I want to start biking or running to work. Tomorrow.
June 4, 2015 2:04 PM   Subscribe

New job (yay!) is 45-60 minutes away (boo!). On the plus side, the actual distance isn't far which has me thinking more seriously about biking and/or running to work. Factors make tomorrow a good day to start. How to get from here to there?

My new job is about five miles from my place. It takes me about an hour to get there with public transportation. I know that's not bad but my previous commute was more like 20-30 minutes, plus since this isn't a super convenient location, I feel there is more potential for things to go wrong.

However, because of the short distance, I'm interested in biking or even running to work. I like the idea of working out in the morning (and I've done it before) because then after work, I am done with exercise and work and I feel free to do whatever I want. My workplace encourages bicycle commuting and there are showers I can use. There are bike share locations near my home and work. I think it may actually take less time for me to get ready at a facility at work as I can't stop to pet the cat, decide a different shirt might look better with my outfit, fold laundry or otherwise screw around. And I think that biking and/or running may actually shorten my commute time which would be a great bonus.

I asked for a 9:00 am start time and I've been getting there early. I set a 6:00 am alarm, forcemyself out of bed by 6:30, 60-80 minutes to shower, get dressed, get made up, etc. I try to be put the door by 7:30. I'm actually out the door by about 7:50. I figure if I run or bike to work, I could do 6:00 a.m. alarm, brush teeth and floss, use the bathroom, take medicine, get dressed, and go. I'm a slow runner but I could cover that distance in an hour on foot and less on a bike, so I think I could be at my desk by 9:00 am with time to spare. So I wouldn't be getting more sleep but I'd be getting a workout before work and having a more enjoyable commute. Right?

I bought a backpack to use for biking and/or running. I have a bike helmet and have used the bike share before. I visited the showers - they're not glamorous but appear functional. I have an adequate amount of travel size toiletries as well as shower shoes. I also thought I could keep a small bottle of wrinkle release in my backpack and spray it on my clothes before I shower. I already wear flats for my commute and keep heels at my desk so I thought I could just keep small flats in my backpack for the walk from the showers to my office. Worst case, people wear flip flops in my office so if I arrived in them and changed out of them, I think it would be okay.

I made a list of things I would need to make this work and have more or less gathered the appropriate supplies (for example, towel service at work shower is extra so I bought a camping microfiber towel). I've tried to think through various what-ifs. So now I'm turning to you.

What am I not thinking of? If you're a bike or running commuter, what did you wish you knew before you first hit the road?

(In case you're curious, I think I'd like to start tomorrow because the sooner I start, the sooner I get used to it or realize it's a horrible idea and we should never speak of this again. And my boss is coming in late tomorrow. And I just got an email that it's a casual day. I'm not 100% committed to starting tomorrow but it looks like some stars have aligned so I want to take advantage.)
posted by kat518 to Travel & Transportation (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Panniers are much more comfortable on a bike than a rucksack in hot weather, plus they lower your centre of gravity & make the bike safer to ride - you can brake harder with a pannier rack than with the same load on your shoulders.

On a bike there’s no need to push hard - arriving sweaty is usually optional unless it’s particularly hot.

Being able to get daily exercise from your commute is great for your health! Enjoy!
posted by pharm at 2:13 PM on June 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

Are you planning on biking in your work clothes? I couldn't tell. My husband bikes to work (just a little longer commute than yours) and he sometimes gets sweaty.

I don't know where you live but also consider the temperature difference between your morning and evening commutes.

Also, if I were you I'd be a little bit anxious and would hop on a bike right now and try out my planned route to work. In my city at least there are lots of ways across town, some better than others.
posted by that's how you get ants at 2:15 PM on June 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

I commute by bike! It's only two miles and my work is always very casual (in the summer I can just wear athletic clothes if I want). I tend to bike slowly as to not get sweaty and gross. With a short distance of 5 miles I'd take that method if I was biking and only try and make it a "true" workout if I was running. This, of course, depends on how you normally have to dress for work though.

Sounds fun! Life became a lot better when I could commute via feet or bike. I hope you enjoy it. :D
posted by lucy.jakobs at 2:19 PM on June 4, 2015

Seconding pannier(s) over a backpack. Ride in bike clothes and change into work duds after the shower.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 2:26 PM on June 4, 2015

I don't bike to work, but one thing that occurs to me is to keep a spare outfit at work, just in case something happens on the ride (you get caught in a downpour and everything is soaked, etc.), as well as making sure you have a decent bike lock. And eventually you might want to invest in some good rain gear. I know there are other questions on here about bike commuting that might have good info for you. Sounds like a great and practical way to stay fit!
posted by catatethebird at 2:27 PM on June 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Rear rack and paniers. I can carry more stuff (lunch! paperwork! towel! clothes!), I feel more balanced, and most importantly, I avoid that gross sweaty back feeling when I'm riding with a backpack. (It seems like you're planning on using a bike share bike, which may or may not come equipped with a rear rack. FWIW I started riding a lot more when I was able to carry stuff around using paniers.)

I only take my bike to work when the weather's nice because I don't have any rain gear (or fenders on my bike, for that matter.) If you find you like it, it may be worth investing in a jacket and pants if inclement weather is a concern.

For the small flats you're planning to wear from the shower to the office, maybe get a pair of foldable flats - they take up almost no space compared to regular shoes, and they're pretty cheap.

Best of luck!
posted by invokeuse at 2:29 PM on June 4, 2015

Give yourself a lot of extra time the first few rides. If you're not riding regularly already ramp up slow, every other day at first, or ride in and leave the bike overnight if it's in a safe lockup. Review google maps for routes, a small (or even large) detour onto a pleasant street can pay huge pleasure dividends.
posted by sammyo at 2:41 PM on June 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

I bike to work and it's great! faster than public transport and a nice way to get some fresh air and exercise at the start of the day. This won't help you for tomorrow, but I'd look into getting a basket or rack installed on the back of your bike- much nicer and less sweaty than riding with a backpack. Also, are there lockers available near the showers at your work? If so, get one and leave your toiletries there. plus if there are hooks for towels you can just bring in a proper bath towel and leave it there rather than bringing a microfiber one back and forth.
good luck and enjoy!
posted by emd3737 at 2:44 PM on June 4, 2015

Yay! Do it! Do it!

On maiden voyages I like to bring water and a small snack. Especially good for morale during any pauses to check the map or de-stress.
posted by feral_goldfish at 2:48 PM on June 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Mr. Meat bikes to work, about 2-3 miles, I think. The things he has commented most on are the hills (you don't really notice them in the car when you're checking out the route), the drivers (who do NOT notice bikers or pedestrians, so the route had to change), and the weather - some expensive REI bike pants have proven to be well worth it.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 2:48 PM on June 4, 2015

I work in jeans and a button-down shirt. It's about a mile to the bus stop, and then about 3½ miles from the bus to work. I'm pretty low-maintenance, but I wake up at 6 or a little before, shower, shave & breakfast, leave the house about 6:45-6:50 for 7:00 bus, ride the bus for half an hour, and roll up at the office around ten 'til 8, including dodging the homeless people camping along the multi-use path and maybe stopping at the ATM to get some cash.

I carry an over-one-shoulder laptop bag. Have considered just riding all the way to work, it's about 18 miles and would take me about an hour on my road bike (I ride the mountain bike to work now), but I'd have to shower here.

If you aren't hauling ass, 5 miles should be a little under half an hour and at that pace you probably won't need a shower.
posted by straw at 2:57 PM on June 4, 2015

Agree with the half hour estimate - once you have your pattern down. It all depends on the lights and traffic.

The number one rule in urban biking: watch for car doors opening.
posted by megatherium at 3:03 PM on June 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

All good ideas above. Also:

1. Nail down your route. Google maps and the bicycle option is a great tool.

2. Nthing panniers. I love me my Ortliebs.

3. Lay out your bike clothes and your work clothes the night before. I have a little bag I got on Etsy that I slide my work clothes into and then drop into my panniers. Also consider that your commute may be short and flat enough that you can just ride in wearing your work clothes (maybe carting your shoes) and skip the shower/change at work.

4. Be safe, meaning be visible, use signals, and ride defensively with an eye out for oblivious idiots.
posted by bearwife at 3:22 PM on June 4, 2015

If you're a bike or running commuter, what did you wish you knew before you first hit the road?

I wish I knew that it would be vastly easier (and more fun) than I thought it would be.

Ignore anyone's advice on what you need for bike commuting, here or elsewhere (most of it is good advice, but still).

5 miles with a backpack on a bikeshare bike is a great way to start. You may or may not want to upgrade to your own bike, or to panniers, or decide that you can bike in your work clothes (or not) at some point in the future, but you won't know what your preferences are until you've been doing it for a while.

I helped out at my city's bike-to-work-week last week and the range of people biking to work was amazing. Women in skirt-suits riding upright bikes, roadies in lycra gear, dudes on full suspension mountain bikes with jeans and backpacks, all apparently totally happy with their own method. Find yours!

(Once you've been doing it for a while, come back to this thread and see which advice makes sense to you. Annoyed by a sweaty back? Time to get some panniers)
posted by no regrets, coyote at 3:32 PM on June 4, 2015 [10 favorites]

The most important thing you can have for your first day bike commuting is time, and it sounds like you've already got that sorted out! It'll take extra time to make sure you've got all your stuff, sort out the bike share, find your way by bike, and figure out how you want to get presentable post-ride. Much easier to do all that if you leave early enough you have no worries about being late (at least at first! Maybe eventually you'll want to be a lazy procrastinating bike commuter, but save it for another day.)

Anyway: pack your bags the night before including everything that doesn't need refrigeration or charging. Plan your bike route using things like Google Maps's bike directions (and Street View where possible). That won't be foolproof, but the things you don't know about your routes aren't necessarily things the internet can tell you (like, does this bike lane make it hard for me to turn left where I need to? Does this light change when I stop my bike over the loop in the asphalt? Are there potholes or weird pavement problems? Etc.) And the obligatory actual useful bicycle safety info. If you're not sure how to navigate a given intersection, you can always get off your bike and go pedestrian to cross it while you figure things out.

The gear part is the least thing to worry about when you're starting out, especially if you're planning to do a full-on shower when you get there. (If you have wet wipes on hand, those are basically the best thing ever if you don't feel like showering at work. Wipe down the sweaty or dirty bits and you're good to go.) If you want extra insurance that tomorrow will work out well, bring a spare set of clothes. You could even leave them at work for the next time you ride in!

Have fun!
posted by asperity at 5:54 PM on June 4, 2015

I don't know how your local bikeshare system is but in New York, it can be really tough finding a bike during rush hour, especially near major subway hubs. If I were planning on bikeshare commuting between popular areas regularly, I'd note the location of multiple stations on either end, check the station status before heading out, and always leave enough time to run or take transit if necessary, at least until you learn what the bike availability patterns are.
posted by yeahlikethat at 6:29 PM on June 4, 2015

I think this sounds like a great idea. Commuting by bike can be heaps of fun.

The bike share bikes that I am familiar with are all very heavy for some reason (to try to prevent people from riding too fast?), so if you do find that you're commuting regularly, I think it might be worthwhile to buy a second-hand bike with a lighter frame.

I'd pack some baby wipes in case having a shower is not possible for some reason, like forgetting your towel, or the water being off, or running out of time.

I recommend wearing an enclosed shoe (rather than something like a ballet flat) while riding your bike in because if you do - God forbid - come off your bike sometime, losing the skin off the top of your foot is not fun. Signed, the scar on the top of my foot from coming off my bike on the way home from university while wearing a pair of slip-on sneakers.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 9:12 PM on June 4, 2015

I bike 4 miles each way on city streets and have been doing so every day to a professional job for 11+ years. Here's what I have learned:

Get a bell, it is a great way to keep pedestrians, cars and drunks from crashing in to you. Don't be shy about ringing it.

Get a real set of lights, now a crappy tiny led blink. Pay at least $40 for the front light and less for
the back light, and take it with you if you have to lock your bike outside.

If you end up getting your own bike:

I like putting my backpack in a baby seat in the back of the bike, better than panniers in my opinion.

A front basket is nice to have in order to add some light shopping on the way home.

Get a real strong u-lock, never use a weaker chain or combo lock.

No need to be a speed demon, you get there when you get there, no need to get sweaty. After a while you will really know the light cycles and will get through them just in time or just before they turn green.

Figure out your route and mix it up from time to time.

Treat EVERYONE like they don't see you. Once a year you will have some idiot on their phone blow a light or take a turn right in front of you. Don't be afraid to be cautious, but also don't be afraid to "take the lane" if it is the safest way for you to get through or past a situation.

If someone is being violent toward you (and it just might happen) know how to get your video camera on you phone on very quickly, and if you can't, even pretending to take someones video can quickly diffuse a situation.

Nothing is more decadent than showering at work!

Have fun!
posted by bottlebrushtree at 9:45 PM on June 4, 2015

Response by poster: Update: I did it and survived! The bike has a rack so I took a gym bag and a small backpack for overflow. It's cool today so I thought maybe I wouldn't need a shower but HILLS AT THE END. Then I had to scramble to shower and get to my desk by 9:00 a.m. but I made it so we're good. I'm worried that I look like I biked to work but casual day, right??

I thought about the morning/evening commute temperature difference which is why I wanted to start when it's warm though I thought when it gets cooler, I can get a foldable jacket for after work. I have an app where I can check to see if there are bikes at the nearby bike share (and docks at my destination). Spare outfit at the office is a good idea.

For posterity, the thing I forgot was a lock for a locker by the shower. And some plastic bags would have been helpful for things like rain on the bike seat, sweaty clothes post run, wet towel and loofah, etc. I folded the loofah up in the sweaty shirt.

I arbitrarily decided that I would seriously think about getting a bike if I rode more than 100 miles on the bike share bike and I'm up to about 38 over the last four weeks or so. I like that with the bike share, I can go one way on the and that I don't have to worry about locking it, but the flip side is that if there isn't a dock available, I have to find one, which might be a problem in the near future.

Anyway, thanks for your advice and if you think of anything else, please let me know!
posted by kat518 at 6:38 AM on June 5, 2015 [7 favorites]

Awesome, glad it worked out!

My tip for rain on bike seats: go to a beauty supply store and get the most entertaining-looking shower cap you can find. I mean, you can get free plain ones from hotels, but it's just so much fun to cover my saddle with paisley and lace trim when I'm leaving it out where it might get wet. (Also, elastic = much faster than trying to tie a knot with a grocery bag, and easily reusable.)
posted by asperity at 8:09 AM on June 5, 2015

I've been going to work on my bike for almost two years and it's one of the best decisions of my life.

I do a little bit more distance than you would - to me your distance means about 20 - 25 minutes.

The first couple of weeks you may sweat a bit, but after you get conditioned, you will sweat less. I have a shower in the morning and I'm fine - fresh sweat really doesn't smell.

I do bring clothes to change into - but once in a while I'll wear the same top and just put a jacket or sweater over it. Feels like cheating!

If I could wear casual clothes at work AND afford cool bike commuter clothes I wouldn't even change.

I used a backpack for most of the year. Just recently I got a nice pannier setup (bag sits on rack, pannier bags fold out from side if I need them) and I'm thrilled. The sweatiness of the backpack was never much of an issue; but the convenience of my pannier is amazing. Grocery shopping, carrying heavier or biger things when necessary, etc = life changing. (I don't have a car)

I do ride in the rain, I'm commited to using my bike for transportation 90% of the time.

One of the many cool things about bikes is that it's not just you - it's you and the wonderful machine. This means if you are tired, you can just pedal slower or put it in a easy gear. If your're feeling full of energy, you can really push your limits. The point is, the bike does a lot of the work for you, the rest is up to you.

This is all in Mexico City - it seems mind boggling to me that people who live in bike-friendly cities with jobs that encourage bike commuting don't do it.
posted by Locochona at 2:58 PM on June 5, 2015

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