Planning to commute to a new job

Starting a new job is exciting and there is a lot of learning that goes on in the first few weeks, including how to commute by bike.  The distance to my new job is significantly shorter (still 20 + miles if I bike to and from work).  At my previous job, I didn’t start biking until 6 months in.   That was because I didn’t consider bike commuting to be an option and didn’t have a bike.  These are no longer barriers and it will be fun to plan my first bike commute.  Right now, things are extremely busy so I am not able to bike commute until I am comfortable in my role.  However,  I have been observant and taken steps to plan for my new commute so that it will be less stressful.  The following are a few things I’ve considered before I start biking to work.

 

Finding other bike commuters
Since I’m new and my organization is larger, it will take some time for me to find the other bicycle commuters that I have heard about.  Therefore, I need to go with my gut feeling.   If a conversation ever flows to the topic of biking, then I will bring it up.   I already know my boss is OK with me biking, and it seems that people have a favorable attitude towards it.   This has lessened my worries about how I would be perceived biking to work.

 

Planning the route
While driving to work, I take notice of the traffic patterns in the early morning.  When bicycle commuting, I will probably be on the road an hour before the morning rush really hits.  I had some time before my job started and actually test biked one of the routes I would typically take.  Thankfully, I can avoid the busy roads and take a more scenic route.  Previously, I had to bike commute on a stretch of road that was 35 mph where car drivers would speed and didn’t know how to share the road.  One advantage I have is that I am already familiar with the area.

 

Finding a place for bike parking
I still need to find a discreet location to park my bike.  An out of the way pole or fence may be an option.  As long as it doesn’t get in anyone’s way, or violate company policy, then it’s fine.

 

Bringing items to work
Everyday I bring items from home that I can stash in my drawers at my office. I used to have a cubicle and had to make good use of the space I had. Now I am spoiled since my storage space has doubled.  Things that I’ll bring before my first commute include:

1) Extra clothes.  My dress code is now business formal, so I’ll probably bring an outfit before my first commute.  I will also test folding and rolling up my clothes to see how wrinkled they get.
2) Food, snacks = salt and sweets
3) Bicycle pump and new inner tubes. Yes, I have these in case my tire goes flat and I need to repair it.   I have had instances where I’ve rode to work but didn’t know I got a flat on the morning commute and then couldn’t ride home.
4) Hygiene prep products- baby wipes, shampoo, hairdryer, towel, cosmetics etc.

 

Being physically ready
My physical stamina has  decreased significantly after this harsh Chicago winter.   I have only been biking on the weekends and this contributes to my stamina, even though it’s only short trips or a fun ride.   I will have to deal with the increased fatigue (sore butt + legs) until my body becomes used to the process of bike commuting again.  If things become unmanageable, I can always hop on the train or bus to give myself a break.

 

With these things in mind, I know that I will be setting myself up for a successful first commute.  It also helps to see that more people are bike commuting and it isn’t as strange as when I started a few years ago.  I do look forward to the day when I turn into the parking lot on my bike instead of my car.

 

 

Laid Off and Biking It

Shortly after the New Year, I was laid off from my job. It was rough adjusting to the change. I needed to find a new job, and I also had a whole lot of time to bike, but unfortunately winter set in. I was only able to squeeze in a few rides before Chicago became a frozen hellhole. The cold and the snow added to the misery as I couldn’t bike and was trapped indoors. I had a one-week membership trial at the gym, but it wasn’t the same as biking. When the weather was “nice” and I wanted to take a break from my job search, I took a quick ride to the library or around the block.

 

Finding the next job

One of the criteria for my next job was that it would be with a company that would value my skills and was bikeable. I’d researched companies I want to work for, and if the job description seemed right, the very next thing I did was to map out a bike route and determine if it was accessible and then I submit my resume. 20 miles is really the ideal radius of “bikeable” distance. Otherwise, I would have to rely on public transportation to help me get there.

 

Interview stage

I had some interviews but was too scared to bike commute to an interview. I look professional on paper, and didn’t want to jeopardize or give people the wrong impression that I wasn’t “serious”. Also, being in a suit with no knowledge of where the bathrooms were to clean up would have added too much stress as I do like to look presentable.

I only included this blog on my resume if I thought it would be relevant. I interviewed for a job in the Sears Tower – which has a bike valet, but was not offered the position. Some people looked on LinkedIn and found out more about me and found my blog. Bicycling turned out to be a good conversation piece and I think some interviewers thought I was some sort of novelty.

 

New job

The job search was frustrating at times, but like anything else, I had to persevere and focus on finding a new opportunity. Resilience and adaptability were two things I am familiar with, especially being able to bike 20 miles to and from work. I eventually accepted a job offer that was in line with my skills and career goals. This new position is closer and near a bike trail (still 20+ miles round trip). I have some time off before I actually start work, so I am enjoying myself now.

 

Being laid off made me appreciate the benefits of bicycling, including saving money and managing stress.

 

Money savings

Being laid off meant that I had to be very conservative financially. That meant biking when it was safe enough to visit the local grocery stores to purchase food. That also meant biking to the library to pick up reading or entertainment materials to keep myself occupied.  Biking also meant I didn’t have to pay for public transportation and let me get in some exercise.

 

Stress relief

To clear my mind and to give myself a break from my job search, I would hop on my bike and go for a daytime ride. Biking around in the daytime is certainly fun because of less traffic. It also distracted me from dwelling on the fact that I didn’t have a job. On super cold days I’d just go down to the bike room and wipe off my bike and relube the chain and pump up the tires. I didn’t go biking, but I did prep my bike to be ready.

 

Although I didn’t get in as much biking as I could have this winter, I am employed again and look forward to bicycle commuting to my new job when the weather is warmer.

Logistics of bike commuting 20 miles

Bike commuting is a part time job and planning is key.

I found that it was more difficult figuring out the logistics of bike commuting than dealing with the physical stamina to bike 20+ miles each day.  There is definitely a period of adjustment, but I eventually figured out what worked for me.  Some women have concerns about their safety and appearance, but if guys didn’t seem to worry about it, then I never thought that I should too.  I’ve talked to many male and female bike commuters, and we share similar issues and experiences.

I prefer arriving to work as early as possible, because traffic on the road is much lighter and also because then I have time to change and recover before starting my work day.

 

Here is breakdown of a typical bike commute day:

4:15-5am Wake up, coffee already brewing

5:40-5:45am Leave to catch the train out of the city

6:20 am Bike 8 miles to work from train stop

7:00 am Arrive at work

7:30am: Ready to work

4pm-5pm catch train into city or bike all the way home

5:30-6:30pm Arrive back at home

This may seem like a long day, but I have time to read on the train, get in my exercise and contribute to my well-being.  I am also saving a lot of money by not driving and reducing car maintenance costs.

 

To significantly cut down on items I need to bring to work, and to make things easier,

I keep a few things in my desk drawer:

Hairdryer

Shampoo/Conditioner

Comb

Brushes

Cosmetics

Hair products

Deodorant

Baby wipes

Work shoes so I can avoid carrying their heavy weight.

 

The night before

Preparation the night before makes the morning less stressful.  My bag is packed with clothes I have prepared for the next day.  I make sure I have my lunch prepped and ready to go in the refrigerator so I can grab it in the morning before I leave.  Coffee is preground and programmed to brew before I wake up.

 

What I wear while commuting

I commute in athletic clothing because I feel it is more comfortable and it is available in bright colors so that I am more visible to drivers on the road.   I prefer to do a full clothing change when I get to work.

Because I bike a long distance, I don’t bother putting on any makeup before going to work.  What’s the use when I’m going to be sweating for awhile and who am I really going to be seeing before the workday?  Everyone is half awake on the train and people aren’t really interested in talking to you that early in the morning anyway.

 

Transporting supplies

I have a bike (hybrid) with a rear rack so that I can bungee cord my backpack to it.  I also have a road bike which has no rack, so I must carry the items I’m bringing to work in my messenger bag.   My backpack and messenger bag are sufficient to fit my clothes, purse, and lunches.  I’ve never used panniers and don’t feel the need for them since I board the train or bus and need to carry my belongings on me.

Morning loads are always heavier due to the weight of the lunch and snacks I have packed for the day.  I use a thermal bag to keep my food cool because my commutes to work can be as long as 2 hours.

Clothes- I like to roll up my clothes so that they do not come out wrinkled.  I keep a couple of spare clothing items at work in case I forget.  In the summer I usually like to pack a set of clothes and bring them to work a day before I need them, otherwise they feel hot from the morning commute in.  That way, when I change into my clothes they are refreshingly cool.

 

Appearance and hygiene

I feel that other women are really concerned about their appearance and fuss over this area the most.   It really doesn’t have to be an ordeal if you allow yourself enough time to get ready.

My company’s dress code is business casual and my workplace does not have a shower.  Because I arrive early enough, I guarantee that I can cool off  and then stop sweating while reading e-mail and drinking some whey protein.  Then I can have one of the bathrooms to myself and change.   Because I have showered before bike commuting, all I have to do is use baby wipes to clean off.  I wash my hair in the sink to complete my preparation for the day.  All of this takes no more than 20 minutes.

 

Hair

Taming my hair after biking became an ordeal. When I first started commuting I had longer shoulder length hair so it was easier to fold it over and tuck into my helmet and it would survive the commute.  With my shorter hair now, I seem to get a helmet line circulating my head.  Humid days are the worst.   I eventually decided to just wash my hair at work since I never like the feeling of a sweaty head.  If your hairstyle can survive the commute, then that’s great, it never did for me.

I’ve used several texturizing creams to combat the effects of helmet head.  They were all sufficient to make me look presentable.

One product that I did like that re-fluffed my hair was a hair potion.

I could sprinkle it on my head and my hair would regain its volume where my hair had been matted by the helmet.

 

“Cheating”

On days when I do not bike commute I try to bring as much stuff for the next few days. This includes snacks, clothes and any toiletries that are running low.

Now that I am more optimized and confident in my commuting, I prefer to haul as much as I can on Mondays and Tuesdays so that I have less to carry at the end of the week when I am worn down and more likely to forget things.  I’ll use my heavier hybrid bike for this, as I can strap more stuff to my rear rack.

 

Bike maintenance

I clean and re-lube my chain on the weekends if I’ve bike commuted all week.

I re-inflate my tires 2x a week.

I maintain a good relationship with my local bike shop in case of repairs or questions.  When I only had one bike, I was in there about every month asking questions about every little thing.  With time, you get to know your bike more and can do repairs by yourself.  Now I no longer need to go to the bike shop when I have a flat and understand more of where the squeaks and cracks are coming from.

Making sure your bike is in good working condition will enable you to get the most out of your ride everytime.

So that’s how I go about bike commuting.  It may be harder or easier based on your needs, but once you have your routine set, biking to work becomes easy.