Commuting by bike in Knoxville

Patrick Beeson Local Living, Outdoors 3 Comments

I rode my bike to work Friday for the first time in my professional life. I didn’t feel like the stereotypes either: that guy who lost his license for a DUI, or that nerdy environmentalist who doesn’t own a car.

I am simply a guy who loves cycling and doing the right thing, which in this case means not driving to work when you live only 2.5 miles away. That and the price of gas in Knoxville just reached a new high.

But as a resident of West Knoxville — the part of Knoxville developed with little thought to transportation by anything other than a car — what are some ways to ease into the two-wheeled commute?

Choosing your equipment

Cycling to work is less expensive than using a car, but it’s not free. You’ll need a few things to get started, some of which are:

  • Bike
  • Helmet
  • Backpack or messenger-style bag with enough room for your work clothes, lunch and other work items such as a laptop (optional)
  • Cycling or fitness clothing (optional)

The bike doesn’t need to be an expensive carbon-fiber road bike. It can be a mountain bike, hybrid or even a fixed-gear track bike. You will want tarmac-friendly tires and gearing suited for your chosen commute (more gears for hills, less for flats). If you’re using a second-hand bike, or one that hasn’t see use in awhile, run it by a local bike shop such as West Knoxville’s Cedar Bluff Cycles for a checkup.

I’m riding my cyclocross bike, which as it happens is perfect for commuting with its generous gear ratio, larger tires and slightly upright riding position.

The weather in Knoxville can be somewhat unpredictable so you might also want fenders other weather-related accessories for your bike. This also as implications in the type of clothing you wear on your ride — a suit might not fair well in a sudden rainstorm.

As a cyclist, I’m comfortable wearing a helmet, cycling shoes, shorts and a jersey. The wicking material ensures a more-pleasant ride should I break a sweat or get stuck in the rain. It has the added benefit of keeping your work clothing clean as well.

Wear a helmet even if your chose to ride in your work clothes. It has saved my life, and will save yours in case of an accident.

But some folks might not be comfortable with the cyclist-look, in which case you can always ride with the clothes you wear to work. (Just remember what happened to Jim in that episode of The Office.)

If you plan to ride in cycling clothing and change into different clothes at work, you’ll need a bag large enough to carry such gear. And no, you don’t need to use a messenger-style bag to do it.

I use a Timbuk2 classic messenger bag currently. It was made for carrying loads on a bike in a stable manner, and fits well. I’ve also used a traditional backpack in the past, but found it makes my back too sweaty in warmer weather.

My bag is a size medium, which I’ve found too small for carrying a 17″ laptop, shoes, clothing and lunch. I have a larger bag on order.

Riding with cars

The first reaction I received when arriving at the office by bike is shock that I would ride on a road without a bike lane. With cars. Big, scary cars.

I’m very used to riding with cars having been doing so for more than 10 years. But I can understand how it can be intimidating for a cycling n00b.

West Knoxville has no bike lanes that I’m aware of, which means you’ll be riding on the shoulder of the road, or slightly in the traffic lane. It’s completely OK, and legal to ride inside the lane despite what many drivers say. Do not ride on the sidewalk. This is for pedestrians!

Also, make sure you understand that cars will win in a fight with a bike.

Stay alert, make eye contact with drivers, and follow the rules of the road. Riding with cars will get easier over time.

Storing your bike at work

I am luck enough to work at an office with empty cubicles where I can stash my ride. Other folks can store it in their office. But if your place of work doesn’t provide such shelter, you’ll need a lock to secure it to a post outside. This isn’t the best for obvious reasons, rain being one, but will have to do especially in an urban environment.

My office also has showers and lockers for employees to use. This is also something most folks don’t have, which means you’ll either need to avoid the hottest time of the day (to avoid sweating), or bring in some baby wipes for a quick wipedown after arrival.

I take a shower, and do everything else I normally do in the mornings before work even though I’m riding my bike. I know other folks that take a shower at work.
Whatever works for you is fine.

Count your savings

By cycling to work at least three times a week, I’m hoping to save at least $10 to $15 dollars in gas. This doesn’t include maintenance, which for a VW owner can be expensive.

But I’m also getting in a brief workout twice a day, and I’m cutting down on pollution and congestion.

The biggest payoff for me came when I was able to skirt to the front of the line of 10 cars stopped at a stop-sign. Just make sure to do this in a safe manner — don’t ride in an unsafe manner simply because you’re on a bike and not a car.

It does take me longer to ride my bike to work than drive, but only by a few minutes.

Ultimately, the savings earned for commuting by bike are going to be determined by the individual. Some folks may find it not worth the hassle.

For me, it makes perfect sense and is enjoyable to boot.

If you have any questions about commuting by bike in Knoxville, please post a comment or get in touch with me directly. Happy cycling!

Note: This entry was originally published on Patrick’s blog April 19, 2008 at 5:37 p.m.

Photography by Patrick Beeson.

Comments 3

  1. Cutting down on pollution, yes. Cutting down on congestion, no. I support people riding their bikes, and it may cut down on congestion for them. However, it slows down all of the cars behind the cyclist (which is a lot during morning rush hour!) as they wait for an opening to pass. Without bike lanes, cyclists cause more congestion.

  2. Post


    That’s a valid point. I have noticed that drivers that know how to pass cyclists — those that give the legally required room — aren’t slowed down when passing.

    As more drivers switch from huge SUVs to smaller cars, passing will also become easier.

  3. I bike commute to work, but even living near downtown the roads are poorly designed for bicyclists. Luckily, there are enough bicyclists down here that most drivers have gotten used to passing bikes. I don’t envy handling the cedar bluff rush.

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