As Bike to Work Day (BTWD) approaches here in Denver, I thought I would share some of the tips and tricks I learned from my years of commuting to work in various cities:
1. Be willing to swim against the current. In 2004-2006 I was commuting from the suburbs of Kansas City, Kansas into the heart of downtown Kansas City, MO -and the courthouse where I worked still allowed people to smoke INSIDE the courthouse. Needless to say, rolling in on a bike wearing spandex raised LOTS of eyebrows and I was met with much resistance. "Why would you ride to work when you can drive?" they'd ask me. I just kept at it -and eventually people came to accept my "odd habit" and then came to expect it- "why didn't you ride in today," they'd ask when they'd see me drive. You can make people into believers -even if initially they are skeptical. Lead by example. You'll be amazed at the impact your example can have on others.
[Once I moved to Colorado, I was commuting from Lakewood to the Courthouse in Golden -of course cycling was widely accepted here, but I still got some looks of curiousity as I'd wheel my bike through security into the elevator each morning and into our office. After that job, I commuted from Lakewood to Boulder (I'd drive 1/2way to Arvada and ride the rest, which still made for a 50-mile round trip ride). This job luckily had a shower in our building and I could stow my bike in my office. I was always blessed with understanding -and patient- bosses, who allowed me a bit of leeway to do this].
2. Plan ahead. Ladies -buy a second set of toiletries and makeup items and leave them in your office - this can include deoderant, perfumes, for the men-shaving cream and razor. Minimize the number of items you have to pack each day for your ride. In the winters I would leave a pair of my dress boots at the office because they were too heavy to pack. I also always had a spare "outfit" at the office in case something spilled in my backpack on my work clothes -that way I had a backup plan.
3. Buy wrinkle free! I quickly learned that cotton was not my friend. I began buying skirts and shirts with rayon or spandex, that would shake out and not make me look like I'd slept overnight in my outfit. If a suit was needed, I would bring my wardrobe in on a day that I drove and leave my suits there in ancitipation (it is VERY hard to pack a suit in your backpack).
4. Pack light. The backpack quickly fills up and gets HEAVY. Don't make your load impossible. I learned to think ahead on my breakfast and lunches -which I always packed and brought in. Grapefruits and apples add a LOT of extra weight ;) Protein powders that could be mixed or again - items I could buy and leave at the office on drive days -were more sensible.
5. Prepare to be energized. There were days when, as the workday came to a close, I was so tired I wasn't sure how I'd ever make it on my ride home. I was tempted to call my husband to come get me. But I'd get kitted up and start my ride and always -the ride home would wake me up and energize me and I'd have a more productive evening at home. I "vented" my frustrations on my pedals and arrived home happy. It also forced me to ride in conditions I would normally have avoided -like rain and high winds. It made me a better bike handler because I had to react to cars, pedestrians, crazy things you encounter on a bike commute. There were only a handful of times in my 2004-2010 commuting years that I had to call for a ride -and they usually involved massive storms or an equipment failure. I was lucky to have a supportive spouse who also commuted, but was usually home by the time I was stuck on the roadside-and could come and get me. Here in Denver, RTD is also a great backup plan if you find yourself stranded on a commute -with most buses outfitted with bike racks.
6. Own really good lights. When it's not summertime, your commute WILL start in the dark-ish hours. Don't skimp on this investment -get a super strong headlamp. Put reflectors on your bike and backpack and red blinkies on the rear of your ride. But most important is to light your way so you can see where you're riding and what you're encountering on the road.
7. Shower, schmower. Your office doesn't have a shower? Do NOT let this stop you. Tea tree oil works wonders on a wet washcloth. I make this work for 2 years in hot, humid Kansas City!! You can wash down, apply deoderant and be fresh for your day. This assumes a hair style that does not require a lot of "do-ing" and that will freshen up once you take your helmet off. If commuting is your goal, make your appearance as low maintenance as possible ;) No curling irons or hair dryers!
8. Backpack v rack system. I used a backpack for years before investing in a rack that mounted to my seatpost -I owned one bike, so I couldn't convert my race bike into a full-time commuter and didn't want to mess with panniers on/off all the time. The rack I had was a shelf that clamped onto the seatpost and the bag (a hardcase) snapped into the rack. This allowed me to pack my clothes without them getting all smushed up and then I could just snap the bag off and carry it to my office. Slick.
9. Observe patterns. Maybe this is just my OCD nature - but I came to know times of buses that would travel in my bike lane, when car traffic would get heavier, when to arrive at the office, etc. You will be off-kilter initially as you get your timing down, but eventually it will become a science. Also -consider driving your proposed route at the time you'll be riding it, just to be sure it works as well as the map makes it seem. You may ride your route a few times and then find ways to improve it to avoid traffic, long lights, animals, etc. I think people are often afraid of commuting due to its perceived unpredictability -but give yourself a week and you'll have the schedule down pat. Let your boss know that you might be a bit off pace the first week, so they know what's going on. But you'll be surprised and -probably early, not late. Just plan ahead!
I can't say enough about the positive things that happened to me while commuting to and from work - the things I saw and the improvements in my health and my weight and reduced stress levels, the reduction of time I spent in my car and my lowered fuel bills, the opportunity to tell more people about cycling (because more askd!) -and my overall energy ... there really is NO downside. I wish you the BEST of luck as you experiment and find ways to make it work in your life.