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  1. #1
    Join Date
    May 2010
    Location
    MD
    Posts
    164

    What to wear for 4.5 mile commute? General commuting tips?

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    I recently moved, bought a house, and started a new job, so the summer has been....hectic. I FINALLY think I figured out a bike commute route to my new job that looks doable (according to Google maps...testing it tonight to be sure!) It's about 4.5 miles, through neighborhood roads. There's a few not-great apartment complexes I'll be cutting through, but I've just decided to be confident that safety is not an issue, since it's not particularly secluded.

    My husband used to bike commute, so I have his panniers to use, and a trusty hybrid, and bike parking at my office building. Beyond that, though, I'm a little overwhelmed by the details. Given a 4.5 mile commute and the need to look professional at the office -- would you wear bike shorts and an athletic shirt and just change into office wear at the office? Or wear some of your professional wear and just roll up the leg? I imagine I'd probably need a fresh shirt. I'm hoping I won't get too sweaty during the ride, because there's no shower at work, or even a one-person bathroom -- I'd just need to wipe down with baby wipes in a bathroom stall. Do you just do makeup at work as well?

    I'd have to lock up my bike outside, and then walk through a very public area before getting to my desk and the bathroom where I can clean up. I'm pre-emptively a little self-conscious about doing that in bike shorts. And I guess since I'm parking my bike outside I should only ride on days they're not really calling for much rain, for the bike's sake, right?

    I'm overwhelmed and nervous about this. I'm worried I'll get a flat and not be able to change it (theoretically I can change flats, but I have more practice on my road bike, and only when my husband is right there). I'm worried I'll show up sweaty and my thighs will look like sausages in my bike shorts (this is not normally something I am self concious about but everyone else looks professional all the time at work). Mostly I'm worried this will end up being too much a pain in the ***, and I'll go back to my 7-minute, 3-mile drive. I just feel like a bit of a clown driving when biking is obviously so doable.

    One benefit is I'm a fed in HHS so I can take advantage of this: http://www.hhs.gov/travel/bike2work/index.html

    Sorry for this unorganized mess of a post. I don't know where to begin. I welcome any tips you have!

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Sep 2006
    Location
    Oslo, Norway
    Posts
    4,083
    Go for the bike commute! You'll never regret it :-) Well, you will maybe, on the days it's pouring, but every bike commuter has to do alternative transport once in a while. The sense of freedom is very hard to give up for a car, once you're used to it.

    Personally I'd ride in athletic wear and change. It's more comfortable and saves wear on your nice clothing. I'd probably also take a washcloth and wet it well before wiping down in a bathroom stall. If you take it easy and don't over-dress you needn't get too sweaty, depending on the weather of course. If you want to look a little less bikey you could wear a skort, and take off helmet, sunglasses and any hi-viz gear after locking up. I bet hardly anyone will notice, if anything they'll be impressed, and a little curious :-)

    Another good reason to not get too sweaty is that you'll probably want to bike home in the same clothes. A good tip I read here for drying clothes without hanging them up is rolling them inside a large towel, and then putting it into a paper bag.

    Do try out your route first, and leave plenty of time for your first commute. I can almost guarantee that you'll enjoy it! You'll need to practice changing a flat at some point, but the chance of that happening on the first few commutes is rather small if your tires are in good shape.
    Winter riding is much less about badassery and much more about bundle-uppery. - malkin

    1995 Kona Cinder Cone commuterFrankenbike/Selle Italia SLR Lady Gel Flow
    2008 white Nakamura Summit Custom mtb/Terry Falcon X
    2000 Schwinn Fastback Comp road bike/Specialized Jett

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
    Location
    Concord, MA
    Posts
    13,102
    My first bike commute was 6.5 miles, so just a little longer. I wore full bike clothes, as the way there had a pretty good climb that produced sweat, even if I went slowly. I showered before work and washed my hair. When I got to work, I used baby wipes and plain old soap and water in the important parts. I did my make up, too. My hair, at that point was wash and go, so I just re-wet it and put some gel in. I changed/cleaned up in the bathroom, which had an outer waiting area and a lockable toilet/sink area. My work clothes were brought to work on Mondays and home on Fridays, when I drove.
    Nobody cares what you are wearing and all I got was admiration, especially from the school janitor, who saw me carrying my bike up the stairs.
    2015 Trek Silque SSL
    Specialized Oura

    2011 Guru Praemio
    Specialized Oura

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Nov 2007
    Location
    Western Canada-prairies, mountain & ocean
    Posts
    6,981
    If you wore clothing just for cycling, (it doesn't have to be bike lycra shorts, even walking shorts is fine if you don't need padded shorts. I don't, but everyone is different.), it would lessen the worry for you on bike commuting for awhile. Bring facecloth, soap water,etc. If you can, start work earlier (?) and end work day earlier. I've always negotiated this one for the last 15 yrs. when bike commuting. And it works for me...meaning I finish work at 4:00 pm.

    Lay out your business clothing for packing night before, if you are too worried/nervous. Pack very light jacket and super light wind pants in case it rains. Scrunch them up into your pannier and don't worry about them until you need to wear them. I store at least 1-2 dress shoe pairs at work so I don't have to haul around extra weight.

    I've never had a flat commuting to and from work...in last 20 years by bike. I've had bike commuting trips ranging from 30 km. round trip daily (for ten years) to 8 km. other years, on a combination of road pavement, ravine park packed dirt/gravel trails, etc. Yes, I've bike commuted through downtown cores for 3 major Canadian cities....and I've never had a flat while commuting to and from work.

    My bike flats have always occurred on bike rides outside of work commutes. You learn to know every foot or metre of your favourite bike commuting route, see the debris or non-debris ahead.

    You'll get the hang of it.
    Last edited by shootingstar; 08-05-2013 at 02:27 PM.
    My Personal blog on cycling & other favourite passions.
    遙知馬力日久見人心 Over a long distance, you learn about the strength of your horse; over a long period of time, you get to know whatís in a personís heart.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Mar 2011
    Location
    Utah
    Posts
    109
    I have a 4 mile commute (if I go by the most direct route) and a somewhat similar office situation. I'm a fed employee but in an office with a more relaxed dress code on most days - though I do have days when I need to look more professional for a meeting, so it's a mixed bag. Here are my strategies:

    We only have an outdoor bike rack, with no overhead cover. I will haul my bike upstairs to my office in really bad weather, but generally leave it outside on days with light, scattered rain. I just cover the seat with plastic (one of those flexible plastic bowl covers with elastic around the edges works well).
    I leave a couple pairs of shoes and basic toiletries stashed in my office. Weeks when especially nice clothes are called for, I'll either just drive on the dress-up day or I'll drop clothes off in advance when I'm running other car errands and know I'll be going by the office. It does take a bit of planning but isn't hard once you get in the habit of thinking ahead. As far as what to wear, it depends on the terrain on your route. I can generally get to work in the cool of the morning without working too hard, and almost any clothing will do. I tend to wear the same shirt I plan to work in but with shorts, though not necessarily bike shorts. Depends on whether I want to take the long way around or not. Then I change into slacks at the office.
    Having clothes that are comfortable for riding home, when it's hot out and also slightly uphill most of the way, is trickier. I generally stuff a tank top or cycling jersey into my messenger bag and wear that with shorts going home. Hot weather riding clothes compress well so that's easy to do. I either leave my work clothes at the office til I can swing by with the car and get them (once a week), or I bring panniers to stuff them into (they have to be washed anyway so a few more wrinkles won't matter).
    And as others have said, your coworkers are more likely to be interested and possibly impressed than anything else if they see you arrive in riding clothes. In fact I ran into my boss as I was leaving today and he told me I was his inspiration to get back on his bike. Of course he was loading said bike into the back of his pickup, after calling his wife to come get him, as he said it. But at least he rode TO work today, and that's a start!

    P.S. I second shooting star's advice about starting work early if you have that option. I go in about 7 and am usually done by 4. Not only is the traffic lighter during my commute times, things are fairly quiet when I get to the office and it's easy to manage the transition from biking to office mode.
    Last edited by ZenBiker; 08-05-2013 at 07:25 PM.
    Road bike: Specialized Ruby Comp (2011)
    Commuter: Salsa Vaya (2012)

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Sep 2006
    Location
    Oslo, Norway
    Posts
    4,083
    Actually, even my 2 bosses, who don't regularly bike to work, have a suit jacket hanging permanently on the inside of their office door, for sudden meetings with the Powers that Be. We call it the "snakkejakke", which means "talking jacket", as in "ah, I see you have the talking jacket on. Going somewhere?" ;-)

    I'm lucky and have my own locker at work, containing everything except food

    That's another final tip, actually, keep a little food at work if you can. Riding home on an empty stomach because you got a late phone call is very uncomfortable, and can even be a bit dangerous in traffic.
    Winter riding is much less about badassery and much more about bundle-uppery. - malkin

    1995 Kona Cinder Cone commuterFrankenbike/Selle Italia SLR Lady Gel Flow
    2008 white Nakamura Summit Custom mtb/Terry Falcon X
    2000 Schwinn Fastback Comp road bike/Specialized Jett

  7. #7
    Join Date
    May 2010
    Location
    MD
    Posts
    164
    Thanks for the support and information everyone! Last night we tested out the route and while I'll have to adjust it a bit, it wasn't bad. Mostly through neighborhood roads, although I have to get off my bike 3 times to manuveur over sidewalks at some hairy parts. It's definitely doable. Today I brought in toiletries, some back-up underwear, bra, socks and shoes. Since I have the pannier I think I'll be fine carrying my full change of clothes+shoes, in general. I already keep a little food at work since if I don't have nuts I'll end up at the vending machine.

    I think I'll try commuting for a bit and see if I stick to it before I ask to shift my schedule earlier. My boss actually already balked at that once, but right now I work 8-4:30 so that's not bad. It's mostly neighborhood roads anyway.

    I didn't ride in today because it's raining (and I wanted to drive in supplies first) -- I'm not sure what to do about bad weather with only having outdoor uncovered bike parking. My cubicle is too small to fit a bike and I don't think the security people would like me bringing it in anyway. I guess on light rain days leaving it outside isn't too bad? It's supposed to be fairly rainy all week, but I really want to try it this week because my boss is out (so no meetings) and its my husband's last week of summer break so he could ride in with me.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jun 2011
    Location
    philly
    Posts
    143
    Good advice above (especially about the food.....I already had to break into my stash this morning, had breakfast before I left, but inexplicably hungry already...).

    I've had 2.5 mile and 11 mile one-way commutes and I think if I had the 4.5 miler, I'd wear shorts at least (not necessarily cycling, but maybe). On my short commute, I used to wear whatever (grad student, so no dress code) but it definitely contributed to weird wear on my jeans, and to them wearing out faster in places (inner thighs rubbed just enough on the saddle to wear the material, not enough to be uncomfortable), so just from that perspective, I'd save the wear and tear on your work pants.

    I do the bathroom-stall cleanup-- change everything (may not be necessary w/ shorter commute) plus baby wipes. It's a rare, rare day that I wear any makeup, but on occasion I will just put that on in the bathroom as well- I have also shifted my work day to get in around 7 (and hypothetically leave around 4, but that's another story...). Makes for a nice empty bathroom, and no competition for the big handicapped stall. On days when I sleep in or otherwise come in late, I've gotten over feeling self-conscious coming upstairs in bike gear (but I also work in a research lab, so dress is quite casual and I'm probably not going to run into anybody important in the elevator).

    I think one of the keys is figuring out how to dress for conditions, I've found that if I'm a little chilly leaving home, then I won't get sweaty by the time I get to work. Depends on riding speed/hills/etc, but I'd rather be cold for 5 minutes than too hot when I get to work. I have a much harder time doing this well in the winter, especially the first few weeks of cold weather, but it's fairly easy in the summer.

    Hope you give it a shot and decide you love it-- my commutes are some of my favorite time of the day (I'm lucky to have nice trail for a good distance), and infinitely better than taking the train (or driving, but I've never attempted that on a week day)

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Sep 2006
    Location
    Oslo, Norway
    Posts
    4,083
    Way to go, ftc, you're all set! A bike can handle getting wet every now and then fine if you keep the chain well lubed and it can dry out properly afterwards, but doesn't like getting damp too often and for too long.

    Oh and definitely - a bit too cold when leaving home in general means perfectly dressed for the rest.
    Winter riding is much less about badassery and much more about bundle-uppery. - malkin

    1995 Kona Cinder Cone commuterFrankenbike/Selle Italia SLR Lady Gel Flow
    2008 white Nakamura Summit Custom mtb/Terry Falcon X
    2000 Schwinn Fastback Comp road bike/Specialized Jett

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jun 2006
    Location
    Illinois
    Posts
    19
    Haven't been around for awhile....life.....go figure.

    My husband and I commute at least 4 days a week. 5.5 miles one way. The route in has one good hill climb with a nice down grade before you hit the hill. Reversed on the way home. The down hill grade becomes a steady uphill workout. We ride mostly recumbents with a DF thrown in for me and an occasional fixed gear for him. We are lucky in that we are self employed and have a room where we can store our bikes and office wear. Once a week I make a laundry run, bringing home clothes that need laundered and replacing them with clean. We try to limit our luggage to what we can carry in pockets and in the luggage areas of our faired trikes or bents. For me the biggest challenge has been something to carry my wallet, check book, etc...aka a purse, that I can detach from my bike and carry around with me while at work. I use a fanny pack or a small 'gadget' bag that I picked up at Cheaperthandirt that I can attach to the handle bars of my DF or stuff in a recumbent bag.

    We average 1500 miles just on our commute. I also say ditto to the tip about food for the trip home. It doesn't take much, a power bar or a few peanut butter and crackers.

    Congratulations on your decision to commute on your bike. You will never regret it and will reap the rewards of your efforts.

    Ride safe.

  11. #11
    Join Date
    May 2007
    Location
    Columbia, MO
    Posts
    2,051
    I vote for changing into office clothes when you get there, at least the shirt. And unless you're terribly uncomfortable, I wouldn't bike in bike shorts, just regular shorts or pants. When I first got my bike shorts I felt terribly self conscious in them. I don't anymore, but I don't wear them for <1 hr rides.

    One reason to wear different pants is that biking wears out the seat of the pants. (I guess that could be a reason for wearing bike shorts, since they should have extra reinforcement.) All my slacks & jeans have a shiny butt from biking. It's not glaring but it has been noticed.

    I don't worry about parking my bike outside. If it's pretty wet, I try to remember to give it a wipe down and lube when I get home, or if I forget, then the next day when I notice it's rusty I have to clean it and lube it. Except I don't have time so I make a mental note to do it later, and repeat the next morning when I notice it's still rusty.

    The advantage to taking care of it before the chain rusts is that the chain will last longer. The advantage to taking care of it before you've been riding around with a rusty chain for a while is that the cassette will last longer. The advantage to taking care of it at all ever is that your shifting will be rough until you get it done. It's not the end of the world if you don't ever do it, it just means you'll need to replace your chain & cassette sooner. When my bike was more sheltered I could get 4500 miles out of a cassette with proper care.

    Smart thinking about having the extra underwear etc. That really comes in handy on a rainy day when you discover that you are wet all the way through!

    Good luck with the commuting!
    2009 Trek 7.2FX WSD, brooks Champion Flyer S, commuter bike

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Apr 2012
    Location
    Ann Arbor
    Posts
    42
    When I first started commuting (about 3.5 miles), I wore my work pants. A couple of unexpected wet mornings with a spray of water and dirt all over my butt changed that quick! Now I ride with fenders and bike clothes.

    I change in the handicapped bathroom stall and keep a toiletry bag with deodorant, hair gel and spray and a small hairdryer in my desk. I take a my work clothes in my pannier. On the first ride of the week, I take a second pannier with my food for the week.
    2010 Trek Madone 4.5
    2013 Velo Orange Campeur

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Nov 2007
    Location
    Western Canada-prairies, mountain & ocean
    Posts
    6,981
    Yup cycling, can wear out seat of ordinary shorts/pants. There is no way, I will want to invest..yet more business (even casual business) clothing by cycling in them. Great that many Europeans do it (but they probably have less distance to cycle compared our frigging sprawly cities in North America.) maybe they don't have to run around trying to find size 0 or size 1 dress/business clothing that looks decent without paying lots of money.

    I love starting work early..ie. 7:30 am ... Other employers it's been 8:00 am. That's the latest in work starts...for past 22 yrs. And I've worked for 7 different employers during this time period. It's a peaceful, wonderful ride into work. Yes, winter is cold/dark, but who wants to deal with cars if it may be slippery.

    I always keep 1 business lined jacket for meetings in my workplace area.
    Last edited by shootingstar; 08-06-2013 at 07:45 PM.
    My Personal blog on cycling & other favourite passions.
    遙知馬力日久見人心 Over a long distance, you learn about the strength of your horse; over a long period of time, you get to know whatís in a personís heart.

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Jun 2010
    Posts
    6,449
    Something like these baggy mountain bike shorts and commuter shorts and capris might be a good option--still change when you get to work. But should make you less self-conscious, and maybe more inconspicuous in those neighborhoods that make you nervous. Could be a good plan to look a little more humble, rather than geared out in expensive looking lycra. Plus, less form-fitting may be a little more safe, too (less 'sexy' ).

    The reactions I get from pedestrians are much more positive when I'm wearing something that doesn't look like a racing kit.
    So long as the wheels are still turning, life is good.

    Battswebb

    Pinarello Quattro~CAADX~ Zurich Lemond
    Specialized Romin Saddles

    Surly Krampus!

  15. #15
    Join Date
    May 2010
    Location
    MD
    Posts
    164
    Ooh I do like those relaxed fit shorts, although they're not quite in the budget right now. Today I wore an old pair of running shorts -- they rode up a bit, but I didn't look too spandexy for the ride/the workplace.

    Mzone -- do you use the hair dryer just to help dry your hair from sweat? My hair got a little sweatier today than I anticipated. Luckily I have long hair so I just threw in a little corn starch and brushed it out, I don't think it's too noticeable, but I am the slightest bit worried about odor. I'm also the slightest bit worried about foot odor (not that my feet usually stink, but I wore a pair of keen sandals for the ride and am now wearing open toed shoes). I'm sure no one will notice either of these things but I'm just curious what you ladies do!

    I would like to make my routine a little more efficient. I left the house around 7:20 and got to work at just about 8, which I was happy with, but then took a solid 20 minutes to lock up my bike/cool down outside, carry all my stuff up to my desk, and to clean up, change, and put on makeup in the bathroom. I guess even if I don't make that more efficient, biking in is worth it!

    Do you all still ride after work on days you commute? I suspect I only will on days the weather is nice, although if we're being honest I pretty much already would only ride after work on nice days.

 

 

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