Novice Urban Cyclist Seeks Commute Advice
June 2, 2010 12:39 PM   Subscribe

I'm going to start commuting to work by bike soon (some of the time, anyway). Help me with a few specific questions and give me general advice on making my commute by bike the kind of thing I'll want to stick with.

Specific questions:

1. My office has no showers or suchlike. So:
    a. Where in Manhattan near 23rd Street and Broadway can I shower for free or cheap after my commute?
    b. If no such places exist, what can I do to freshen up after a ride?
2. Gear:
    a. What are the best bags for cycling? Will I be fine with a plain ol' L.L. Bean backpack, or do I need something else?
    b. Where should I look to find helmets that are not ugly, don't cause horrible helmet hair, are fairly inexpensive, but actually do their job?
    c. What gear do I probably need but don't know about yet? (My bike is an inexpensive folding model.)

I've previously asked about the best route, and have several options I'm going to test out.
posted by ocherdraco to Travel & Transportation (44 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
1. a. no idea but there's like a million smallish gyms around there
b. keep a towel at work. if you can pull off biking in and then changing into clean clothes, most people won't even notice.
2. a. that's fine
b. not ugly? doesn't exist. they all cause horrible helmet hair. fuck it man. like i tell all my friends "you're already biking--you look like a tool to 90% of the population, so what's a helmet anyway?"
c. you don't need any gear. learn to patch a flat, maybe some general maintenance and you're golden.

like eddy merckx always said "don't buy upgrades, ride up grades..."
posted by johnnybeggs at 12:48 PM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

2. a. actually, i should say that commuting with panniers instead of a backpack/bag is really amazing and feels great, so go for it if you want.
posted by johnnybeggs at 12:51 PM on June 2, 2010

I recommend varying the route you take to work. Select routes that have less traffic or go through parks, even if this adds time to your commute.

As far as 'freshening up' goes, without a shower I would bring a change of clothes and bike in shorts and a t-shirt and change at the office.

Regarding specific equipment; start with a bike helmet and purchase more accessories only if you feel the need. I like biking with gloves and a hydration pack (3L), YYMV.
posted by axismundi at 12:53 PM on June 2, 2010

- I strongly prefer panniers to backpacks. You don't sweat as much, the weight is much easier to carry, and the bags double as a splash-guard when it's wet. Also, it's easier to do some light shopping on the way home!

- I've found that a small packing cube is great for packing my work clothes on the commute. I don't have a place to freshen up either, except for the bathroom, so it's easier for me to bike and work in different clothes. Less stinky that way! Though usually I find that I'm fine on the commute in (it's cooler in the morning), and that it's the commute after work that I, ahem, you know.

- I keep a pair of work shoes at the office, since they are a pain to pack and commute with.

- A cheap "wet bag" is good in case you pack your lunch and it explodes, squishes, or oozes.

- Helmets are ugly, and they all cause helmet hair. It's probably more of a challenge for women, but I tell me barber that I bike commute & that I need an easy to manage haircut.

- Do you have an iPhone or something like that? The Map my Ride application is free and kind of fun. It overlays your route onto a map, and tells you the distance and time.

Have fun! It's liberating to not have to sit in rush hour traffic!
posted by kanewai at 12:53 PM on June 2, 2010

For the bag, do you have a rack on your bike? Do you have to wear a suit to work? The bag you should use will mostly depend on the answer to those questions.

As for helmets, NYC was giving away these last year. I don't know if they are still doing it.

For other gear, you should definitely get front and rear lights.
posted by chrisulonic at 12:57 PM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Before I had two bikes stolen I rode a lot in the Miami Metro Area. No shower available at my work, so on really gross days I would do the paper towel freshening before putting on my clean clothes. (extra care for armpits, and face, and if your thighs get sweaty, that crease between the thigh and the leg may need some attention.) I'm only here two days a week, and often I'm the only person in the store. But sometimes a customer would follow me in 10 minutes before opening. That was a little awkward.

Try to make the last few blocks of riding a cool down, rather than barreling through those last few lights. If you're late and>/i> sweaty, it's much more noticeable than just being late. Or sweaty. Try not to get so pumped up that you're red in the face for 20 minutes after arriving. A cool water splash can help with that redness, but, ya know.

Gear wise, you might want a rear view mirror for your bike, but I never had one.

posted by bilabial at 12:59 PM on June 2, 2010

I'll echo the recommendation for a pannier instead of backpack.

Velcro straps to bind your pant leg and keep it out of the chain can save a pair of pants.

If you'll be biking at dusk or after sundown (dusk is worse), you'll want a headlight and blinkies.

I wouldn't bike without the means of fixing a flat (patch kit and pump), but I suppose in Manhattan with a folder it'd be easy enough to fall back on the subway.

Transportation Alternatives is the NYC cyclist's friend.
posted by Zed at 1:02 PM on June 2, 2010

C. If this is in NY and you plan on locking up outside you are going to need a very good lock & good locking strategy
posted by cuando at 1:05 PM on June 2, 2010

1b. I typically just bring a clean shirt and deodorant and a light towel; just splash water, wipe down the sweat, and I'm good to go.

2a. A backpack traps sweat on your back and gets uncomfortable on long rides. Panniers are really worth it. A messenger-style bag works as well.

2b. Cute helmets exist. Nutcase is a popular brand, if it suits your aesthetic.

2c. Lights, so you can ride at night; I like the silicone "frog lights" because I can take them on and off easily (so they don't get stolen) and there's no risk of them snapping, which always happens to cheap plastic lights eventually. Sunglasses for the summer. Straps for your pant cuffs so they don't get ripped in the gears (or you can just roll them up if they're casual pants). A really good lock. Gloves for when it's chilly or damp. Eventually, ear and face warmers, a rain coat, and rain pants, if you're hardccore enough. A bike pump at your home, so you can keep your tires at the right pressure without going to a bike shop -- having fully inflated tires makes a huge difference.
posted by PercussivePaul at 1:08 PM on June 2, 2010

Do you have, or are you willing to pay for a gym membership? I considered my bike ride the 'cardio' section of my workout, and would head straight to the gym (and showers) once I arrived. There are a few gyms within a couple of blocks of 23rd & Bway.


A good headlight and taillight are an absolute must - anything with 3+ LED bulbs will throw out enough light. And before you say "I don't need a headlight, everywhere I'll go is well-lit!", it's not for you to see - it's for you to *be* seen - I can't tell you how many times I've nearly hit/been hit by bicyclists zooming by in the dusk/dark, assuming I have super-x-ray-vision. A blinky headlight? You will be seen.
posted by swngnmonk at 1:09 PM on June 2, 2010

I second the gym membership, I bike to the gym in the morning (near my office). Take a shower there and change into my work clothes. Then I bike the remaining few blocks to my office, wherein I towel off and drink a big glass of water and I am usually pretty good to go after that. After work I work out, then ride home, so hooray for extra exercise!

Also, helmets look stupid, looking cool isnt their job, protecting your cranial matter is their job and frankly it is the only thing I am concerned with as far as they go. Helmet hair looks stupid, but I vastly prefer it to the potential alternative of drooling and pooping myself for the rest of my short miserable life. (also I am a dude and I have a buzz cut, so take that with a grain of salt)
posted by BobbyDigital at 1:15 PM on June 2, 2010

I really like Giro helmets. I would recommend the Indicator model for only $40.
posted by nestor_makhno at 1:16 PM on June 2, 2010

As for gear, I'm very fond of my Commuter Garment Pannier from Nashbar. Allows me to keep ironable office clothes relatively wrinkle-free (and water free if I'm cycling in the rain as the bag is waterproof).

As for helmets, I think think the skater style ones are OK-looking, and while they are way too pricy for me, Yakkay Helmets are pretty stylish. All helmets cause helmet hair, that is why it's called helmet hair. Bring a comb with you to sort that out when you get to work.

Gear you might need and not know about: check the local laws in your city! For instance, I'm legally required to have a bell on my bike, even though I think they're obnoxious and I don't use it. (If I'm passing a pedestrian, I tell them I'm on their left which is a lot more helpful that hearing some stupid bell ringing at them.) Also, they're really cheap, so there's no reason not to have a blinker light on your back. This will make you much more visible to cars.
posted by Kurichina at 1:21 PM on June 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

1. Your morning commute may be cool enough to not really need a full-on shower, a lot of the time. You may be able to get away with wearing your nice work pants/skirt on the bike, plus a T-shirt, and just pack your nice work top. (I used to work with a guy who biked about 20 miles each way, and he packed a complete change of clothes every day because we didn't have a shower. He propped his bike in his cubicle, festooned with drying cycling clothes like a clothesline, but they never stank up the joint. It was sort of colorful and cheerful, in a way.)

If you can manage it, leave a few pairs of office dress shoes at work - the ones you wear most often. They're bulky to pack and if you leave them under your desk, or some other place with good ventilation, they won't stink up your cubicle because they will dry out quickly.

2a. Panniers, like everyone else says.

2b. Embrace the look. Sneer at the planet-trashing motorists who arrive with perfectly groomed coifs. (Serious answer: maybe you can keep a spray bottle of water at work and wet your hair down, then comb it back into place. May not work for your hair type and 'do, but it's worth a try.)

2c. Since it's a folder, I assume you'll stash the bike in your office somewhere. If not, ask other NYC cyclists what kind of lock they recommend.
posted by Quietgal at 1:22 PM on June 2, 2010

Response by poster: For the bag, do you have a rack on your bike? Do you have to wear a suit to work? (chrisulonic)

My bike has a small rack over the back wheel (the wheels are 20"). I don't have to wear a suit, but I often wear dresses.

Regarding panniers: I'm going to be folding and storing my bike in the office. Are there panniers that double as a bag that can be carried?

I'm not getting a gym membership. I can't afford one.
posted by ocherdraco at 1:25 PM on June 2, 2010

There is this stuff called Rocket Shower that might work to keep you fresh without a shower, as long as you also bring a change of clothes.

It's pricey for what it is, but they list the ingredients and I suspect you could whip up your own for minimal cost if you buy the ingredients at a natural food store and play around with the ratios until you get something acceptable.
posted by slow graffiti at 1:26 PM on June 2, 2010

1b. I've been using Rocket Shower lately. You spray it on when you're changing and wipe with a dry washcloth. I suppose diluted rubbing alcohol in a spray bottle would work too, although it might dry out your skin.

2b. Any bike helmet you can find in a bike shop will do the job it was meant to do.

2c. Clothing that wicks. Sweat-soaked cotton is no fun at all. A shirt is a must. My ride is long enough that if I don't have wicking underwear I get saddle sores. REI has good stuff, but there are probably cheaper options out there.
posted by hydrophonic at 1:27 PM on June 2, 2010

Cute helmets exist. Nutcase is a popular brand, if it suits your aesthetic.

Agreed! I like Nutcase, and I personally have a helmet from Mace that people literally roll down their windows in cars and stop on their bikes or while walking to tell me is a great helmet - and frequently.

I may be delusional, but I also find that the hole arrangement on my helmet somehow helps me NOT have helmet hair - and even puffs things up a bit (I have hair that's prone to limpness). Look for a "skate" style for commuting, as they are way less dorktacular than regular sporty helmets. They are becoming much more widely available.

Also, if you can do it, keep work clothes at work. It's not necessary to bike in spandex bike gear (I don't - I typically wear jeans and whatever top I'm wearing to work), which is nice if you intend to go somewhere before or after work and still look like you could be a two-legged or steel-box-enclosed person.
posted by urbanlenny at 1:30 PM on June 2, 2010

Have you given any thought to rain gear? I have a nice pair of rain pants I bought on sale 7-8 years ago for around $60 that I still use (can't remember the brand - but they weren't bike specific). When I rode in the winter in Chicago I wore them as a shell over my pants and they kept me pretty warm down to like 10F. The other nice thing is that they fold into a pouch that I just keep in my pannier.

For a jacket I just use a plain outdoorsy type rain shell that has ventalation. I found mine at a goodwill for like 8 bucks. It rolls up pretty small, so I can keep that in the pannier too.

Properly girded, you might fine that riding in the elements is kind of exhilarating.
posted by WASP-12b at 1:31 PM on June 2, 2010

2a. What ever you find comfortable is best; like others, I prefer panniers, especially if being not-sweaty is important.

2b. I can't think of any at the moment, but maybe take a browse through the Let's Go Ride a Bike blog for cute helmets (and other girly biking things).

2c. I can't believe no one has mentioned fenders! The shape of your folding bike may make it less necessary, but I can't imagine riding w/out fenders. Gloves, not just in the winter, but fingerless for warmer weather. (Watching the nurse brush road gravel out of one's SOs palms will do a lot to make sure you always wear your gloves.) Also lights as others have recommended -- they are probably required by law, among other things. (Speaking of which, Bicycling & the Law is a fascinating read.)

And have fun! Bike commuting is fantastic fun, in my experience, and great exercise.
posted by epersonae at 1:33 PM on June 2, 2010

Are there panniers that double as a bag that can be carried? Yes, almost any pannier will have a carrying handle, and many have a shoulder strap. Look for panniers marketed to bike commuters (rather than long-haul touring) and you should find plenty of options.
posted by PercussivePaul at 1:37 PM on June 2, 2010

1. My office has no showers or suchlike. So:
a. No idea!
b. I can't shower at work either. I wear bike clothes (or any kind of fitness clothing that wick away sweat and breathe) on days I'm likely to sweat a lot, and change when I get to work. A towel, deodorant, and perfume is usually enough for me. Sometimes I'll just wear something lighter (like a dress) and ride slowly to avoid sweating.
2. Gear:
a. If you want to avoid sweaty back syndrome from backpacks, try a tote bag (this depends on your bike's geometry. It may not work if you are bent over, as it won't stay on your shoulder) or panniers.
b. Buy a helmet for its ventilation and safety features. Depending on how long your trip is, you may not even need to worry about helmet head. I have a black Specialized helmet which doesn't make me feel especially dorky. If you go for the cutesy full head helmets, expect to be stinkin' hot.
c. You need a bike shop with whom you are comfortable. I don't know what kind of folding bike you have, so I couldn't recommend the best tools for you.

I ride my bike to/from work 365 days a year. Rain, snow, hurricane winds, etc. If you have questions about all-weather riding, message me and I'd be happy to give you more specific advice.
posted by Lizsterr at 1:39 PM on June 2, 2010

-Rocket Shower.

-Nutcase Helmets

-Brightest rear red blinky I've come across. Also, the flash-flash-BRIGHT FLASH pattern is an attention getter.

-Spokelits These ones cycle through something like six or seven colors or solid red. They also sell one-color Spokelits. At night, the pattern they make visually really cries out "Bicycle Wheel", and the shifting colors every few seconds is an eye-catcher.

-BE VISIBLE! Motorist inattention and obliviousness is as dangerous as the outright hostility you're going to encounter, and probably more common. Always be thinking "How do I make myself noticeable and stand out so that a driver listening to the radio is going to notice me and run me over by accident".

-Get a hold of your local bike maps. Your local bike commuters association probably has one. They'll have the local bike routes mapped out, which streets have bike lanes, which ones aren't bike friendly, etc. The 'Frisco one shows which streets have serious inclines. Also, get active with your local bike commuters union. Great way to meet people and find out about what the locals who've been doing it longer have figured out about biking in your area.

In 'Frisco there's The Wiggle that allows a pedaler to gain 120' in height while doing at most 6% grades. The first time you tell a local "You can bike from Market Street to Golden Gate and it barely feels like going uphill", they think you're crazy until you show them.

Find out what your local version of "The Wiggle" is. And srsly, once you get to know the local bike routes and make with the monkey-powered zoomity a block or two away from the thick traffic, you'll be brushing bugs out of your teeth form smiling.

-Two words: merino wool. Absolutely, positively, beyond a shadow of a doubt the bicyclists best friend when it comes to lightweight warmth that breathes. And it's wool so it'll still keep you warm if it get's wet. Cotton wicks heat away from your body when it gets wet. If you stop somewhere with a bit of a sweat on and it's cool and breezy, you will want to be wearing Merino rather than cotton.

-I don't wear "bike shoes" because I don't want to go "click" when I walk or change my shoes every time I get on/off only transportation. I quite like my Odyssey Twisted PCs. Lightweight plastic, good horizontal gription, inexpensive, and you can wear just about any shoe at all with them I pedal in Vibram Fivefingers. But whatever your daily shoes, the Twisted will probably handle them just fine.

Re: bags, I live in the Bay Area and the fashion is for 1-shoulder messenger bags. But it's my experience that the main advantage of that style is the ability to rotate the bag from back to front easily without getting off your bike, an important feature for a messenger picking up/dropping off packages. But I find that a 1 shoulder bag, especially when walking, throws my alignment and posture so out of alignment as to be unworkable. I roll with this backpack.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 1:40 PM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've been commuting for years and I firmly believe that the most important non-obvious accessory you can purchase is a good pair of booties. Now that particular pair are just an example; you should be able to find a number of alternatives at any quality bike store.

When my feet are dry and warm I feel like I can suffer through any sort of inclement conditions. Of course, YMMV.

Good luck with the bicycle commuting. It's so so worth it.

On preview: seconding merino wool clothing. Bike + Wool = Pure Awesome
posted by talkingmuffin at 1:42 PM on June 2, 2010

Also, lots of biking magazines are geared towards the spandex Easter Egg racing or BMX crowds. But good ones for commute/utility riders are:
-Urban Velo
-Bicycle Times
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 1:44 PM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

The best thing you can to do make sure you feel confident about freshness is arrive to work ten minutes early. That's way easier to do consistently when biking than it is on the train.

That way, even if you're a sweaty mess you can fix things before anyone really sees you. I am a male and didn't have the hair/dress issues to worry about, but when I was biking from brooklyn to the office in midtown every day, a cool moist cloth across my forehead, cheeks, and neck would do wonders. I tried to dress in clothes that wouldn't show sweat, and in our super AC'd office environment, slightly damp clothes dry on the body in just about no time.
posted by hermitosis at 1:44 PM on June 2, 2010

I apologize for not reading all the answers, but please consider just cycling there with the gear you have, going slow, without showering etc. pp. Cycling is fun, go for it and see what comes up. This is not something that needs extensive planning.
posted by oxit at 1:46 PM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

My bike has a small rack over the back wheel (the wheels are 20"). I don't have to wear a suit, but I often wear dresses.

Regarding panniers: I'm going to be folding and storing my bike in the office. Are there panniers that double as a bag that can be carried?

Sorry for the assumption there. Since you have a rack I double Kurichina's recommendation on the Nashbar Commuter bag. I own one and I'm happy with it. IT keeps my work clothes reasonable wrinkle free and there is enough space to tote along extra deodorant and what not. The bag has a shoulder strap and there is a hook attachment, so you can hang it garment bag style on a cubicle or coat hook. Plus it's a lot cheaper than most other panniers designed to hold work clothes.

Echoing what others, even if you plan to take your bike into work with you, get a lock. Here's a good video on locking up your bike in an urban area.

Also, you may want to check out brianogilvie's excellent response here on a previous thread on bike commuting.
posted by chrisulonic at 1:47 PM on June 2, 2010

I'm not sure if the four crosstown blocks each way is too far to be worthwhile, but the Chelsea Rec Center on 25th between 9th and 10th is probably the cheapest shower you can get, with a 1-year membership for $75. And pingpong tables!
posted by twoporedomain at 1:50 PM on June 2, 2010

I keep a pack of baby wipes at work and wipe down with one while I'm changing if I'm sweaty enough to need it.

2nding the Planet Bike rear blinky Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey linked to -- it's definitely the brightest one on the market.

A backpack will make your back VERY, VERY sweaty -- like sweaty that soaks through your clothes and then soaks the parts of the backpack that are touching you. When I started bike commuting, it took less than two weeks for me to switch to panniers.

I carry a spare tube, a little pump, a wind-up emergency light, and a little swiss-army-knife-type set of bike tools with me and those have saved my butt on more than one occasion.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 1:51 PM on June 2, 2010

That one-shoulder bag is only for actual messengers and the h-words. It looks cool, but is a real pain on any kind of real commute - you need to constantly shift and adjust your weight to keep it balanced. Go for a backpack if you can't fit panniers on your bike.

Are there panniers that double as a bag that can be carried?

I carry mine into work & toss them under the desk. It is not very stylish at all.
posted by kanewai at 2:01 PM on June 2, 2010

Lights to be noticeable. Definitely.

Perhaps a mirror on your left side so you can look @ cars who might try to overtake you and make a right turn. I saw one once and it looked kind of cool.

Nth keeping a towel at work.

And as a pedestrian, remember this is New York. Most people commute via mass-transit and/or walk and do NOT drive. Ergo don't be a smug a**hole biker. Respect pedestrians, don't run through red lights. If you wouldn't do it on a motorcycle don't do it on a bike. We're greener than you!

Dis-respect vehicles, however, as much as you can get away with.
posted by xetere at 2:09 PM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

For bathroom cleaning, you can go far with a couple of washcloths. Soak one in the sink and add a little bit of soap in one corner - use that corner for a bit of a scrub in the smelly bits, then rinse/wipe with the other corner. Dry with a second clean washcloth or pat dry with washroom paper towel. Then change your clothes and you should be no smellier than anyone who came over in a packed bus.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 2:51 PM on June 2, 2010

Similarly, on the east side is Asser Levy at 25th street near 1st Ave. Same $75 will allow you in there as well (and several other places around the city.)
posted by Obscure Reference at 2:55 PM on June 2, 2010

Here are some of my strategies from about 3 years of year-round bike commuting in the southwest:

- keep deodorant and a towel at work, rather than trying to find a shower, which just adds several steps to your commute and seems like it would be discouraging.
- wear a synthetic or wool shirt, rather than cotton, on the ride, so it'll wick up the sweat and you won't feel salty all day. You can just hang this in your cubicle until it's time to go home.
- can't recommend booties and pull-over rain pants enough.
- take a shower an hour and a half before the ride -- that way your hair is completely dry by the time you head out, and you won't get nearly the helmet hair.
- tame lingering helmet hair in the sink at work.
- I used panniers for a little over a year, but switched to a Timbuk2 bag last year, purely for aesthetics (didn't want to have to have a permanent rack on my bike). I actually prefer the bag, because I can carry it around all day and it feels safer for my laptop than a pannier, but I've pretty much gotten to the point where I ride in my work clothes so I don't need as much luggage space as people who need to carry shirts, ties, etc. This requires some lifestyle changes and may limit employment. I disagree with other posters' concerns that shoulder bags shift around a lot -- mine doesn't. But I do try to maintain some hipster cred despite being old and fat, so maybe I'm in denial.
- plastic clip-on fenders from Planet Bike or similar.
- what everyone else said about lights.

Additional thoughts on helmets:

- Nutcase helmets are based on a skateboarding design, and are not nearly as vented as bike-specific helmets. I have one for skateboarding, but it gets hot as hell, and most of the time I just use my bike helmet for that, too. They just work much better. A $40 Bell helmet is exactly as safe as a $200 helmet, but not as adjustable. I fall a lot and have to replace them, so I just get the cheapies.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 3:33 PM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Office also has no showers. Switching from a sports bra to a regular bra goes a long way in removing bike sweat. Basically the system is: Ride to work. Lock the bike up. Take a ten minute cool down stop sweating walk around the block. Go to bathroom and change into fresh bra and shirt. Deodorant and you're golden.

A backpack will make your back VERY, VERY sweaty -- like sweaty that soaks through your clothes and then soaks the parts of the backpack that are touching you.


Where should I look to find helmets that are not ugly, don't cause horrible helmet hair, are fairly inexpensive, but actually do their job?

Also, I realize you're being responsible and looking for helmets, but there's going to a nice Sunday afternoon that comes along where you want to go to a park and don't have to worry about cars and you're going to leave the helmet behind. AND that's when Bike Voldemort is going to come from behind run you over, ride off leaving you on the pavement where an off-duty homeland security guy who was riding his bike will call an ambulance and then you'll spend the next 6 hours* in a hospital waiting room full of children coughing in order to let a nice doctor give you 8 stitches, in your scalp. Where they can't anesthetize well. Don't listen to the you-look-dorky-voice, ever. It is wrong and bad at time and health management.

Most of this stuff will work itself out on its own as you bike, you'll sort of incrementally upgrade your system. I was super worried about the shower thing , but its barely even a thing.

*Hold this image in your head. 6 hours of your life gone never to return because of one simple choice. I've found it to be a much more effective motivator than the whole you're gonna die thing, because I'm convinced I'm totally invincible, so that's not a problem.
posted by edbles at 3:45 PM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've been biking to work most days since early April and it feels fantastic! It's kind of addictive.

I don't have a shower at work either, so to keep fresh I try to leave earlier in the morning before it gets too warm, and when I get to work I wash my face, freshen up (neck, pits, etc.) with these (found a bunch of the grapefruit style cheap at Marshall's and the natural citrus oil smells and feels clean and delicious), and change to clean clothes--at least a clean shirt.

I agree that helmets are a necessary evil and look stupid (and itch and are hot) matter what kind you get you're going to look like Gazoo. I also agree you should try to avoid a backback--Too hot and sweaty. I have a front basket on my bike for my belongings, it looks corny but it works great. If your folding bike can't accommodate a rack or basket I'd use a simple canvas tote bag (wrapped around one handlegrip) before dealing with a backback.

Helmet hair? Yes, you'll get helmet hair. But in a few weeks of steady biking you might also drop a dress size and feel like you've got more energy than you've had since college. ...Buy yourself a book, cocktails or little treats with the Metro/cab money you'll save each week.

Good luck, have fun and be careful of cars AND ALWAYS ASSUME THAT THEY DO NOT SEE YOU (cabs are the worst--Do they ever use their turn signals??) Watch for people opening their car doors. A yell is faster then a bike bell. Don't forget the sunscreen.
posted by applemeat at 4:05 PM on June 2, 2010

1b - I find I don't need a shower. The trick is to cycle at the speed of comfort. If it's hot, don't put as much effort into the pedals, so you don't get as hot. If it's cold, put more effort in. Something else that makes a huge difference is:

2a - no backpacks, they'll make your back sweaty. It might be difficult with your foldable bike, but install a pannier rack or some kind of frame to hold a bag. Most bike bags and pannier bags are designed to attach and detach quickly and easily, so the bike will still be foldable.

2c - Look to Denmark - the Danes are the kings of cycle-commuting, and one awesome piece of kit they have is ree-lights. These are frictionless-generator powered lights that can be installed on a bike. So whenever you're cycling (and for a few minutes after you stop), your lights are on. Day or night. If you have lights that must be turned on by hand, you won't turn them on during the day, switching them on and off is extra hassle when you just want to jump off your bike and go, and their batteries get run down, etc. Ree-lights means you never need to worry about lights - you're always covered, day and night, no action needed on your part. But they're not cheap.
(The Danes also have ranges of bike helmets designed to look like regular hats, bowler hats, etc. Their cycle technology is completely different to what is on offer here in the USA, and well worth a look, if only to see cycle commuting done differently.)
posted by -harlequin- at 5:00 PM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Having cycled in London for years, I have a few suggestions:
1. Buy yourself a really, really dayglo vest with reflective strips for wearing on top of other clothes (get a loose one that will fit over a waterproof). The mesh ones are best, so you don't get too hot. Car drivers just don't register bikes; taxis will ignore you. Get good lights for nighttime riding.
2. Assume that drivers will turn right across your path or suddenly swerve in, leaving you nowhere to ride. People will open car doors just as you get abreast of them. Ride defensively. You need to be able to get off the bike very fast sometimes. Do NOT use pedal clips, or if you need them for the hills, get ones that can be slipped out of VERY fast. (On the other hand, people have been really nice when I was cycling: a huge city bus once stopped and hooted to let me now that I'd lost my dinner off the back rack!).
3. A backpack will unbalance you (too top-heavy). You can get bike panniers pretty cheaply on eBay. Get a rear rack and use panniers. Take two face flannels (in a wet bag) to wash the sweaty bits in the bathroom at work; soap one when you arrive and use the other to rinse off. It is always worth taking a change of underwear (tops and bottoms) and a change of socks, as you'd be amazed how wet you can get until you are really fit!
4. Keep a hairdryer at work. Your head will get damp as well as helmet-hair strange ... :-)
5. It is worth having mudguards fitted if you don't have them. Mudguards fulfill their eponymous function in wet weather; well worth the cost.
5. Buy a LIGHTWEIGHT multi-tool bicycle spanner and a tire patch kit that includes tire levers (in extremis, you can use a couple of spoons - learn to fix a puncture before you do this regularly). Puncture resistant Kevlar tape, or "puncture-proof" tires, are a must if you are cycling in the city, but you can still be unlucky and get a puncture from unusual garbage in the road. As another woman, I've found that storekeepers can be very helpful in providing an emergency bowl of water to find the puncture ... it seems worth it for the amusement of watching you fix the problem ... :-)
posted by Susurration at 9:37 PM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the suggestions. Consider yourselves all best answers. It looks like at the very least, beyond a helmet I legally need lights, a bell, and some sort of reflective material on my tires. I'm also going to get panniers. Beyond that, I'll just start biking and see what seems to be missing.
posted by ocherdraco at 9:21 AM on June 3, 2010

Oh, and tools in my personal kit:
-Crank Brothers multi-19 tool. Ultra lightweight, compact, if it don't got it you don't need it*.

-Crank Brothers Speedlever for getting the tire on & off quickly. Here's how it works.

-CO2 tire inflator. This one does both Presta and Schrader valves and accepts both threaded and unthreaded CO2cartridges. The cartiridges are steel and recyclable, and the first time you hear the WHOOSH sound and see your tire up at pressure without having to spend 25 minutes pistoning away with the portable pump by the curb, you'll appreciate this.

Also, just about any patch kit, though I'm not big on the self-adhesive patches. The glue is not hard to learn to use, and patching/reinflating a blown tire by the roadside and getting back up in the saddle is all kinds of a WOWCOOLIROCK moment.

-A pair of nitrile gloves in your kit will help keep your hands from getting grubby while fixing a flat by the roadside.

-After exhaustive research, Lexica & I have decided that the New Belgium Brewing Bike Bell is the Aristotelian ideal DING-A-LING that announces "Bicyclist" in a friendly, pleasing tone.

-In general, regularly clean and lube your chain. Not only will it increase your zoomity, a dirty chain dies sooner and wears harder on your gears.

*Except if, like me, you ride a bike with a exotic uncommon gearing that has one important nut on it that the multi-19 (or just about any multi-tool out there) has.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:56 AM on June 3, 2010

Looks like there are upcoming helmet giveaways tomorrow on Governor's Island and 6/19 in Queens.
posted by yarrow at 2:08 PM on June 4, 2010

DUDE! i do this daily! you should just call me and we can chat about it :D what kind of bike did you get???

okay that aside, my answer (repeating some of what's posted above):

1. My office has no showers or suchlike. So:

a. no idea.

b. as someone else suggested, wicking clothes are the best. bring an entire change of clothes, including underwear, bra, socks. drink water on your ride, change in the bathroom, wash your face in the sink, bring makeup to put on AFTER and make sure you get to work early enough so you can let yourself cool down. don't let the sweat make you panic. putting your hair in a ponytail for the ride and after will keep it from getting too damp in back. you will sweat a lot - summers here do that and it's gross but cycling is so worth it! when i sit at my desk i pat it off with a paper towel or you bring a small towel of your own... also a little fan at your desk (if the a/c in your building is not sufficient) really helps. also it's good to have a spot in your office to hang any sweaty clothes to dry, like tucked away out of sight under your desk.

2. Gear:

a. i use a chrome bag. it's huge and holds everything i need, including a change of shoes. it does create a wet spot on my back, but that's why the change of clothes. a lot of commuters get panniers, but i don't know if that is be an option with a foldable bike? (my pannier knowledge is limited to what i have seen falling off of people's bikes when not secured properly.)

b. you're gunna get helmet hair. accept it in exchange for your life being saved. make sure it's snell certified and replace it regularly or if it gets cracked. look online for how to adjust straps and wear it properly - i see so many folks with it too high up off their forehead! also, i just have a haircut with lots of layers that i can shake out after a ride - it's SUPPOSED to look messy! one way to avoid limpness - part your hair over to the side you don't typically part it on, squish helmet on. then after your ride, part it back the way its supposed to go. rub your hair at the roots to rustle it up again.

c. kryptonite ulock (for going out and riding somewhere after work) and flashing lights are key. you don't really need to worry about carrying about patch repair kits or anything if you're riding in the city b/c there are so many shops within walking distance if your bike breaks down. i do recommend it if you're going out on long rides though and it's great to figure out how to do on your own to save $. i often buy clothes from running shoe stores b/c they have a good variety of wicking clothes for women. shops i recommend: bicycle habitat is a pretty cool shop in soho if you need to pick things up, as well as nyc velo in the east village. gotham bikes in tribeca is okay in a pinch but not all the guys there are friendly. oh, last thing - i also recommend a phone call to a fellow cycling friend (AHEM) that would love to ride with you. NUDGE NUDGE.
posted by cristinacristinacristina at 11:13 AM on June 9, 2010

err i meant to post the stores as links but forgot:

bicycle habitat

nyc velo

toga bikes/gotham bikes (they have two manhattan locations, one in tribeca the other on the upper west side)

also, time's up! bike co-op is a great place to learn about bikes and bike repair with their workshops. they have women and trans repair workshops @ 6:30pm every monday at their manhattan location.
posted by cristinacristinacristina at 11:57 AM on June 9, 2010

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