The Cubicle as a Rest Stop

Think of your cubicle as a rest stop between your bike commutes. It’s where you can recuperate and prepare for the ride home.

My cubicle is not the most spacious in the company, but it is big enough. I’d say it is 5’x8’, which was nearly the size of my dorm room back in college. Between my piles of paper and a computer and phone, there is still plenty of room to store stuff in file cabinets and drawers above and below my desk. I devote half of my storage space for bike commuting items and the other half to work-related items.

If you are lucky, you may even store your bike in your cube until HR tells you not to. I don’t because it is a hassle for me to wheel it through the cube farm and through the security doors.


Here’s what I keep handy:


Food and Drink
When I’m not in lab doing experiments, I eat and hydrate as much as possible while I’m doing paperwork in the cube. It’s important to take care of yourself throughout the workday to maintain your energy. You need to be focused when you leave, so take every opportunity you can to sneak in a snack and drink liquids.

I have one drawer dedicated to all of the snacks that I have. This includes tea, crackers, fruit snacks, Gatorade, an emergency can of sardines, and whey powder that I drink in the morning. I also have some spare change in case I need a sugar boost from the vending machine. I keep a mug and a drinking glass at work.


Clothes and cosmetics
I bring a change of clothes everyday, but you could certainly stash them at the start of the workweek if you wanted to.

Bringing shoes to and from work is very exhausting due to their weight and space that they take up, so I have a drawer dedicated to work shoes. I also keep a hairdryer, shampoo, baby wipes and cosmetics to help me look presentable.
You may also benefit from simple first-aid items such as band-aids and antiseptic spray, in case of a fall or accidental cut.


Bike supplies
I have a spare bike pump and patch kit in a large drawer in case my bike tire goes flat. I also have a bottle of chain lube in case I’ve biked through rain in the morning and have time to lubricate my chain during the lunch hour.


Other use of space:
The only things I don’t keep in my drawers are my bag, helmet and clothes that I commute in. I hang up my clothes to let them air out during the workday.


I like to hang up my bright clothes to let them dry out and also to blind my co-workers.
Bright clothes to blind my co-workers.

National Bike to Work Day: May 16, 2014

There’s a reason why Chicago’s Bike to Work Day isn’t held in May, but in June. I really wanted to bicycle the whole 20 miles to work on Friday, but the weather looked too gloomy and the Doppler radar on the morning news confirmed the least favorite weather condition I like to bike in: rain. So I took the train out of the city to minimize my time dealing with wet roads.

I really hate riding in the rain. I could get fenders, but why add more weight to my bike? It’s OK if the weather is warmer and I get soaked into work. I just deal with being completely wet and do a full clothing change and wash my hair in the sink. By the time I’m ready to go home, all of my clothes hanging in my cubicle are dry.

But COLD rain? At 38 degrees? Not fun. When I got off the train it started to drizzle. No problem, so I doubled gloved, turned on all of my lights and went on my way. 20 minutes into my commute, it started raining, and then that’s when I knew I needed to pedal faster to increase my body heat. As an added bonus, I had to bike an extra 2 miles using an alternate route since the sidewalk path I use was blocked off due to railroad construction. Luckily the wind was light and there was little traffic on the roads.

When I was a few miles away from work, it started snowing and I literally started screaming. After the horrible Chicago winter we had, I just couldn’t take it anymore. I was even more motivated to pedal faster and push my way through the cold.

It was miserable. The sky was dark, and I could feel the weight of the wetness dragging me down. When I finally arrived at work, it was more a sense of relief. What a way to start the day and be fully awake!

After I had warmed up and changed out of my wet clothes, I felt a great sense of accomplishment that I was able to handle the 10 miles in the cold rain and bit of snow. Each time I push myself further, I see what is possible and how to optimize for a similar trip in the future.

After hearing from my co-workers about how bad traffic was (since people were staring at the snow bewildered and driving slowly), I was glad that I didn’t drive and participated in Bike to Work day.

Bike arrives before cars early in the morning.
Bike arrives before cars early in the morning.

Staying Safe

Safety should be your number one priority when bike commuting.  If you’re going to ride around all timid thinking you’ll be run over, then you will be.  It is up to you to be ASSERTIVE and take your place on the road.  What follows is a quick overview of the basics.


Plan your route as well as alternative ones

A well planned route avoids heavy traffic on major streets and parallels your normal commute.  Google Maps, especially in street view can help guide your planning, but always use your best judgement and scope out the route ahead of time if you can.

One day, construction might shut down the road you usually take.  Do you know an alternative route?


Listen to your body and mind first

If you don’t want to bike commute that day then don’t.  You may be too tired, or just not in the mood.  If there is bad weather (thunderstorms, icy conditions), then wait until the weather clears up.


Wear a helmet

You want to protect your head in case of an accident.  They do not have to be expensive and many give your head enough ventilation.  Your local bike shop should carry a wide selection of helmets that you can choose from.

I wear an urban type helmet since it completely encases my head.  It’s colorful and I know it grabs the attention of motorists when I’m riding around.

Another advantage to wearing a helmet is that you can place reflective tape on it and mount lights on the helmet for safety at night.

I don’t really see any downsides to a helmet. You can ride without one, but why take the risk?


Obey traffic lights and stop signs 

Running red lights and blowing through stop signs is dangerous and makes you look bad.  I do advocate for slowing down and coasting through stop signs if there is not much traffic since it is hard to build up your momentum again after coming to a complete stop.  Just be sure the cars around you understand you are doing this and proceed with caution.


Ride predictably

By behaving like a vehicle, you gain the respect of motorists and pedestrians.  This means obeying traffic signals, staying off the sidewalk and signaling to make your intentions known.   So ride with the flow of traffic, not against it.  Ride in a straight line, but do not ride so close to the curb you become invisible.   Riding near the curb also makes you more vulnerable to getting flat tires due to road debris and potholes.

Don’t ride on the sideWALK.  You’re not going to get anywhere since you will be going so slow and going over bumpy curbs on every block.  A car may pull out of a driveway without looking, or a driver turning at an intersection may not have enough time to react to a bicycle suddenly crossing its path.  Riding on sidewalks sets you up for being run over and it’s something young kids do.  You’re grown up now and know better.

The only exception is where there is a sidewalk next to a road with a high (40+  mph) speed limit, where there is hardly any pedestrian traffic and a minimal chance that cars could pull out of driveways from businesses or houses.  I would personally find another route if possible, but if you are stuck in suburban hell, then this may be difficult to do.

Signaling your intentions is key when you are negotiating traffic.  This is your chance to communicate to other drivers that I am HERE and I want to go THERE.

If you have bad balance or are scared of signaling with your left or right arm, practice in an alley or a parking lot before you go out on the road.   Signaling your intentions eventually becomes natural.

Riding predictably gives drivers the chance to see you and respond to you better.


Rely on your senses

LISTEN and LOOK to be aware of your surroundings.  Be mentally sharp and pay attention to everything.

Make eye contact with drivers and make sure they have seen you.  They may be looking “past you” or just be staring out into space daydreaming.  Signal to them with your hand that you are turning or going straight.  It’s better to be sure you’ve really made eye contact than to proceed and be hit.

Gauge how fast traffic is going.  Be able to look behind your left shoulder to check for cars coming behind you and about to pass you. I don’t use mirrors since I feel that it gives you a false sense of  security and does not give you the full view of what is actually going on behind you.

Also be aware of distracted drivers and distance yourself from their path if you can.


Be visible

The easiest way to do this is to wear bright colored clothing, preferably with some reflective striping on them.

You’ll also want to invest in some front and rear lights for when you ride in the dark or when the weather turns bad.

You’ve probably seen some cyclists with varying degrees of flashing lights.  There are some lights which I find obnoxious since they are too bright or have a seizure-inducing flashing pattern.  Typically, any light which has the same amount of brightness as a car headlight and tail light will do.  I started off with a cheap 25 dollar tactical light I duct taped to my head.   I also bought a rear blinky at the local bike shop.  What was important was that these were bright enough and had a distinct pattern of flashing light.

Take a look at how people park their cars in parking lots.  You’ll see people parked over the lines and too close to other cars.  Their sense of spacing is totally off.   So imagine when you are sharing the road with them.  You want to be able to catch their attention so that you can give them fair warning you are on the road.

At busy intersections, I stand up on my pedals so that people can see me better.   This way, everybody sees me making my move.


Riding in bad weather

I check weather forecasts at, and for my city and region.  I also watch the morning news to confirm that no unexpected weather changes occurred while I was sleeping.

Avoid bad weather if you can, but as stated above, the most important thing is to be visible.  Take it slow and be aware of the vehicles around you.  Safety glasses are great for riding in the rain as they protect your eyes from droplets and help you see better since you can easily wipe off the water from the lenses.  Think of them as windshields.

Why commute by bike?

Why commute by bike?

If you feel trapped by your car or public transportation, try bike commuting.  This may seem like an extreme measure, but with every commute it becomes easier.  Regardless of the length of the bike ride, these are my top reasons for commuting.


It saves money:    

When you factor in how much it costs to maintain and save up money to buy a car, pay for parking, deal with tickets or fines, and the cost of public transportation, the percentage of your income devoted to traditional commuting can be quite expensive.

Aside from upfront costs of owning a bike (if you don’t already have one) and the occasional purchases and repairs of bike equipment, bike commuting can be financially empowering.

For the security, freedom and peace of mind, bike commuting can prevent you from going into, and getting out of debt, all the while helping you save for your future.

Money that would’ve have been spent fueling your vehicle or taking public transportation can be better spent on other aspects of your life.


It saves time:  

You already need to get to work or whatever your destination might be, so why not use a bike?   Most people can pedal ~10 mph when they first start out.   I was a slowpoke and could only do about 8 mph when I began commuting.

For shorter distances of less than 5 miles, biking may be faster.  In some instances biking may be slower and this may increase proportionally with the distance traveled, but take into account the time needed to generate income to pay for a gym membership, or for a car repair due to heavy use.

Bicycling can also decrease you dependence on driving and public transportation, both of which can be time drains.

My one way commutes are 20 miles each way, and at the end of summer when I am most physically fit, I can bike this distance in an hour and 35 minutes. I remember driving the same distance multiple times when there has been heavy traffic due to construction, an accident, or an event in the city and it would take me 2 hours to get home.

Where I live, public transportation is highly inconvenient not only due to the schedule at which trains and buses are available,  but also because trains or buses arrive late or are delayed.  With a bicycle, you can bypass this nonsense and arrive at your destination in a very predictable amount of time.


Bus ride vs. bicycling example:

A bus ride will cost $2.25 one way for a 40 minute, 7 mile trip to the train station whereas I can bicycle the same distance.   Assuming my operating cost on the bike is $0.20/mile= $1.40, it only takes me 35 minutes.  I know my route very well and obey the stop sign and traffic signals and have always arrived at the train station within 35 minutes.  Time and money are both saved due to bicycling.


It keeps you healthy:

Staying in shape is easy when you incorporate bike commuting into your daily lifestyle.  It’s cardiovascular exercise, and unlike running, you can coast and take a breather when you need to- all the while traveling to where you need to go.

Your clothes will fit better and your legs and arms will definitely become more toned.  You will have more energy to do things throughout the day.  It improves your mental capacity and mood so that you are able to deal with stress better.

Bicycling also improves your sleep quality by helping you fall asleep faster, giving you a more restful night’s rest to recharge yourself for the next day.


It’s fun

If you didn’t know this, then maybe you should ride a bike and try again.  Naturally, if you enjoy bicycling, then you will enjoy bike commuting.

What do you need to commute by bike?

What do you need to commute by bike?

You’ll only need a few items:

– Bike

– Helmet

– Backpack or bag to hold items

That’s it. No need for fancy apparel, clipless pedals,specialized bike shoes, or a super high end bike and expensive panniers.   More expensive items can help, but with time you will eventually figure out what is best for your commute.

Starting out, I used old gym shoes and athletic wear for my workouts, and a hybrid bike that I purchased on clearance.  I used a helmet that I already had, and a backpack to carry my change of clothes, lunch and purse for the workday.   This was sufficient for my 10+ mile commutes to and from the the train station.  Years later, the only thing different is my helmet which had to be replaced since it was getting nasty.