A Guide to Bike Commuting in Rochester
Rochester can be a great city for biking, and many people in Rochester use their bikes to commute to work. Here's a guide to get you started.
How to Find a Bike
There are a number of bike shops in Rochester with a great selection of bikes. Bike shops generally have knowledgeable staff that can help you determine what sort of bike is best for you and your commute. RocWiki's profiles of the various local bike shops can help you determine what shop is closest to you and which one you'll feel most comfortable dealing with. Bikes sold at bike shops usually have high quality components and are quite reliable, but can be expensive - commuter models will cost you from $200 to $700.
For a better deal, Rochester Craigslist has an active bike section with reasonably outfitted bikes of various sizes available for as little as $50 or so. Be sure to look up the kind of bike you're getting, and unless you're getting a great deal make sure you don't end up with a "department store bike" of questionable quality.
If you're worried about storing your bike, or want to be able to easily fit your bike in small spaces, folding bikes may be an option for you. There are currently a couple models available at Park Ave Bike Shop, and many local shops can special order folding bikes for you.
Helmet (for bicyclists under age 14)
A bell, horn or other device that can be heard at least a hundred feet away. (Sirens and whistles are not permitted)
White front headlight visible in darkness for at least 500 feet, and a red or amber taillight visible for at least 300 feet. (For night biking only)
Spoke-mounted reflectors or reflective tires. Reflectors must be colorless or amber for front wheels, and colorless or red for rear wheels.
Outfitting Your Bike for Rochester Weather
Rochester weather can pose an interesting challenge to the bike commuter, but with a little bit of planning and the right bike features your journeys can be much more comfortable.
Fenders can be an important investment for Rochester cyclists. Whether you're braving streets covered with snow, slush, or rain, fenders will help keep dirty street water off of your back end and your bike. Some bike come fitted with fenders, but most require aftermarket fenders available at bike shops. Bikes come in many shapes and sizes, so you'll probably want to bring your bike to the shop and ask the shop staff which fenders will fit your bike. The shop will even install the fenders for you for a small price.
If you ride in the winter, studded tires are a good investment. They make riding on the roads much safer and may make paths that are not plowed or salted, such as the Canal Path, passable. Read this thorough article on studded bicycle tires.
You may find that you work up a sweat during your commute, depending on the weather and on what pace you ride at. Many bike commuters recommend changing clothes once you reach work. This will also give you the option of wearing clothes designed for cyclists made from sweat-wicking materials.
But how do you carry your change of clothes? One option is to wear a backpack, but you may find that wearing backpacks during bike riding can result in serious amounts of back sweat. Messenger bags, designed for use on bikes, will reduce the back sweat issue but usually aren't comfortable if you overload them.
But why carry the weight when your bike can do it for you? Back bike racks are designed to hold weight from 35-50 pounds depending on the model and are installable on most bikes. You can strap your load directly onto the rack, attach some sort of crate or basket to the rack to carry your stuff, or buy specialized bags called panniers that attach to the sides of your rack and place your items in those.
Braving the Rochester Streets
The first time you set out to ride your bikes on city streets can be nerve-racking. You may hesitate to ride on the road, and want to stick to the sidewalks, but generally the road will be safer for you and your fellow travelers.
New York State traffic law gives cyclists the rights and responsibilities of motorists. Cyclists are required to ride in the right-most area of the right lane, or in the shoulder when available, but cyclists may ride out in the center of the lane to avoid hazards. Be sure to look behind you before moving to the left. Motorists are required to wait until it's safe to pass you.
Rochester riders do face a few hazards beyond the motorists they share the road with. Look out for potholes and cracks in the road that could send you flying. Also be aware of people exiting cars parked on the street - car doors are a very serious danger.
You're required by NYS law to have a proper lighting on your bike after dark (and it's a really good idea). Bike light kits with long-lasting LED lights are available at bike shops for as little as $20. Proper lighting consists of a headlamp on the front the bike and a back light such as a red flasher. You can be pulled over and ticketed for improper lighting.
Mixed Use Paths
Rochesterians are blessed with a number of paths running through parks and alongside the Erie Canal and Genesee River. A great video guide to some of these trails is available at BikeRoch Cyclists are usually welcome on these paths, but be aware of other paths users, including dog walkers, runners, and rollerbladers. It's a good idea to slow down close to walking speed when approaching pedestrians. You should also let them know with an audio cue that you're passing, but don't assume that all path travelers can hear you.
Many sections of the path aren't lit at night, so if you plan to travel after dark, be sure to have a powerful light on your bike.
You may be able to use the local bus service for part of your commute. Thanks to some local bike advocacy, the RGRTA's RTS Bus system is equipped with front-mounted external bike racks with space for 2 bikes per bus. The racks fit standard size adult bikes.
The bus racks are pretty easy to use. When the bus stops, pull the rack down with the handle release at its top. The front and back rack should be marked with the proper direction to secure your bike. Place your bike onto the rack, fitting your wheels into the wheel holders. You'll see a bar with a hook on the end at the front base of your front tire - pull the bar over your front wheel as far back as it will go. Your bike should be secured for travel. Don't forget to put the rack back up at the end of your bus trip.
You'll find that it's often much easier to park your bike than it is to park a car. Many streets in Rochester, such as Park Avenue, offer bike racks and loops to lock your bike to. If that's not an option, a sturdy lamp post or sign pole may work. Bike theft is a problem in Rochester as it is in any city, so be sure to use a lock that you're comfortable leaving your bike with.
If you're riding to work, talk to your employer about keeping your bike inside.
Several City garages offer bike lockers, (Court Street, East End, High Falls, Sister Cities, South Avenue and Washington Square). All it takes is filling out an application in the Municipal Parking Division office along with a refundable key deposit of $30.00 and a yearly rental fee of $32.00. Call the Municipal Parking Division at (585) 428-6925 to check on the availability of bike lockers. The application form is here: http://www.cityofrochester.gov/main/docs/municipalparking/lockerApp2.pdf
As a daily bike user, it'll be a good idea for you to learn some bicycle maintenance. Full Moon Vista sometimes offers classes, and check your local library for books on the subject. The Internet is also a good resource. You'll want to know how to change a flat tire and be able to clean your chain from time to time.
Be sure to keep your bike working well with periodic tune-ups at your bike shop.
Joining the Rochester Bike Community
Take a look at RocWiki's Biking page to learn more about Rochester's bike movement. You'll find many local organizations and group rides with seasoned cyclists who are happy to share their knowledge and road stories with anyone who will lend an ear. The local bike blog RocBike features upcoming bike events and essays about bike commuting in Rochester. Join the online Rochester Bike Community forum at RocRider and plan events and share knowledge with fellow riders. Events like Critical Mass and the Rochester Bike Kids can be a good way to meet fellow bike commuters and become more confident riding on the street.
Good luck, and we'll see you out there!
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