How I Biked to Work Every Day Last Year

I started working at my current office on January 26, 2015, and on January 26, 2016 I celebrated one year of completely gasoline-free commutes. I am, of course, not the only person ever to accomplish this relatively minor feat, but since the vast majority of the people I know own bikes but commute almost exclusively by car, I thought I’d share some tips that have made biking the best choice year-round.

  1. Choose a house that’s close to work. I live two miles from my office, so when you factor in parking, it actually takes me less time to bike to work than it would to drive. “Well, lucky for her,” you might think. But no, not lucky for me. I wasn’t randomly assigned this house – when we were house hunting, my first priority was finding a spot within easy biking distance to work. We could have afforded much more space and better views in some of Reno’s suburbs, but for us the joys of a bikeable lifestyle are totally worth the tradeoffs in square footage.

    Does this mean that you can’t bike to work every day, or most days, or even some days, if you live a little further afield? Of course not. There are days when I even wish my commute was a little longer, to give me more of a workout, more scenery and more time enjoying being outside and on the bike. But if you’re looking to make the bicycle your go-to commute vehicle and you have any wiggle room in your living situation, do yourself a favor and keep that commute short.

    4-5-16_House
    She’s a bit on the small side and she doesn’t have sunset views, but this little house is just two miles from my work and four miles from Morgan’s. Coffee shops, bars, groceries, banks and parks are all within walking distance. The tradeoffs are worth it.
  2. Keep clothes simple. I work in a business casual office (though truth be told I tend to explore the casual side of that spectrum a lot more than the business side), but I quickly realized that fussy, high-maintenance outfits were not going to cut it if I had to hop and off the bike several times a day. I’ve pared down my wardrobe to only clothes that are comfortable for riding but also look polished and don’t wrinkle or bend out of shape with a little pedaling. This has definitely been a trial-and-error process, but I’m slowly getting there. Finally, I noticed that my work shoes, which tend to be cute but expensive flats, were getting absolutely thrashed by constant pedal contact and unpredictable weather, and I felt like this more than anything else was affecting my work appearance. So I bought a pair of boots and two pairs of flats to keep under my desk and started biking to and fro in an old ratty pair. Instant upgrade, and I never have to worry about ripping that dainty fabric or ruining good shoes in the rain again.

    4-5-16_Shoes
    Ratty biking shoes on the left – get thrashed, shoes! Nice clean work shoes on the right.
  3. Don’t try to outfox the weather. There are thousands of solutions on the market for shielding you from the elements as you bike to work. Raincoats with cinches and visors in just the right places, water-resistant sock-like things that slip over your shoes and fasten around the thigh, balaclavas, ponchos, crazy goggles, this thing. The common theme is that they are meant to go on over your work outfit to keep every square centimeter of it dry, and the more common theme for me is that that never ends up working out. Too often have I put on a nice work outfit and done my makeup, then suited up with a protective rain layer as if I’m going into battle, only to have the rain leak through somewhere and go right down to the foundations, leading to a miserable and totally unprofessional day at work. So I don’t even mess with this anymore. If it’s going to be raining or snowing, my work outfit, down to the underwear, goes into a well-sealed plastic bag. I then bike to work in the most low-maintenance and sensible thing possible, like a thick pair of leggins, a warm workout top and a raincoat, and change everything out when I get there. Makeup goes on at work, too. I find that this quick changeout system is not only faster than trying to secure every bit of your fancy clothes behind protective rain elements, but it leads to much more fun and relaxed commutes since you’re not worrying about the angle at which to hold your head to ensure that rain doesn’t gush down the front of your shirt.
  4. If you’re too sick to bike, you’re too sick to work. People often ask me what I do about biking to work when I’m sick. First of all, my commute is two relatively flat miles. I’d have to be having some pretty serious flu- or broken leg-like symptoms to be unable to muster the strength to tackle it. And if I WERE experiencing symptoms that were in any way severe enough to make me question getting on a bike, then what the hell am I doing showing up at work? Obviously, you need to factor in your own benefits situation and the culture of sick time in your office, but in general, I think if you don’t feel well enough for a (short, easy) bike commute, you should be able to make the case for staying home entirely.
  5. Have a backup bike. I can change a flat tire and I can…well, no, I can’t really do much else in the way of reliable bike maintenance. I hate it and I suck at it. I do need to work on my mechanic skills and my general attitude toward bike mechanics (to be explored in an upcoming post), but in the meantime if my main commuter suffers a major mechanical failure as I pull out of my driveway, I need solution that’s not donning a grease-stained apron or turning to the car. Enter the backup bike. The backup bike does not need to be up to the same level of cushiness and custom fit of your main commuter – it’s a backup. In fact, it shouldn’t be a super sweet and comfy ride because then you’ll never get around to fixing your main bike, and what happens when your backup breaks as well? The backup bike also does not need to be expensive, because bikes never need to be expensive. My own backup bike was purchased at the Reno Bike Project for $60 and only needed an hour or two of supervised wrenching to get it into reliable commute condition. Assuming a generally accepted car cost per mile of $0.575, I only had to bike 104 miles, or 13 days of work commuting, to make that backup bike pay for itself.

It’s possible, and really fun, to bike to work regularly in a wide array of circumstances. Maybe you live a little farther away, maybe your dress code is more or less professional than mine, maybe you need to use the car occasionally or even regularly when you just can’t wrap your head around biking. The point is that with the right mindset and maybe a few wardrobe adjustments, biking can easily become your go-to method of commuting. Your wallet, waistline and mental health will thank you for it.

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