Bike Tips



Bike Tips

Bike Commuting

Traffic and parking

Who hasn’t been stuck in a miserable traffic jam trying to come into or leave downtown Providence? And, unless you rent a parking space by the month, it is likely that you’ve experienced the frustration of circling like a shark in the hopes of finding a place to leave your car. Bicycle commuting can help alleviate traffic and parking problems downtown. When you commute by bicycle you’ll be free of traffic and parking woes. And you’ll be making things easier for that nice old lady who just needs to pop downtown for a minute to pick up her new eyeglasses.

Financial savings

It costs over $3,000 a year to own, operate and maintain a motor vehicle! Paying for gas, parking and regular oil changes really adds up. On the other hand bicycle commuting is practically free. You’ll probably need a yearly tune-up for about $50. If you’re in the market for a bicycle, keep in mind that you don’t have to drop a lot of money on a fancy new bicycle. Top of the line bicycles are great for racing or taking on tough mountain trails. Be realistic about what you’ll be using your bike for and exactly what kind of bike you’ll need.

Personal Health and Wellness

Surveys show must of us don’t get enough exercise. It can be tough to squeeze in a workout at the end of a long day when you find yourself exhausted with a to-do list a mile long. We all know the benefits of regular exercise that range from weight control to disease prevention to an improved sense of relaxation and well being. Bicycle commuting is one way to work exercise into your daily routine. Instead of sitting in a car, you’re pedaling across town on your own power, getting a low-impact cardiovascular workout while your colleagues are just stuck in traffic.

If you’re concerned that you’re not in shape enough to begin commuting by bicycle consider driving part way to work and parking at a park and ride center or alternating bicycling one way and taking the bus the other way. You’ll be in shape in no time!

Bicycle commuting can also eliminate the stress felt while sitting in traffic. You’ll feel more relaxed and refreshed in the morning ready to make a great start. And in the evenings bicycling home will provide you with some needed personal time to unwind before facing family or roommates.

A cleaner environment

Last summer Providence had 10 ozone alert days, when air quality was so poor that people were asked not to drive their cars to work and buses were free. The pollution that cars produce causes ground level ozone or smog. Smog can cause burning eyes, make it difficult to breathe or even trigger asthma attacks.

Bicycle commuting helps by cutting down on the number of trips made by cars and therefore the amount of pollution released from cars coming downtown.


Even though this may be obvious, a big benefit of bicycle commuting is that it is fun! Riding your bike to work can make you feel like a kid again. Pretty soon you’ll be chasing the ice cream truck down the street and talking during class.

Consider Commuting: Bike To Work Book excerpts


The single most important (and cheapest!) accessory that a bicycle commuter will want is a pants guard, aka ankle strap. This handy device is worn wrapped around your pants near your ankle and keeps your pants from brushing against the chain and getting covered in black grease. If you’re without an ankle strap, you can always just tuck your pants into your socks.

Cyclists who plan to commute in all weather may want to consider fenders. They’ll help keep you from getting splashed as you ride in the rain or snow and keep you considerably dryer and cleaner. Some cyclists chose to make their own quicky fenders out of pieces of bleach bottles.

Other useful accessories include a basket or rack of some sort to help carry your lunch or that loaf of bread you pick up on your way home. A water bottle holder is also handy so you can stay hydrated on your ride. A good thermos will help folks who are used to taking a mug of coffee from home in the mornings.

Some stuff that might fit more under safety and maintenance but provide comfort in the form of peace of mind:

  • A portable bike pump
  • A patch kit and spare tube (especially if you have far to travel)
  • A rear view mirror – some attach to your helmet, some attach to your handle bars
  • A bell – not as loud as a car horn, but nice for warning pedestrians or giving a friendly hello

Not all cyclists will need all of these accessories. Once you’ve been riding for a few weeks it will become clear which ones are right for you.

Comfort Tips

Many of us have gotten used to the dry, warm, clean comfort of our automobiles. Those who chose to commute by bicycle don’t have to sacrifice those comforts. It just takes a little advanced planning.

What to Wear

Many cyclists chose to bike to work in their work clothes, unless it is extremely hot or raining out this is a viable option. You can ride slowly to work to avoid working up a sweat.

Other cyclists chose to ride in workout clothes and bring a change of clothing with them in a bag, they even make garment bags to fit on your bicycle. You may also chose to drive to work one day and bring several changes of clothes to the office for the days you bike.

When choosing an outfit to bike in make sure you take into account the day’s weather forecast. Layering is important during the cooler months, since you will start off cold and get warmer on your ride. Proper rain and cold weather gear is also key, if you plan to bike every day.

If you will be riding long distances to work, you might consider buying padded bike gloves and/or padded bike shorts to increase your comfort.

If you will be riding at night, light colored and reflective clothing will help motorists see you.

And, of course, you’re never fully dressed without your helmet!

Fit Your Bike

If you are in the market for a new or used bike there are many factors to consider when deciding which one is right for you. The best bike is the one that suits your needs so here are some questions to ask yourself before buying.

Where will I be riding my bike?

  • Mostly the bike path – road bike or hybrid
  • Mostly on the city streets – hybrid or road bike
  • A little bit of everywhere – hybrid
  • How fast it goes – road bike
  • How comfortable it feels – mountain bike or hybrid
  • How cool it looks – classic cruiser, custom make art bike, custom painted bike

Types of bikes

  • Road bikes generally have skinny tires, lighter frames and often have dropped handlebars for an aerodynamic ride.
  • Mountain bikes have thick tires, sturdier frames, and more upright handlebars so they can take the rough and tumble off-road riding.
  • Hybrid bikes combine features of both types of bikes, allowing for a more upright ride with slightly thicker tires than a road bike, with a lighter weight frame than a mountain bike.

Some people have a passion for classic cruisers. These bikes generally are made more for cruising around town and less for long rides.

Many people in Providence made their own bicycles. These bikes are original, handmade, functional works of art. Some of them are easier to ride than others, but they are all good fun.

Fitting Your Bike

There is a lot of information out there about how to properly fit your bike. Here are some good resources on the web. You should also find a good bike shop where you are comfortable asking questions and the staff takes their time to make sure you find a bike that’s a good fit for you, your body type, and your bicycling needs.

Here are some other links that might inform your search:

Maintenance Tips

Regular maintenance is important to your safety as well as the long life of your bicycle. Maintenance isn’t just a yearly tune-up. It means inspecting your bike every time you take it out for a ride. Listed below are quick checks to perform before heading out. See also the League of American Bicyclists ABC Quick Check.


Inflate tires to the rate pressure as listed on the sidewall of the tire. Use a pressure gauge to insure proper pressure. Look for any damage to the tire such as cuts, bulges, or tears. Remove small bits of glass, nails, etc. Replace the tire if it is damaged.


Check your brake pads for wear. Most newer bikes have ridged brake pads, replace the pads if the ridges are entirely worn down. Check your brake pad adjustments, they should hit the rim, not rub against the tire or dive into the spokes. Check your hand brakes, they should travel at least 1” between the bar and lever when applied.

Check your cranks and chain

Your crank bolts should be tight. Check your chain for signs of wear. Grease your chain –first with your bike upside down, take hold of your chain with a cloth. Pedal and run the cloth lightly over the chain to remove dirt. Then keep pedaling and apply a thin layer of chain grease. Excess grease will attract more dirt. If your chain skips on your cassette you might need an adjustment.

Check your quick releases

Your hubs should be tight in the frame and the quick release should engage at 90 degrees. You hub quick release should point back to insure that nothing catches on it. Inspect your brake quick releases to insure that they have been re-engaged if you have removed your wheel.

Take it out for a ride

Check to make sure the brakes and gears are working properly. If your bike won’t stay in gear or can’t shift to a low or high gear, get it checked out. Inspect your bike for any loose or broken parts, replace or fix them. You might even try picking your bike up and shaking it to see if anything sounds loose.

Winter Bike Care

  • Rims: When wet, brake pads grip aluminum rims better than they do steel.
  • Tires: Fat tires have better traction. Tires less than 1 1/4″ wide work better on wet streets when under-inflated. Use tires with a deep tread pattern.
  • Salt Damage: With lots of winter riding, occasionally wipe your frame, rims, spokes, and derailleurs, and lube your chain. Use a toothbrush for hard-to reach parts.<?li>
  • Fenders: They beat almost anything to keep you dry on wet pavement. The newest plastic ones are inexpensive and light, but can break if installed wrong.
  • Bearing Damage: After biking in wet weather put your bike indoors so bearings can dry.
  • Brakes: Grime builds up on brake pads, making them squeak or scratch your rims. Run a rag between each pad and the rim, like shining a shoe. Occasionally remove the wheel and check pads for wear.

If the vocabulary used on this page leaves you scratching your head you might consider taking a (free) basic bike repair workshop with the Providence based Recycle-A-Bike program. Give Neal a call at 454-JUNK to find out when the next workshop begins.

Safety Tips

  • A safe bicyclist follows the rules of the road (see the next section) and also abides by the following “unwritten” rules.
  • Check behind you before changing lanes. This means looking back to check for cars or other cyclists. Even if you have a mirror you should still look back because the mirror has a limited field of vision and won’t show you what’s going on right next to you.
  • Ride in a predictable fashion. That means following the rules of the road, and doing everything in your power to communicate to drivers and pedestrians what your next move (or stop) is.
  • Ride as if you were invisible. That does not mean BE invisible. This simply means do not expect that drivers see you. Give yourself enough room to get out of the way if a driver makes a sudden turn, pulls over or flings open a car door. Check and double check that you are noticed before making a turn yourself.
  • Be seen. Wear bright colors, reflective tape or vests, have reflectors and lights on your bike, get a bike bell. These are all things you can do to increase your visibility. Even if you do not think you’ll be riding at night, lights are still a good idea. If you plan to ride through the fall it will be dark by the time you leave work!
  • See the road. Periodically look ahead 100 feet for hazards in the road such as potholes or debris.

Before you ride

  • Get a helmet! Helmets decrease the risk of head injury in accidents by 85% when worn properly. Be sure to fasten your helmet snuggly under your chin, and wear it level on your head, not tilted back. A helmet is a protective device, not a jaunty cap. That being said, there are some very stylish helmets out there. If you’re concerned you won’t “look cool” in a helmet check out some of the newer models, or decorate your own. Helmets should be replaced after a crash that impacts the helmet. Even if you don’t see a crack the inner core of the helmet might be damaged.
  • Check Up! Both you and your bike need to be ready to ride. If you have any reason to be concerned about starting a new program of physical activity you’ll want to consult your doctor before getting started. Bicycling is a great low-impact activity that can help you get your recommended daily dose of exercise without spending long boring hours at the gym. Your bike may need a check up too. The League of American Bicyclists has a ABC quick check which outlines some basic things to inspect on your bicycle before every ride ( You might also want to consider having a professional tune-up. Find a bicycle shop that you trust and feel free to ask questions. Bike shops can be great resources.
  • Rules of the Road: For the most part Rhode Island law treats bicycles as vehicles just like cars, motorcycles, limos etc. So, just like a driver, there are certain laws that you have a responsibility to follow. Here are the three most important for day-to-day cycling:
    • Ride to the right of the road; go with the traffic not against it. Drivers are used to looking a certain way to see if anyone is coming before they turn. Riding the wrong direction (against traffic) makes you more likely to get hit. As you ride with traffic keep to the far right of the lane you need to use. Ideally, try to give yourself about three feet between you and traffic and three feet on the other side between you and the parked cars. This way you can avoid dangers from either direction.
    • Obey all traffic laws. Just like a driver of an automobile you must follow traffic signals and road signs. Again, this is for your safety.
    • Use turn signals. But bicycles don’t come with turn signals! So use your hands. The pictures below show proper hand signals for bicycles. The signals will help drivers predict where you’re going next.