For years I admired Seattle bike commuters from a distance and wondered: how do they do that? How do they bike in the cold, dark rain without arriving at the office looking like a hot mess? Then, with the help of my good friend Jennifer, who has been a lifelong bike commuter, I learned the secrets.
Before You Start Commuting
If you haven’t biked to your office before, it’s a good idea to bike your route during the day, perhaps on a weekend, and make any necessary revisions due to rough road conditions to ensure it’s as safe as possible in the dark during rush hour. Also, you’ll want to time your trip so you know how early you’ll need to leave in the morning and how much effort it’ll take (read: how sweaty you’ll get). Unless you’re training for an event, you may want to bike fairly leisurely so that you won’t need to take a shower when you get to the office.
Depending on the dress code at your office, you may want to leave some dress shoes (they take up a lot of pannier space) under your desk at work and perhaps a coat jacket or other bulky item if you have a place to store it. And, if your office is forward-thinking enough to provide showers, it’s great to leave some toiletries in your desk so you don’t need to tote them back and forth with you.
Gear You’ll Want to Consider
- Bike Lights: Two good headlight options are Light & Motion Seca 800 and NiteRider MiNewt Pro 750. You’ll want taillights too – there are a variety of blinking red lights on the market. Some cyclists even put them on their helmet as well as the back of their saddle to increase visibility. One year, during the holidays, I used a battery pack to power twinkling Christmas lights on my panniers (I felt I got a little extra space from motorists that year). At night, in the rain, it’s extremely hard for motorists to see you, so, anything you can do, including wearing light-colored or reflective clothing will help to keep you safe.
- Panniers: If you’re like most employees you tote a laptop back and forth from work. Waterproof panniers are a must. My Ortlieb panniers have not let me down. I do take an extra measure of precaution with my laptop and put it in a plastic bag.
- Fenders: It wasn’t until one dark, rainy morning with a rooster-tail of water spinning off my front wheel and hitting me in the face that I decided fenders were a must. There are lots of lightweight and inexpensive fenders on the market. They go a long way to keeping you and your bike free of road debris and blinding water rooster-tails.
- Cold and Wet-Weather Bike Clothing: Gortex bike jacket with vents, neoprene gloves and shoe covers for warmth, thin fleece/polypro layer, lycra shorts and pants, insulated bike pants, neoprene cap to wear under your helmet for warmth, rain helmet cover, bike glasses, cap with brim to keep rain out of your eyes.
Extra Greenie Points
- Buy a used bike (let someone else assume the production and distribution carbon emissions guilt). A Slate article puts producing a new bike at about 530lbs of CO2 emissions. So, you would only need to bike for a little more than 33 days to see a CO2 ROI on a 12-mile car commute. Nice. In Seattle, one option is Recycled Cycles but I’m sure you can find good deals on CraigsList and at your local bike store.
- Go vegan. The book How Bad are Bananas? Lists carbon emissions of cycling a mile powered by eating a banana at 65g, cereal with milk at 90g and, if you eat a cheeseburger at lunch 260g. However, assuming your eating habits don’t change, it’s still better for you and the planet if you bike rather than drive a car. “A sedan’s carbon footprint is more than 10 times greater than a conventional bicycle on a mile-for-mile basis.“
The Beauty of Bike Commuting
I know from the comfort of a car bike commuting in the rain or dark can look miserable but if you’re dressed appropriately all you’ll notice while biking are the morning stars above your head or the fresh air filling your lungs. Seriously – it’s a great way to commute.