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.

Biking Hibernation

It’s already a week into the New Year and the long Chicago winter has kicked in. Several inches of snow and negative wind chills are predicted for the next few days. The temperature drops below 0 in the morning and makes the snow seem like concrete.

This is when I suspend bicycle commuting and try to occupy myself while waiting for the snow and ice to disappear. This biking hibernation can last for a few days all the way into March. If possible, I will bicycle around the neighborhood for fun or to nearby stores if road conditions are safe, but I give myself a break from the grind of bike commuting.

What I do when I’m not bike commuting in the cold months:

Exercise: If you count running outside to throw away the trash in the alley and walking quickly to avoid being in the cold as exercise then yes.  I actually don’t do much physical activity outside of bike commuting. I do workout videos during times when I really feel like a lump of lard, and those are on rare occasions when I have time and am motivated.

People have told me to purchase a bike trainer, but with no room to put it, I’d rather just wait until it’s safe to bike in the cold. I received some Bar Mitts as a gift for Christmas, and it certainly cuts down on the wind chill while biking. I tried these in below freezing temps and it definitely makes your hands more comfortable.

Bikebarmitts

 

Daydream about a new bike: When the snow totally covers the ground I often want to purchase a fatbike just so I can go on the lakefront and ride on the snow and sand. I also picture myself in the summertime riding around in a nice dutch cargo bike hauling groceries.

Cook more: With so much more time freed up, winter means cooking indoors and trying out new recipes. It also means eating more and fattening up, but after a whole year of biking, it’s OK.

Read: Sometimes it is just nice to relax and catch up on a few books I haven’t had the chance to read. One book I’m reading now is Cycling Home from Siberia by Rob Lilwall.

Catch up on Sleep: Probably the biggest thing I neglect and I know is not healthy is the amount of time devoted to sleeping. Typically when I bicycle commute, I only get around 6 hours of sleep. When I’m not on the bike I get a luxurious 8 hours of sleep and I am super awake.

There you have it. I am a normal person and have realized to let myself relax and let my body rest during the cold months. Last year when the winter was so bad, I found that relaxing and keeping my mind busy was the best way to prevent myself from going crazy.

 

Some thoughts on Winter Biking

The cold Chicago months are now upon us and it’s time to commit to winter biking.  Yes, riding around in the cold is something most people do not consider, but it is fine if you are prepared.  When you bike in the cold, you learn fast if something does not work and then quickly adapt.  Winter biking is definitely more challenging and harder on the body.  The coldest temperature that I’ve ridden in has been 13 degrees.  Bicycle parts don’t work as well when the temperature is that low, but it is still manageable.

This is my third winter biking, and here is a summary of the past few years:

2011: First winter biking, mild Chicago winter.  Made the mistake of biking of the sidewalk after a first snow thaw.  Smacked my knee on some ice and then have never ridden on the sidewalk ever again.

2012: 2nd winter biking, mild Chicago winter, avoided biking in the Northern Burbs since drivers don’t give me space.  Rescheduled my working hours around a different train line that would bring me closer to work so that I would spend the majority of my time bicycling in Chicago.

2013:  The day after Thanksgiving the temperature dropped into the 20’s and I hopped on my bike to buy some seafood at the fish market.  Horrible cold, snow and ice Chicago winter with no relief.  No bike commuting for nearly 3 months waiting for the snow to melt.  I remember still seeing a remnant of little pile of snow up in my office research park in May and thinking how awful it was.

2014: Cold snap hits early, which means more time to try to enjoy the cold.  Made the 2nd annual trip to the fish market the day after Thanksgiving for some red snapper and oysters.  December is starting off cold but with no precipitation.  I intend to bicycle as much as possible before the snow hits.

 

Things to just accept and prepare for when winter biking:

1) Being in the cold

Yes you will be cold and then it becomes a game of mental motivation over your physical hesitations.  Probably the most uncomfortable thing I find about winter biking are the first few minutes to heat up.  Once my body temperature is elevated, then everything is okay.

Whenever it is cold outside, go out and enjoy the cold.  The more you expose yourself to cold conditions, the less likely you’ll feel uncomfortable when the temperature really drops.  When the first cold snap hits, I usually just go out and bike to acclimate myself for what’s to come.

Being in the cold is not a limiting factor for me as I know how to properly layer and keep myself warm.  I usually wear wool layers to keep myself warm and make sure my extremities are covered.  Wear appropriate clothing to keep yourself warm and cover any exposed skin or put a thin layer of Vaseline on your face.

Your feet will become cold when you bike.  You can combat this by wearing wool socks or getting off your bike at every intersection and jumping up and down or shaking your legs.  I used to do this but became lazy and decided to wear thin athletic socks with toe warmers.  For my hands, I usually double glove with an outer mitt.  If conditions are super cold, (below 20°F or a nasty windchill) I will place handwarmers in my mittens as well.

Yes, you will need to blow your nose, so carry some tissues.

Your eyelashes will freeze only if you don’t wear some sort of eye protection.  I use cheap safety glasses to prevent my eyes from becoming dry and frozen.

Keep hydrated.  Everytime you see your breath you are losing water.  I use a thermos bottle to keep my water from becoming so cold.  A regular water bottle will just freeze

On longer commutes, you will probably need to switch gloves halfway through if you’ve been sweating.  You hands will freeze otherwise.  I have done it on 20 miles commutes, but it becomes very uncomfortable when your hands feel like icicles and you are trying to brake.

2) Being in the dark

Morning or evening it will be dark and lonely.  Make sure you have lights and that you are visible from all angles – front, back and side.

3) Winterize your bike

Have appropriate lights, wider tires, a properly lubed chain , and occasionally rinse off your bike from the road salt.   You can add knobbies or studs to your tires if you’re really hardcore.   I prefer to use my hybrid bike with its regular tires and avoid biking when there is snow or ice on the ground.  Talk to your local bike shop and have them look over your bike and give suggestions.  This is the time of year when I know that it will be nearly impossible for me to fix a bike out in the cold.  Thank goodness for public transportation and a cell phone to call someone to come pick you up.

4) The cold wind

There are no windbreaks as all of the leaves have fallen off the tree, so you will feel the full force of the wind.  Just get used to it.

5) Trust your judgement

If you feel it’s not safe to bicycle around for any reason – cold, precipitation, or wind, then don’t do. it.   I avoid biking when the snowfall hits as there is not enough room on the road for both cars and bikes to share.  Also, the side of the road is filled with slick spots as the snow melts and freezes, and I do not feel as safe.  Also, check the weather forecasts for temperatures, wind, and precipitation conditions.  If it’s too nasty, then don’t put yourself through awful conditions since it simply won’t be fun and might be dangerous.

 

Why do I enjoy winter biking?

One of the more enjoyable things I find about winter biking is how quiet the air sounds.   I like hearing the sound of my pedals and my tires rolling over the cold pavement.   I like being able to conquer the cold.   Knowing that I can travel on my bicycle when the temperature is below freezing gives me a huge sense of accomplishment.  An advantage of winter biking is that you will most likely have the trail and road to yourself.

Also, with the holiday season it is a great way to fight off those extra pounds and to maintain your fitness until the weather warms up again.   When spring hits, you feel so much faster and confident on the bike because you’ve endured such harsh conditions throughout the winter.

In the winter, you will find yourself to be more alone on your commutes.  Some people will look at you strangely.  They seem to want to roll down their car windows and tell you that you’re crazy.  Some do, but only to complement you that you are brave, they could never do it, and to keep at it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Beginning of Being Driven to Bike

As the weather becomes colder and the leaves begin to change color, I am reminded of the first time when I seriously considered bike commuting.  It was an early morning on a normal workday in the fall of 2011.  When I went to start my Jeep, the engine was completely silent.  In disbelief, I tried again, but there was nothing happening.  Defeated, I called AAA and had the Jeep hauled to the local auto body shop for a repair.

After sulking around my apartment, I remember lying on the couch, upset and not knowing what I was going to do.  I hated that I had to take a personal day just to deal with another car repair.  I was worried and kept thinking, “Should I buy a new car?”  and “How was I going to pay for all of this?”  Finding a job closer to home was not an option and I had to figure out the best way to save money and prolong the life of my current car.

I then asked myself, “What is the most reliable form of transportation?”

The first thing that came to mind was a bicycle.

My train of thought was interrupted when the mechanic called me back to say that the expensive repairs (battery and crankshaft) would be completed that same day.  I asked the mechanic what he thought about me getting a new car.  He told me that no matter what car I would drive, it wouldn’t last 5 years the way I was using it to commute to work and drive around on the weekends.  This information solidified my desire to give biking a try.

With the help of the internet, I immediately began researching what kind of bike would be best for me.  I hadn’t ridden a bike since college and I would rollerblade to lab, but since everything on campus was so close, I never even considered having a bike.  I then thought about the sheer distance of biking 20 miles.  This put me in the category of “extreme commuter” and I didn’t know anyone else that had biked that distance for commuting.  Only a few websites existed of people commuting 20 miles or more on a bike.  I felt discouraged, but convinced myself that I could transport myself to work and back home. Bringing the bike on public transportation was an option, so that lessened my anxiety about doing it.

That same weekend, I went with my boyfriend (now husband) to the local bicycle shop.  I think he thought I was crazy, but entertained my idea anyway.  In the corner were many bikes on clearance.  I  test rode two of them, the smallest men’s bikes that they had.   I eventually settled on a Raleigh hybrid and also had a rear rack installed.  The total came out to be roughly $400, a great deal compared to what I was paying for in car repairs and for something functional and reliable.

Now nearly three years later, I still ride that original bike and I have committed myself to bicycle commuting whenever I can.

Bike commuting allowed me to free myself from being dependent on an automobile.  This means biking not only to work, but also to local shops and restaurants. The amount of money I have saved and the amount of exercise I get has benefitted me tremendously.  What began as a frustration of dealing with a car repair turned into something that changed my life and my way of thinking about transportation forever.

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.

2014 Bike Commuter Challenge

The Active Transportation Alliance’s Bike Commuter Challenge ended last Friday, and I wanted to share some of my thoughts. Overall it was a very positive experience, and I had a lot of fun being captain and inspiring people to at least think about bike commuting. I’m very proud of my team for putting in such a tremendous effort.

I found out about this through a brochure I had received for Bike The Drive, another event in which I had a lot of fun. Since I already enjoy bike commuting and do it as much as possible, I figured this would be the perfect opportunity to let my coworkers know about a fun challenge to bike commute. Registration was free, but I donated a bit to Active Transportation to show my support.

 

Forming the Team

I sent out an email the Friday before the start of the event to interest people in the challenge. It was well received, with people talking about wanting to join, or asking me how I go about commuting on a bike. Ultimately, our team consisted of five people, all of whom gave their best effort. One person had good intentions but could not ride due to family obligations, but the rest of us really cranked out the miles.

The Challenge

We endured carrying our lunches, change of clothing, heavy U-locks and rode through bad weather (rain, humidity, tornado warnings, heat) to make it through the 6 days.  We ate “healthier”, needed more sleep and paced ourselves for the duration of the challenge. As a team, we found the strength to make it through by asking each other about our rides, talking about our strategies and anticipating weather patterns. We rode as much as possible, but set realistic goals for ourselves. If the demands of work or family were too much, then it was OK not to ride in. If the weather looked uninviting, then it was better to be safe than sorry.

As captain, I felt I had to be mentally strong and ride everyday to set an example to others that it was possible, even on bad weather days when I normally would not commute. I also sent out some emails offering encouragement with some tips. My coworkers and I were really lucky the worst of the weather seemed to hit while we were all still at work. I only got drizzled on twice.

What also excited me was that one of the ladies on the team used this challenge as motivation to finally try commuting to work. She had thought about it and finally decided to make the plunge. Thinking back to when I first tried bike commuting, I would’ve loved to have been part of a group.

Team Results

As of this writing, we had 14.5 trips, for a total of 384.6 miles and a 2.7% participation rate. The trip log will not be closed until June 30th, so we’ll have to see when the numbers are locked down.

At a total of 384.6 miles, this came out to be 384.6 miles/5= 76.92 miles/rider, which looking at the stats, is the highest among any company in Chicagoland. This ranks us 23rd out of 86 companies in the “For Profit 100-499 Employees” category. This is truly impressive for such a small team, and reflects the tremendous individual effort of each rider.

Personal Results

Individually, I am 14th out of 6000+ riders overall in terms of miles. I also believe that I am the top ranked female in terms of distance (188.4 miles). These are all verified miles using the Strava Mobile app on June 13th, and June 16-20th.

I rode everyday of the challenge but was unable to bike as much as I wanted to on Thursday, June 19th.   The Metra did not allow me and two other bicyclists to board the train as there were already too many bikes exceeding their capacity.  It was disappointing since I had intended on biking at least 30 miles a day.  That meant taking the train in the morning and then biking to work, and then biking the entire 20 miles back home.  I learned this week from a conductor that Metra had been swapping out their cars for some reason and they had given the train I take two cars which didn’t allow bikes.  It just doesn’t make sense why Metra decided to do this during Bike to Work week.

I could’ve waited for another train, but that required waiting another hour for the next one and I didn’t want to risk having the same situation. I could’ve biked all the way to work, but had not mentally prepared myself for the distance, and also felt uneasy about biking in the drizzling weather. Defeated, I decided to turn back home and drive (boo!) to work. Friday I made up for it by biking 57 miles and finished strong.
As I was nearing the end of my final ride for the week, I was having so much fun and going very fast that I wasn’t really paying attention and hit a speed bump so hard that it caused a flat in my front tire. Luckily, it was the last block before home.


Overall, this event was very satisfying and highlights the fact that many people are willing to give bike commuting a try. If you see how many people signed up and entered their stats on the website, it is very encouraging. I am a true believer that participation in events such as this make people realize that bike commuting is a viable means of transportation. With time, people’s perception of biking will change for the better.

Finding a safe route

Biking to your destination is different than driving there. Plan your bike commute around your usual route, but seek out quieter roads and avoid the major ones. Ride on roads that you feel comfortable on. I would avoid very busy or narrow roads so that there is enough space between you and the cars. I also avoid intersections which are “dangerous”, such as when there are angle streets intersecting with other busy streets. For my 20 mile commutes to and from work, I know of several routes. They are mainly on roads which parallel busier roads, or shortcuts through residential neighborhoods. In the city, busier roads can be hectic, but once you understand the flow of traffic and other bicyclists sharing the lane with you, then it is not so bad.

You can drive the route you want to take to familiarize yourself, but there is no substitute for actually biking the route. I suggest biking the route at a less busy time so that you can understand the traffic flow and judge how much spacing you have between yourself and cars. If you don’t have the time to bike the route before you commute for real, just take your time when you first try it out. As an alternative, “drive” the route by using Google Maps, but don’t depend on Google Maps to tell you which route is safe by clicking on the bicycle route option and seeing roads appear in green. Most of the time it is ok, but you really don’t know. I once trusted a route Google Maps suggested, but it turned out that during rush hour, cars didn’t want to give me space. The same road at 6am is safe to bike on, but in the evening rush hour it is not. Bike paths are OK if you are not going very fast or want a more leisurely ride, but you will find that quieter roads will allow you to travel more quickly.

The diagram below gives a cartoon version of the idea:
WhichRoad

Roads
You will want to consider the conditions of the roads. You’ll want to watch out for cracks and bumps in the pavement. Wider roads will allow you to have more space between you and the cars and I avoid narrow roads unless the speed limit is very low or with speed bumps. Also pay attention to when construction on roads will happen, as you’ll need to plan for an alternative route.

Public Transportation
If you live far from work, don’t feel like you have to bicycle the whole way. I live 20 miles away from work and found that a bike-train-bike mode of transport is great.
Go ahead and use public transportation to break up the route and bypass roads. The CTA and Metra have restrictions on bikes based on the time of day and which way you are traveling, so check their websites before you decide to bring your bike.
Once you become more fit, you may realize that you can eventually bike the whole distance and save yourself some cash.

Closing thoughts:
By knowing your main route along with other alternative routes, you can be flexible and handle any unexpected situation. Finding a safe route makes your commute easier by minimizing stress so that you can fully enjoy your ride. Once you are comfortable with your route you can use that knowledge to your advantage. For instance, on hot summer days, I know which route can offer me the best shade. I also remember certain houses which have their sprinklers go off near the street so that I can ride through the spray and be momentarily cooled.
Once you get your route down, the amount of time it takes you to bike commute will be fairly consistent. Don’t listen to people who say they can ride xx distance in xx time. You could be faster or slower, depending on the traffic and how hard you want to ride. Also, bike commuting is not a race. Take your time, follow the traffic rules, and BE SAFE!

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.