Generally speaking, college campuses are easy to navigate by bike. In fact, a bike is usually the most efficient way to get from class to class without stressing over bus schedules, walking time or parking a car. But biking can be a little tricky: How do you avoid getting to class soaked with sweat? How can you prevent bike theft on campus? And how do you even get started without showing up to class late? We’ve got you covered.
Pre-plan your route
The week before classes begin, or whenever you decide to become a bike commuter, spend some time pre-riding to your classes, to the gym, to the quad, wherever you may be traveling. Use a stopwatch so you know exactly how long it takes to get from point A to point B. If you have a hectic schedule, a spreadsheet or blocking off time in your calendar for transit is some next-level preparedness. Always allot an extra five minutes to your travel time (at minimum) to allow for red lights, slow moving pedestrians, a packed bike rack that forces you to find alternate bike parking, or a flat tire. The good news: Riding to classes is almost always faster than taking the bus!
Figure out where the bike will go
Factor this into your timing—where the heck will you leave your bike? Ideally, you can see your bike from the classroom: Look for a window seat when possible! At the minimum, make sure that there’s a bike rack in a highly trafficked area, or at least a post that’s high enough that it’s impossible to pull the bike up and over it. Practice locking your bike up before classes start: Make sure your lock is long enough to get around both wheels and the frame. And consider asking the building supervisors for advice about where to stash your bike. Some areas may even have indoor bike storage, or a teacher won’t mind if you bring your bike in with you—you don’t know until you ask.
Be prepared for basic bike repair
“My bike had a flat tire” is rarely a solid excuse for missing an exam. Put together a small bike repair kit including a spare tube, patch kit, mini pump and multitool and keep it in your bag at all times. If you don’t know how to fix a flat, head to a local bike shop and ask for a tutorial. You may have to pay a mechanic a few bucks to teach you, but it could save your grade.
ABL: Always Be Locking
Whether you’re just running in to drop off a paper with a professor or grab a smoothie at the cafe, never leave a bike unlocked. Even in your dorm room, your bike should be locked up. That could mean locking it to your bed, or even simply winding the chain around the wheel and the frame. It may sound excessive, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. This is even more important if you have a roommate or housemates who tend to leave the door unlocked. (Or roommates who tend to borrow your stuff without asking.) And of course, even with a great bike lock, bike thefts still happen. If you have a bike that you can’t afford to replace, it’s time to think about bike insurance. (Get a free quote here.)
Make sure you have the essentials
- Bike lock: We recommend making sure it’s safety-rated with a gold ranking or higher. If you don’t have a lock yet, consider waiting until you get to campus to order one, since the best lock for you will depend on where you’ll be locking your bike. A U-lock is great if you just need to quickly secure a bike to a bike rack, but if you’ll be locking a bike to other random things like thin trees, a heftier chain lock with more length may be ideal.
- Helmet: Make sure it fits properly—and yes, wearing a helmet is cool!
- Fender: This easy-attaching one from SKS is a favorite for ensuring a dry butt on a rainy day.
- Backpack or messenger bag: Look for one that feels comfortable while riding and can hold all of your gear for a full day of class, gym, hang-outs and study dates. If you’re using the same bag all day, one with a lot of compartments makes organization much easier.
- Bike repair kit: This should include a spare tube, patch kit, mini pump and multitool, and should never leave your pack.
- Front and rear bike lights: You never know when a lecture will run over time, and front and rear lights protect you from traffic, illuminate your path, and take the stress out of a night commute.
- Plenty of snacks and water: We love a Yeti mug that can safely keep your coffee hot and fit in your bike’s water bottle cage. And if you’re riding more than 60 minutes throughout the day, make sure you have a snack stash in your pack, since these minutes in motion add up.
- Wipes and deodorant: On sweaty days, you may need to quickly do a bit of cleaning up when you get to class, especially if you sweat a lot. We like a body wipe like this one (or go cheaper by simply buying baby wipes) to quickly clean face, hands, underarms and any “sensitive areas.” A swipe of deodorant may also help you avoid being known as the stinky one in lecture.
- Thin bike shorts: If you have a long ride, a thin pair of bike shorts under your jeans or leggings or sweats can make a ride much more comfortable by preventing chafing and adding a bit of padding. Just swap them for regular underwear when you reach your destination!
- You can check out a great list of favorites and more back to school accessories right here.
Consider an ebike
If you have a longer commute to class or you hate getting to lecture hall soaked with sweat, an ebike might be a great alternative to getting a car, dealing with bus schedules, or pedaling like crazy to make it to the test on time. Because ebikes can go up to 28MPH thanks to electronic assistance with pedaling, you’ll never rush into class out of breath again. And if you do have extra time to get to the dining hall, you can dial down the e-assist and get in a workout instead. Just remember, ebikes are expensive, and getting them insured is a smart way to protect your investment.