Commuting to work by bike is the best way to start your day. It’s cheaper than driving or taking public transportation, It’s better for your health (according to research, the average person loses 13 pounds their first year of bike riding) and a recent study shows bike commuters are less likely to be stressed out. Are you ready to turn in your steering wheel for a set of handlebars yet?
If not, what’s holding you back? For most people that live within a few miles of their office, the decision to cycle to work depends on how safe they think the roads are and how comfortable (read: how sweaty) they think they’ll be once they get to the office.
If you’ve considered bike commuting, but dismissed the idea because you’d rather not be stinky in your morning meeting, you should know there are options. For expert advice, we turned to the foremost authority on all thinks bike commuting—The League of American Bicyclists.
Legal & Policy Specialist at The League, Ken McLeod, works to make streets safer for cyclists across the country and is an avid bike commuter himself. He shared the knowledge that he’s learned from personal experience and gave some tips for every type of commuter.
For All Commutes:
—Not having a bag on your back can be huge in terms of feeling clean and fresh. A back rack with panniers or a front rack can really help keep you cool. I used to strap my backpack to a rear rack, but recently put front racks on both of my bikes and love it. I can even fit clothes and a lunch in my little front rack on my road bike.
—Fenders can be a great upgrade even if it is not raining while you commute. When there’s debris on a roadway, it’s good to be protected.
—A well ventilated helmet can really help you stay cool.
—Try multiple routes to work. The first route you use may not be the one that keeps you the coolest. Depending upon whether I want to go fast or relax, I take different routes that work better for different types of commutes. I’m lucky to live where there is a good amount of bicycle infrastructure that enables those choices. Employers can be great advocates for making sure that their employees have options other than driving in their community.
—Bicycle gear can seem very expensive and it’s not always immediately clear why. Helmets can be bought for as little as $20 or up to $200+. Investing in the right gear can have a great impact on your comfort during a commute and arriving at work. One of the best things about biking to work, particularly in a city, is that you’re not paying for gas, parking, or car-related maintenance expenses. It took me awhile to feel comfortable investing in my bike and bike gear, but it helped to think of the money I’m saving by bike commuting. You can have a great commute without fancy gear, but the right gear can also boost comfort—particularly on longer commutes.
—If you are commuting with work clothes and a lunch, it’s important to ensure that they stay separate. Usually a bag around one or the other before they are both put into a backpack, pannier, or other bag does the trick.
For Shorter Commutes or Commutes In Cooler Weather:
—Wear your work clothes. Give yourself plenty of time so that you don’t feel compelled to go fast. Enjoy the commute.
—There are some really great bike-to-work clothes that are slightly athletic and tend to be more flexible and breathable. I personally wear Du/er jeans and will wear them on my 5 mile commute without any issues when it’s cooler than 70 degrees. Levi’s also has a good line of bike-oriented pants, which includes trousers.
For Longer Commutes:
Those traveling more than a few miles and facing hills might need to take a few more serious measures.
—Absolute best case scenario: Building has a shower or the employer subsidizes a gym membership at a nearby gym. Wear athletic or bicycle-specific clothing on the ride—I usually wear a wicking shirt and shorts. Keep work clothes at work and take them to a nearby dry cleaner or home weekly or as appropriate based upon how many outfits you can store at work.
—Good scenario: Building has a changing room or the employee pays for a nearby gym membership. Wear athletic or bicycle-specific clothing on ride. Bring work clothes with you every day and take them home at night–in my experience this works well with non-iron work shirts and pants, but there are also work clothes-specific bags. Still a good idea to keep dress shoes at work if possible.
—If you can’t shower, there are other ways to get clean or at least fresh. I’m not aware of anything magical, but deodorant, wet wipes and other hygiene products work.
—Riding appropriately for a commute helps–training rides and sprints can be accomplished at other times. I try to ride like I would like drivers to drive, in a relaxed and considerate manner, rather than racing to work (although that can sometimes be fun).