My first commuter bike

I bought my first commuter bike in 2011 the weekend after I had another expensive repair with my Jeep.  I hadn’t ridden a bicycle in probably 8 years, but that didn’t stop me from going to the local bike shop.  I remember riding it for the first time and thinking how crazy it was that I was going to purchase this bike and use it to get to work.   It served me well for nearly 6 years, through all seasons and all sorts of locations.  I didn’t love it and I didn’t hate it, but it served its purpose and it got me through not having a reliable car.  I maintained it well and I would visit the bike shop to ask questions whenever I was concerned about a potential problem.  It was a great first commuter bike and it gave me the ability to slowly learn about bike commuting.

My first commuter bike

Bike Model:  2009 Raleigh Detour 3.5, 17″ hybrid

Mileage:  Unknown, easily 3,000+ miles

Purchased: $335 (bike), $532 (TOTAL including accessories and tax) From Roberts Cycle on 8/27/11

Sold: Through Craigslist on 6/18/17 for $175

Components replaced when needed: brake pads, chain, saddle (2012, 2014), rear rack (2013), crankset (2014), pedals and tires (2015)

Distance: Up to 40 miles daily, entire route bicycled, or broken up through a multimodal commute (bus or train)

 

Original look of the bike after completing my first urban commute in 2011.

 

The original receipt

 

Pros:

As my first commuter bike, there were many pros to starting off using a hybrid bike.

  1. The bike fit me.  I’m short, a little over 5’0″ with shoes.  Even though it was a men’s bike, after adjusting the seat, I could reach the handlebars and the pedals comfortably.
  2. It was an upright riding style.  That meant that I was able to see the road clearly, and was especially helpful when in the city.
    Upright front view.

     

  3. It came with a rear rack where I could bungee cord my stuff.  I didn’t have the money for panniers so I did what I could with my old backpack and bungee cords.
    Backpack strapped to the rear rack.

     

  4. It was not a flashy bike and I did not have to worry about locking it in the city with just a Kryptonite Keeper lock.
    Locked to a bike post in Chicago. 2017.

     

  5. It was affordable to me and I found it in the corner of the bike store on clearance.  It allowed me to eventually save money to deal with car repairs and other expenses.
  6. It was “slow.”  I could probably pedal 15 mph if my life depended on it.  This prevented me from being reckless and going too fast.
  7. It taught me about minor maintenance – over time, I learned how to fix my own flats and troubleshoot where exactly on the bike things were giving me trouble.

 

Cons:

A few cons for my first bike included:

  1. The weight of the bike itself.  It was heavy for me initially but I gained the strength to lift it up stairs and up on Metra trains.  Switching to a crankset with fewer speeds made it a bit lighter as well.
  2. The upright riding style meant no hiding from the wind and made me feel the full brunt of the cold Chicago winters.
  3. Toe overlap – when turning or when positioning myself at an intersection, sometimes my foot would rub against the front tire.
  4. Aluminum frame – I could feel every vibration in the road, especially when dealing with potholes.
  5. Not great for long distances – near the end of the week, my legs were really hurting, especially my quads.

 

Over time, I realized what I really desired in an everyday commuter bike and had no hesitation upgrading to a new touring bike this June.  Even with its cons, my original hybrid bike was able to do the job when I needed it.  I put the bike up for sale on Craigslist twice – the 1st time I had no responses, but the second time when I posted it, I used the keywords, “women” and “ladies” and had several replies.  This bike is now in the hands of someone else, and I hope they get as much use out of it as I did.

Summer of biking – 2016 edition

It’s been a busy summer on and off the bike, but I’ve spent enough time riding around to get a biker’s tan.  I’ve recorded over 1000 miles this year with the miles mainly from commuting.   Here’s some highlights of this past summer.

2016 Active Transporation Alliance’s Bike Commuter Challenge

I was the sole captain this year as the co-captain from last year opted out of organizing.  Overall, it was a very fun and successful event – this time my company had 17 participants (new record), and we finished within the top 25 of companies Chicagoland in terms of mileage.  I think since word got out much earlier this year,  people were interested.  I made some flyers and had emails sent out to the company starting a month before the event.  As captain, the event website made it difficult to find stats or manage the team.  Active Transportation did admit they they were rolling out a new backend system so some user-friendly features from last year were not available – such as sending out daily messages to my entire team through the website. Me and other team members also encountered were some minor technical difficulties with their bike app in terms of uploading miles, but that was resolved by just restarting the program.

I was able to bike every single day of the challenge, and the first day I had an interoffice commute which I’ve never done before.  I even tried a new route from another coworker who lives nearby.  I’ve since used that route on my commutes to mix things up a bit.  Some days were hot, but luckily, kids still run lemonade stands and I was able to take a short break on my rides home.

Lemonade Stand
Hot weather means one of many lemonade stands on my commute home.

I definitely met a lot of new people and have new biking friends.  It’s always nice to have camaraderie around non-work related stuff.  I’ve ridden to work with two ladies in a different department who take one of the early morning Metra trains.  As someone who’s commuted for many years, it’s great to see new commuters giving biking a try, using whatever bikes they have.  A few weeks after the event, we took a group photo and it was included in our company newsletter. People said they had lots of fun and it motivated them to be healthier and consider alternatives to driving.

 

Upgraded some bike items:

I treated myself to some new bike lights, bags and other bike supplies to replace what I’ve been using.  My equipment will be discussed in later posts.

 

Biked to work in a downpour:

One morning the radar showed red and I thought I would get to work before the worst of it hit.  I was wrong and ended up in a really awful downpour about 15 minutes in my commute.  There was no lightning in the sky, but the thunder was really serious.  Thankfully, I always have all of my lights with me and I kept to the quieter streets.  At times, the rain actually hurt as it hit my skin.  When my husband texted me if I was OK, I said that I was putting my phone in a plastic bag and I turned on the Beacon feature so that he could track my route.  I remember pedaling so hard through some standing water and telling myself not to stop since I didn’t want my bike to fall over.  The water came up to my bottom chain but it required a lot of force to pedal through.   It was such a weird sensation to be pedaling through water, but not as crazy as underwater cycling. It was terrifying at times, but luckily I made it to work safe and was actually the first one to arrive.  I was reminded by my boss that one day I will show up looking like an electrified kitty on a bike.

 

 

On Labor Day, rode 75 miles in preparation for the North Shore Century.

I signed up to do my first century ride since I’ve always wanted to do this event and my other coworkers are doing it too.  My only training for a century is biking two times a week commuting to work (50 miles).  On my Monday off, I got up at the usual time for my bike commutes, but I wanted to see how I felt after riding a long distance.  I decided to enjoy the lakefront path which kept my speed slow at about 12 mph.  I tried eating something about every hour- some energy goo or food I had packed.  I think I did not eat enough for breakfast – I only had oatmeal and some fruit and a cup of coffee.  My feet felt fatigued but that was expected since I use platform pedals and have regular gym shoes.  I may consider swapping in harder insoles, or purchasing bike specific insoles to put in my gym shoes.  Otherwise, I feel I am ready to bike 100 + miles.  Even a day after riding, I am not really in pain, but seem a bit dehydrated –  I blame that on the two beers I had the night before and two beers the night after my ride.  More on my first century ride in a future post.

Bike on the Lakefront Trail next to the Shedd Aquarium.
Bike on the Lakefront Trail next to the Shedd Aquarium.

Bicycle Profile – Wabi Classic 42 cm

For the past two years, I’ve enjoyed riding my Wabi Classic 42 cm.  I don’t have a name for it, but I describe it as “My blue bike that looks like a toy,” even though it is a serious road bike and great for commuting.

 

Wabi Cycles 42cm
Lakefront bike ride when it was new

This is my favorite bike, the bike I use when I want to have fun, go fast and feel like I can keep up with anyone else on the road.  Tiny and powerful, it is a bike I can ride for 20 + miles and not feel like it’s taken all of my energy to do so.  It’s the kind of bike that immediately changes your attitude when you’re having a bad day and the kind of bike that has people ask you where you go it.  It’s also the kind of bike I carefully lock up or bring inside since I’d be very upset if it ever got stolen.  It’s put into heavy use during the spring and summer on my commutes and on recreational rides around the city.

Specs:

Model: Wabi Cycles Classic 42 cm

Purchased: June 2013

Miles ridden: Strava says I have 1850 miles, but I know I have biked much more. Probably 2000+

Gearing: 44 x 17, single speed.  One gear is fine since there aren’t many hills around

Weight: ~17 lbs of steel and components,  it is very light compared to my other bike

Pedals: Platform MKS Sylvan Touring Bicycle Pedals, since I can use a variety of shoes with it, and I don’t see the need for clipless pedals.  These were purchased separately for about $35.00.

Tires:  Changed stock tires to Continental Road tires in 2014

Seat: stock ladies saddle, will upgrade to a newer bike seat eventually

Rear rack: None, since there is no room for one. I use my messenger bag or cycling backpack to carry supplies.

Lights:  Enough room on the handlebar to mount front lights, I have a tactical flashlight with a flashlight holder mounted to it.  The seatpost has room to mount a rear light, but I usually have a light clipped to my backpack and one on my helmet for rear lighting.

Speed: I average 13-15 mph on this bike and have recorded myself as going as fast as 27 mph downhill, 22 mph “hammering” on a flat stretch of road or a steady 19 mph keeping up with traffic on busy roads when I am brave enough to take the lane.

Price: $750, a great value

 

Wabi bike on side
Bike with water bottle and emergency bike pump on the frame.

At the time, I wanted another bike in case my main hybrid commuter bike was in the shop for repair.  I wanted a fast bike, it had to be light so that I could easily lift it onto the train, and be maneuverable enough in heavy traffic.  This bike fit all of these requirements.

 

If I was running late to catch the train,  I knew I could pedal fast enough to make it in time and still be able to lift the bike up the stairs while catching my breath.

My bike taking up two seats on the Metra.  Two grumpy people probably had to move so I could park my bike.
My bike taking up three seats on the Metra. Three grumpy people probably had to move so I could park my bike.

Why Wabi?

Since I’m short (5’0″) my options for road bikes were limited but I wanted to find a stylish road bike which could be used as a commuter bike.  There were many options from the big name brands, but after reading around the internet, Wabi kept being mentioned.  Even though it was a single speed bike, and I had never ridden one before, I thought it made sense since the bike would be lighter and more efficient.

I looked at www.wabicycles.com and was immediately drawn to how simple and beautiful the bike was, especially the turquoise blue color.  Due to my height, the only option that made sense was the 42 cm model.  I wasted no time and contacted Richard Snook who owns Wabi Cycles.  Richard was very helpful in helping me decide on the build of the bike.   Our conversations over email and phone focused on my physical measurements, riding style, and my desire to bike long distances.  He suggested I get a stem riser so that my handlebars could be more upright and that a 44 x 17 gear ratio would allow me to comfortably climb hills in the suburbs while maintaining a good cruising speed in flat Chicago.  He also answered any questions I had about bike sizing and not being able to test ride the bike before purchasing.  My fears aside, I placed the order through the website soon after our final discussion.

My biked arrived packed in a big cardboard box.  I only had to figure out how to put on the front wheel and the pedals I had purchased.  The first ride was a short ride around the block.  Richard told me that since I was used to riding a hybrid bike, it would feel like upgrading from an old SUV to a Porche.   He was right as I was instantly impressed by its speed and somewhat unsure if I had bought a bike that was too fast.

After a few rides, I got used to its speed and I took it to my local bike store and made some minor adjustments to the seat and handlebars.  Since then, I haven’t had to perform many adjustments or maintenance on this bike and it has been a very reliable ride.

Final Verdict

Everything about this bike is awesome and feels good, especially the effortless pedaling and steering.  Since the bike is so responsive, I can confidently negotiate traffic, easily avoid potholes and be fast enough so that I can make all the green lights before they turn red on the road.   Overall, this is a fantastic bike and it fits my commuting and recreational biking needs.  You will see me riding this bike for many years to come.

2015 Bike Commuter Challenge Completed

This year’s bike commuter challenge was a great success.  My company had seven members and we all biked in at least once (100% participation), for a total of 24 trips and 287.8 miles (12.1 miles per member).  We had four men and three women, including two new bike commuters.  I had been interviewed by the Active Transportation Alliance, so I knew I had to give my best effort.  As one of the captains, I lead the team with six rides and 78 miles, but due to the weather and other commitments, could not devote more energy towards the challenge.

Forming the team:

About a week before the bike commuter challenge started, another lady bike commuter I had met introduced me to the guy who had been organizing the event for the past few years and we went from there.  He had just welcomed a new baby, so the bulk of the responsibility shifted to me to organize and encourage the team.  I registered the team on the website, designated us as co-captains and then edited an email template he had sent me to include detailed instructions on how to sign up for the team (this year you needed a password). HR forwarded the email to the entire company and also put up announcements on the TV screens.   We also printed out some flyers which were put up by the administrative staff.

HR and I went to a nearby bike store and selected some raffle prizes (bike commuter kit with reflective bands and rear light, active wipes) which the company graciously paid for.   Our HR department was really great in helping us advertise the challenge to hundreds of employees.  I was unable to recruit my immediate coworkers to join (although they really did entertain the idea), and ultimately we ended up with seven team members.

Preparing for the challenge

Before the challenge started, I brought some clothes and snacks to keep in my office so I wouldn’t have to bring them on the bike.

I sent out an email to the team and wished them luck during the next week.  With the weather indicating rain, I reminded people to be more careful (use lights, go slower) and to not ride in the rain if they didn’t want to.  I don’t like riding in the rain myself, but a light drizzle is fine with me.

One of the new bike commuters asked us our opinion on the route he should take to work.  Being in the suburbs, it can be tricky negotiating traffic when the streets are busy and the speed limit is 50 mph.  We found a route which would minimize sidewalk riding and cautioned him to be extra careful and look for turning cars and driveways.

Logging my rides

I tried using their bike commuter app on the first day,  but it didn’t record some of my miles so I relied on Strava.

My commute is usually 12 miles to and from work, or 17 miles if I take the long way on the trail.

What most days of the bike commuter challenge looked like:

BikeHomedreary061215

Friday: 6/12: Little bit of rain in the morning, cloudy in the evening, colder than usual.
Monday 6/15: Did not bike, but did bring a supply of clothes and snacks for the week to store in my office.  Hawks win the Stanley Cup.
Tuesday 6/16: Biked in, little bit warmer, feeling good.
Wednesday 6/17: Could’ve biked in but stayed up late watching the NBA Finals.
Thursday 6/18: No biking, lots of things to do.
Friday 6/19:  Really felt worn down from the week, but I had to bike in since it was the last day.  Luckily the weather was nice. Bought and ate a pan pizza from the cafeteria and it gave me enough energy for the long ride home through the North Branch Trail. I rode as fast as I could  and beat some of my personal records I have on Strava.

Every few days I would log into the bike commuter challenge website and send out emails encouraging the team and updating our progress.  Some team members even emailed me directly to share their progress.  I enjoyed seeing people’s routes and hearing about how they took the opportunity to bike in.  A raffle was also held, and the prizes sent out through the company mail.

Until next year..

Next year we hope to get the word out sooner so that more people can think about commuting to work. The rain also put a damper on our efforts.

Participating in the bike commuter challenge was a great way to meet new people and share information about bike commuting.  Nearly every week is bike to work week for me, but it is always fun to to share the experience with others and to keep each other motivated.

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.