a guide to bicycle commuting to work

With today's Bike to School ride starting on UL Lafayette's campus at 5:00, and next Wednesday's Bike to Work Day, one might wonder how to commute to work on a bicycle, if you're lucky enough to live within range.

By doing a little planning, you too can be riding merrily along to work! Or more likely, frantically rushing while still partly asleep, and still arriving a few minutes late.

To start, get on Google Maps and look up bicycle directions from your home to your office. These will follow recognized bike paths and roads with designated bike lanes to give you a safer route. Then, calculate the extra amount of time it will take you to get to work, and adjust your morning routine accordingly.

Then plan where you will be able to keep your bike while at work. You may be able to lock it up outside somewhere, but if you're in a larger building with other occupants, you may have to ask building management for permission or a recommendation, or you may even have to find a way to transport your bike up to your office. Figure out where you can leave your bike before you set off from home.

GET A HELMET! I know, helmets are ugly and mess up your hair. But it's better to have flat hair than a crushed skull. And commuting during rush hour is much more dangerous than at a more leisurely time. There are more cars on the road before and after work, and drivers are not necessarily paying attention as they are hurrying to get wherever they are going.

Luckily there are cute helmet options. If you buy a helmet you actually like, you will be more likely to wear it. I own this great, punchy green Nutcase and I love its sleeker look (and the company's cheeky persona) compared to those cheap, vented options. Eleanor's, based in New York, also has the daintiest selection of female helmets, and I may or may not want all of them. But, take your time and do some researching online to find a helmet brand and style that you like the best – there are tons of them out there!

After your helmet, make sure you have a solid lock and key for your bicycle. Most locks have a security grade on the packaging, so look for the toughest one you can find. Most locks won't deter a seasoned bike thief, but it will seriously reduce your chances of having your bike stolen. And don't lock your bike where it could block access to something or where there are signs against leaving items locked somewhere.

If you ride early in the morning or late in the evening, keep a set of bright, working lights on your bike, and always ride with your lights on if it's dark outside. There's nothing I hate more than seeing a cyclist at night with no lights!

Once you decide which day you're going to bike, think about anything you have happening at work that day and take it into your outfit and cargo considerations. If you have a meeting, you'll need to wear or bring your nicer outfits. Or if you bring a work laptop to and from home each day, you'll need to figure out how to transport it.

It's also a good idea to pack a travel-sized deodorant and cologne or perfume in your bag so you can freshen up once you arrive at work. For ladies, packing a travel can of dry shampoo can also be a life saver to so you don't have to rock the windblown look all day. Julie from Green Philly Blog recently shared a list of the 7 essentials your commuter kit should hold over at Be Well Philly.

Bike Pretty, based in San Francisco, has great information on how to wear skirts to work on a bike and how to bike in heels - it CAN be done, they swear! I, however, have never attempted it. (I have had one bad experience with a slightly loose ballet flat in the middle of a busy intersection. I choose not to dwell on the bad decisions I've made.) Melissa from Bike Pretty gave an interview to SmartyGirl Leadership where she gave some great tips for maintaining style while commuting on your bike!

For ladies, skirts can be one of the trickiest parts of riding, and especially for commuting. But, some inventive people created bike-friendly pencil skirts, such as the Iva Jean Reveal Skirt and BetaBrand's Bike to Work skirt. The secret lies within the zippers placed on the skirt - when you unzip them, you are essentially turning the skirt into an A-line one, allowing for the freedom to pedal. When you get to work, zip zip, and you're back to that chic pencil skirt!

Another point for riding in skirts: how to cover up so gusts of wind don't become your most mortifying moment. Green Philly Blog shares some tips on how to wear a dress without creating a disaster, such as tying the excess fabric in a maxi skirt to keep it from getting caught in anything, and wearing looser skirts. But the most important is to remain covered up. Tuck excess skirt fabric under you to keep it from flapping. Leggings or tights are a chic way to cover up in colder weather. For summer weather, I picked up a pair of basic volley shorts from Academy - they cover everything but are tight enough to not create fabric bulges or stick out from under skirts. (Finding an eco-friendly option is always the best, but finding an inexpensive option is still important!)

What about wearing high heels to work? There is a debate among female cyclists over whether biking in high heels is smart or stupid. Bike Pretty is pro-heels, and she makes good points. In the end, it's a personal choice for you to make. If you want to start biking in heels, practice a little near your house before setting off for work. Practice getting comfortable mounting, dismounting, braking, stopping and starting again in your heels. Once you know how to move your feet differently, you'll be good to go! I do not believe I have ever tried biking in heels, instead opting for flats, TOMS, sandals and boots. But I also don't commute to work regularly on my bicycle.

What about for the guys? You can still look stylish while commuting too! Bike Pretty did a post earlier this year on biking in suits. Just as we have the convertible pencil skirts, guys now have the option of a bike-friendly suit and office clothing, like these from Parker Dusseau, made with pit zips, discreet reflective piping and moisture-wicking fabric.

Now you'll need to figure out how you want to carry your belongings. If it's on the warmer side, wearing a backpack will only drench your shirt with sweat. Bikes that can hold front or rear baskets or panniers are the best for commuting, so you have somewhere to stow your belongings and keep yourself free for riding.

Panniers are bike-optimized bags that can be easily removed, and are perfect for bikes with rear racks - some can be draped over so you have storage on both sides of your tire, and others have fasteners to go on the rack itself. Eleanor's has a great selection of panniers for ladies, but you can find different options all over.

Just make sure your bag or basket doesn't exceed any weight limit or cause your bike to be unmanageable. A heavy front-bike basket makes steering and turning much more difficult.

If you are able, you can also carry a few extra work clothing pieces instead of wearing them on the ride (such as a suit jacket or your pair of heels for the day).

Pack your bag efficiently, and don't forget your commuter essentials bag, and you're ready to hit the road!

Have you ever commuted to work by bike? What were your favorite and least favorite parts about it?


Julie said...

Love this! And thanks to linking to us! :-)

As far as the bike locks, I prefer the U-lock (so U can lock it up!)

I also like the expert tip of making sure your bags/bike baskets aren't too bulky - I've definitely had some awkward rides with poor preparation.

Unfortunately my commute takes me out of the city and goes across highways, so I do not bike to work. But I love biking everywhere else in the city once I get home and hope I can make both my home & work paths align one day...

Caitlin said...

Any time! :)

I've got a Kevlar cable lock, but only because we always have to lock up two bikes together, and our U-lock can't fit around both. They are definitely great locks!

When we ride for Mardi Gras, I always love to use my bike basket to put all our beads in, until I realize I have to ride back with 15 pounds of beads on my front end, haha!

I hear you on that commute! I rarely bike to work, but it's more about the time constraints because I am NOT a morning person. :) But we definitely make up for it in recreational riding!

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