So, Just What is Utility Riding?
It's getting the groceries or picking up the dry cleaning or stopping by the library or the drug store. On your bike. It's all the various short travel tasks and errands you now do in your car (in fact, 90% of your car trips are under two miles). Utility riding is one of the most important contributions to the community you can make on your bike, because it reduces auto congestion in your neighborhood and eliminates the most energy wasteful driving you do - short urban trips.
What You Need in A Utility Bike
On the bright side, you can start utility biking with just about any bike. All you really need is luggage racks to carry stuff, because that's what utility riding is all about - carrying stuff from one place to another. Decent racks and grocery panniers aren't all that expensive, and you can put them on nearly any bike. Some even snap off the bike and become shopping bags you can carry into the store, eliminating the need for "paper or plastic."
Carrying Larger Loads
Of course, you can only carry so much on a standard bike with panniers, even big ones. So, if you're really serious about utility biking and you need to carry bigger stuff or larger loads (or even haul the kid along), you'll need to look at real cargo bikes. Another bright spot is the emergence of many new bikes designed specifically for urban utility riding - from hauling kids to refrigerators, they'll challenge your concept of what a bike can really do.
Alternatively, you can opt for a bike trailer. These are popular, flexible and you can use your old bike without expensive upgrades. Trailers are made in models to haul kids, animals, construction materials and anything else you may have in mind. A trailer will carry much more payload than any utility bike, and when you take it off you have your old bike back again.
A Little Help When You Need It Most
If you're going to be hauling heavy cargo or have a long or especially hilly route, you may want to think about a power assist for your bike. There are a number of electric and gas-powered motors offered specifically for bicycles. You can buy an powered bike off the shelf or retrofit nearly any style of bike with gas or electric power assist.
There is a lot more helpful information on riding around town in the Commuting section.
Changing Your Habits
Planning and Organizing
Utility riding is all about efficiency. Because your bike is slower than your car, it just takes more time to go places. Which means not only allowing more time for travel, but organizing your ride so you can do all your errands in one trip. You'll need to make complete and accurate lists so you won't have to go pedaling back to the grocery for that lemon you forgot to write down.
Just Do It
The biggest hurdle will be changing your paradigm for running errands - instead of reaching for your car keys, you'll need to reach for your helmet. It will be a challenge at first, just forcing yourself to ride instead of drive. But after you do it for a little while and get past your old mindset, you'll find yourself enjoying it! Honest!
Remember, you don't have to ride 100% of the time to be a successful utility rider. Riding only when it's nice out or only on trips less than two miles still helps. Every day you don't use your car is a better day for all of us! And the more you ride, the better you'll like it and the more you'll ride. Just do it.
On the Road
Utility bikers generally take safety more seriously than road bikers, many of whom tend to rely on speed and superhero costumes to keep them from harm. Perhaps carrying a load of groceries, pulling a trailer or hauling your kids tends to make you feel more vulnerable on the road. In addition to following the guidelines on the Safety section, many riders use one or two flashing bright blinkies (even in the daytime) and a flag. Another hint is to avoid rush hour for your shopping trips - bikes are harder for cars to see when traffic is congested and drivers are stressed out.
Locking Your Bike
One of the problems you'll face as a utility cyclist is a lack of secure facilities for your bike at the stores you visit. Few stores have bike racks; frequently you'll need to find a tree or pillar to lock your bike to. Stores in large malls or smaller strip malls usually have light posts in the parking lot with large concrete bases you can use. Fortunately, there are relatively few areas where you can expect vandalism, so theft and damage problems are really minimal. Mostly you'll have to protect yourself against grab and run thieves, and this can be done by securing your frame. Many cyclists also run a cable through one or both wheels as well. Some riders also detach computers, lights, saddles and other valuable accessories and carry these into the store in their trunk bags. Your patch kit will be small enough to stow in a seat or handlebar bag, which can be removed and carried with you. I leave my accessories in place and have not had a problem, nor have I ever heard of anyone else's accessories being lifted locally. However, you should consider the relative safety of your neighborhood.
Talk the Talk
You may be able to influence the availability of conveniences like bike racks. Talk to the store managers about this problem, suggesting the movement toward utility biking and the likelihood of shopping there more often if there were adequate secure facilities.
|On-line Bike Forums
Local Bike Shops
|Utility Biking Links