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By Janet Lafleur

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About this blog: My love affair with the bicycle began with a crush on my first red tricycle that I pedaled in circles on the driveway. The crush grew into full-blown passion when my dad threw Stingray handlebars and a banana seat on my older sist...  (More)

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The No Sweat Way to Bike to Work

Uploaded: Apr 14, 2014
It's the 20th anniversary of Bike to Work Day in the Bay Area, celebrated this year on Thursday, May 8. For two decades, casual riders have pumped up their tires and dusted off their bikes for a ride across town, while weekend warriors have charted longer routes and come up with a post-ride cleanup strategy. For people who bike to work year-round, the weeks ahead of Bike to Work Day are a time for answering questions from and giving advice to new bike commuters, like me back in 1997.

Like so many others, Bike to Work Day launched me into bike commuting. I went to a short "getting started" information meeting at my workplace, learned the best way to cross Hwy 101 from the local bike expert, then pedaled the 12 miles to my office in North San Jose. (The secret, by the way, was to cross under Hwy 101 at Ellis Street and to avoid the roads that cross over Hwy 101). The ride was about an hour so I stowed my clothes in my new bike panniers and cleaned up at my workplace's gym locker room when I arrived.

Over the years I kept it up once or twice a week during daylight saving time, whenever my work sites gave me access to a shower. Bike commuting was a great way to get miles in when I was training for triathlons and long century rides. When I wasn't training per se, two hours a day a couple of times a week was a great workout.



Then I took a job in Palo Alto that was less than five miles from home. It was too short to be a workout and hardly seemed worth putting on lycra and packing my work clothes, plus a towel and toiletries. Five flat miles just wasn't worth the trouble.

Then one day in late summer I slapped myself on the forehead and said to myself, "It's only a 25 minute ride, why do you need to change clothes anyway? Just wear your work clothes." I put a summer dress with bike shorts underneath, slipped on flat shoes and stowed my laptop, purse and heels in my bike pannier. I rode slowly, keeping my heartbeat down at the equivalent of a walking, not running, pace. When I arrived at the office I took a moment to switch into my heels and cool down before walking in the building. No sweat!

It worked so well I was biked every day that week, then the next, and the next. Somewhere along the way I figured out that heels aren't hard to bike in so I stopped packing my shoes. And I learned that if I stopped and took off a layer as soon as I started to warm up I could arrive sweat-free wearing almost anything, even a suit.



It helped that I started reading blogs from bike commuters in cities like Chicago, Boston and Portland. If they could ride in a professional dress there, even during the cold and stormy winters, California would be easy. And it was. Once I got a proper raincoat and boots, I was able to keep riding every day through the rainy season.

When I switched jobs two years ago to one back in North San Jose, I learned to combine my bike commute with a Caltrain ride so I could keep commuting in my work clothes. Occasionally, I'll pack my work clothes and ride the full 13 miles to the office when I want a workout. But 95% of the time I choose my multi-modal bike + Caltrain commute. That way I can bike to work every day instead of 1-2 times a week.

There are lots of ways to make your commute no- or low-sweat. Here are my top tips:

* Ride slowly. Save your workouts for the weekend or the times you're planning to clean up on arrival.
* Don't worry so much about wasting time going slower. If you don't change clothes at the end of your ride you'll save at least five minutes.
* Remember that it's cooler in the morning here than in the evening. If you sweat on the way home you can always shower there.
* Nothing heats you up like wearing a backpack or messenger bag. Get a rack or basket instead and get that bag off your back.
* Underdress so you're a little chilly for the first 5 minutes of your ride. As soon as you feel like you're starting to warm up, pull over and strip off a layer.
* Stow some wet wipes or a towel at work just in case you sweat more than you expected.
* Consider partial clothing changes for your commute. Replace a dress shirt with a t-shirt or flat shoes instead of heels.
* Wearing a helmet doesn't have to mean you'll have a bad hair day. Sweating, not the helmet, is the bigger cause of helmet hair. Experiment with different helmets and/or hair arrangements until you find what works. For me, all I have to do is finger comb my hair on arrival.
* Riding a more upright bike helps. The extra windchill from being upright cools you, and somehow being upright discourages riding hard.
* I installed a front basket so I can grab everything I need while I'm riding or walking my bike. I can strip a layer off and stow it without pulling over and my train pass, my phone, and my sunglasses are all at my fingertips.
* Not packing clothes means I have room in my panniers to pick up a few items at the grocery store on the way home from work.

Are you riding to work on Bike to Work Day this year? Will you wear your work clothes or wear cycling gear and change on arrival? How far is your trip?

Comments

 +  Like this comment
Posted by Winona, a resident of Shoreline West,
on Apr 15, 2014 at 1:46 pm

Excellent tips! Thanks!


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Stinky Pete, a resident of Bailey Park,
on Apr 16, 2014 at 2:15 pm

(sigh) 24 miles to work for me...no shower when I get there so I'll bring a washrag and wet it to cool off when I get there, then change in the restroom. Not the most elegant way but it is what it is, and I'd rather get the ride in.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Janet Lafleur, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Apr 16, 2014 at 2:58 pm

Janet Lafleur is a registered user.

@Pete Kudos for you for figuring out how to make it work without a shower, and for your 24 mile bike commute. That's a long ride.

My husband used to bike commute 11 miles to Redwood City. He didn't have a shower at work so he just used wet wipes in key locations to get the job done.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Ralph, a resident of another community,
on Apr 16, 2014 at 3:26 pm

Thanks Janet,

Good tips all.

One part of getting more people out on bikes is adding to the commute style rider. Currently we have child riders, (wannabe)racers, and recreational riders out on the road. There are commuters but they seem to be small in numbers compared to the recreational users. (No data on numbers) Part of that lower number is time of commute especially in the AM when commuters are leaving earlier and not bunched in the late PM recreational riders. When we can call attention to commute cyclists, yes a bike is a tool not a toy, there will be more facilities at work places.

Some cities are working to put the requirement for showers etc into the building documents as part of their green strategy. If your city isn't yet help with the push, try for retrofitting buildings to help. Become an advocate for commuting (Janet, you are already doing your part,) in your city. More commuters will help in the push for better bike infrastructure on and off the road.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Stinky Pete, a resident of Bailey Park,
on Apr 16, 2014 at 4:14 pm

Oh! Thanks for the payback Janet. I'll also be bringing a few baby wipes in a baggie now :) Good call hubby of Janet.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Elaine, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Apr 17, 2014 at 7:09 pm

This article is very timely. The short commute in street clothes is a new thing for me! My new commute is 4 miles from home, mostly trail.

Until now I've always had longer commutes (up to 12 miles each way) with a shower at work. That worked fine for, like, 17 years. It's more complicated, packing stuff in the morning. And I always felt on the work end, people looked at me sideways because I arrived in bike clothes. For them it put me in the category of Other, making them less likely to try bike commuting themselves. Hey, when they seemed stressed or hassled by parking or broke or fat, they landed in the Other category for me. But there we were, looking at each other from opposite sides of the fence.

Now I wear street clothes on my commute, with SPD sandals on my feet. At work, after parking the bike I just switch out the sandals for work shoes and Voila! It's incredibly simple. The sandals stay in a pannier all day, waiting for the return trip. If you don't want to swap shoes, I've found that wooden-soled clogs look great and are excellent for cycling.

The main thing is to keep speed down and not chase the crazed guys on the trail who are racing each other to work. When it's warm I think I'll be choosing looser-fitting (but still stylish) outfits.

Unlike Janet, helmets wreck my hair. And hair matters in the workplace and I'm vain about it. Thinking about getting a Hovding, which is a neck collar that contains an airbag. It's a lot more effective than a helmet, too.

Will report on that experiment on my blog at route66ajourney [dot] com


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Angela Hey, a resident of another community,
on Apr 18, 2014 at 3:03 pm

For people biking up Alpine Road towards Portola Valley after work there will be a Bike From Work stand at the Ladera Community Church from 3 pm to 7 pm on Bike To Work Day May 8th. There'll be snacks and music, as well as a chance to chat with experienced cyclists. So take an after work ride round "The Loop".


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Mark Roberts, a resident of another community,
on Apr 18, 2014 at 6:56 pm

Great article and good advice Janet!

I commute 10 miles from Sunnyvale-West to PA.
I wear MTB shorts, a synthetic T under a cotton flannel shirt, a bright vest, and urban clipless shoes (Shimano's MT22 Mountain Shoe).
I stow dress shoes and pants at work just in case I need them.
Going slow TO work is key advice --it's also safer.
Some of the mixed-use trails (e.g. Stevens Creek) get busy and lot of the cycle-commuters go way too fast.
I have one pannier on my rig (with my laptop in a Thule case bungied to the other side).


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Janet Lafleur, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Apr 18, 2014 at 10:23 pm

Janet Lafleur is a registered user.

@Elaine Congrats on getting a job close to home with a trail commute. That the ultimate way to get to work, getting a little exercise on a quiet trail.

@Angela Thanks for the heads-up on the Ladera station the evening of Bike to Work Day. I'm compiling a calendar of events for Bike Month. Is there a link for Ladera?

@Mark Roberts Sounds like you've worked out a good system. And yes, riding fast on a multi-use trail when there are people walking isn't safe. Most riders are considerate but the people who don't use due care are really annoying.



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