The weather is finally changing — meaning it's time to take the plunge and consider a different mode of transportation for work. But what happens next?

It's all about planning

Bicycle commuting is a lot of fun, but doing your homework beforehand is the best way to make sure things go smoothly. If you're reading this in the spring, Bike to Work Week would be a great time to get involved, but getting on your bike is something you can do any time of year. Check the League of American Bicyclists' website and see if there are organized activities where you live.

We've put together five areas for you to address before the Big Ride:

Are you physically capable of the commute? Most adults in average condition can manage a 10-mile ride in about an hour without too much trouble. Just like any exercise program, talk to a health professional if you have any questions before you saddle up.

Is your bike up to the trip? Buying a shiny new commuter bike is a great incentive to ride — but any bicycle in good repair will do. Give your bike a thorough once-over well in advance of your maiden commute. As a general rule of thumb, tires, running gear, brakes and lights should all get attention before each trip. Use the checklist on how to pick a great used bicycle if your bike has been sitting unused for any length of time — or wheel it into the local bike shop for a professional tune-up.

Choose your route carefully. The most direct way to work isn't always the best. Pick streets with activity appropriate to your comfort level on the bike. Watch out for areas marked off-limits to non-motorized traffic (most tunnels, for instance). One of the best things about cycle commuting is being able to vary your route. There's usually more than one way to get from Point A to Point B, and that's part of the fun.

Pack what you need. A water bottle, toiletries, a change of clothes, tools and a tire repair kit — these are all reasons commuter bikes are usually equipped with panniers or baskets. If you're just starting out, you can probably make do with a backpack or messenger bag. But you'll find these can be uncomfortable in warm weather. The bike frame is the best place to carry gear, so upgrade to a proper rack and bags as soon as the commuting bug bites.

A man riding a bike in a rainy city It's important to be prepared when you're bicycling for work. Have everything you need for your trip and be sure to check the weather before you leave home (Photo: Tyler Olson/Shutterstock)

Decide what happens once you're at work. You'll need a secure place to lock up or some out-of-the-way indoor location to stash your bike. Bikes can be wet and greasy, so choose somewhere away from your co-workers if you want to remain popular. Avoid blocking doorways and halls. You're also going to need somewhere to change and freshen up. A bathroom stall will do the trick, but check around and see if there are shower facilities within walking distance of where you work. Gyms and spas are usually cooperative about arranging access.

Now ride! Leave yourself plenty of time, enjoy a nice breakfast — and start pedaling! If it goes well on your first outing, try it again next week. You're saving money, helping out the environment and promoting your own physical fitness.

We'd love to hear your commuter stories. Share them in our comments section. Have fun!

Copyright Lighter Footstep 2009

How to ride your bike to work
A smaller carbon footprint and a thinner waistline are two of the best results of choosing to bike to the office.