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.

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.