It's Bike to Work Week. Here are 5 tips for newbies

Minneapolis has for years been known as a bicycle-friendly city. And the wider metro area is rife with bike trails and protected lanes for cyclists.

Commuting on two wheels comes with cautions. Minnesota officials have recorded a surge in citations for distracted driving in recent years. A Wayzata police officer was recently hospitalized after he was hit by an SUV while biking.

Still, commuting by bike has benefits. It's better for the environment and a good way to stay active and save money on gas and parking. As National Bike To Work Week begins, here are a few tips to get started:

Stock up on essential gear

Most cyclists know the basics — a helmet and bike lock are two of the most important pieces of equipment to ensure a safe commute. Minnesota law requires bicycles to be outfitted with a headlight a and rear reflector when it's dark.

Sam Harmon, content manager for Erik's Bike Shop, suggests new riders consider reflective clothing so cyclists are visible to motorists and pedestrians alike. A good pair of bike shorts and a moisture-wicking top will keep riders cool and sweat-free on their commute.

"We generally discourage cotton-based clothing for cycling because it doesn't have that sweat wicking," Harmon said.

A pannier or basket are good ways to transport work clothes. A water-resistant or waterproof backpack also does the trick.

Follow the rules of the road

Bicyclists must obey most of the same rules as motor vehicles on Minnesota's roads. Cyclists are required to ride with the flow of traffic and signal turns. They're required to stop for pedestrians at marked crosswalks and intersections.

They may not pass a vehicle stopping to let pedestrians cross the street. That means stopping behind cars at intersections. Cyclists aren't allowed to ride on the sidewalk in business districts.

As of last year, cyclists may perform what's known as a rolling stop, or an "Idaho stop." That means bicycles can treat stop signs at four-way intersections as yield signals as long as there's no traffic on the street they're about to cross.

Learn some maintenance

Tires will inevitably go flat. Sometimes, a handlebar may need a quick tightening. That's why Harmon recommends carrying a multi-tool for quick maintenance on the fly.

He suggests carrying tire levers — flat plastic tools that make it easier to remove a tire from its wheel. And it never hurts to carry a spare tube or a tire sealant.

"If you break down during your commute, at least you can walk your bike the rest of the way and fix it after you're done with your shift," Harmon said.

Dress yourself — and your bike — for the weather

There are days when bike commuters may have bright, clear skies in the morning and face a torrential downpour on the way home. Harmon suggests investing in rain jackets and wool sweaters or mittens that attach to the handlebars that allow for easy gear-shifting and braking.

"Those of us who have grown up in Minnesota know it's important to dress for the weather," he said.

Harmon suggests fenders. They'll catch water your tires kick up.

"You'll also avoid having that dirt streak running up your back," Harmon said.

Do a dry run of your commute

The city of Minneapolis, the Parks Board and other local agencies and municipalities maintain maps of several bike trails — they run for 51 miles along the Grand Rounds alone. Our Streets also keeps maps of bike paths across six counties.

Most side streets that run parallel to arterial roads have lower speed limits, making them a little safer than riding alongside traffic.

Whenever Harmon starts a new job, he likes to do a practice run of his commute. That way, he can get a sense of the timing and add a few minutes to account for traffic.

"Always try to do your ride once when you don't have a deadline," he said.