Overcoming some common bike Commuting problems
I like to think of obstacles and problems as opportunities to show how smart you are and overcome them! Most folks find that a little creativity or a tip from an old pro gets them on their bike, and enjoying life without a hitch. Here are a few of those tips. There's more good info on the Tips Page and the Bios Page.
- Doesn't your butt hurt?
- Is Cycling Safe?
- Sweat & Showers
- Managing Your Work Clothes
- I Don't Want to be a Weirdo
- Riding in the Rain
- Aren't Bikes Slow?
- What About Hills?
- It's Just Too Far For Me
Doesn't your butt hurt?
Biker Butts - I get this question a lot, so I've promoted it to the top of the list. For me, my butt was a little sore for the first 3 or 4 days, and I guess I got used to it after that. So my butt does not hurt. Maybe I'm lucky. For anyone having sore backside problems, there are padded shorts, big cushy gel seats, seats designed specifically for female parts, shock absorbing seat posts, "comfort bikes" and a host of other solutions.
Is cycling Safe?
The short answer is "yes" - according to numerous studies, cycling is at least as safe as driving. All transportation has its dangers. There are a lot of things you can do to reduce your risk and enjoy a safe and healthy commute. More info on the Safety Page.
Sweat and showers for bike commuters
I see plenty of people biking in what appears to be their work cloths. Great. Wouldn't work for me. I hate that sticky sweat feeling. Most folks would probably want a place to rinse off and change. If you're employer has a shower at the office, you're good to go. Maybe a nearby gym? Here are some tips for the worste-case scenario, no shower at work:
washcloth - Tried and true, a bundle of $2.99 washcloths has kept me clean and fresh for 2 years of bike commuting! Bring a fresh one to work every day (and leave a few fresh ones in your bottom desk drawer in case you forget to pack one). A quick wipe down in the restroom is all you need. No soap, just get that layer of light sweat off and you'll feel like you just stepped out of the shower. Takes 5 mintes total. Put your wet washcloth in a plastic bag, and it won't get any of your other stuff in your pack damp on the ride home.
baby wipes - I have a friend who cleans up with un-scented baby wipes. A box of those is like instant showers for 2 or 3 months! They freshen you up, and dry fast. Great idea.
cool & dry - I have a a $12 fan stashed under the sink at work. No one even knows it's there. You could just as easily keep it at your desk. After my washcloth shower, I stand in front of the fan for maybe 1 minute. It drys you off quickly, and feels great, and no paper waste. Some folks use paper towels for the whole wash and dry - good to get started, but I'd think economy for the long term.
Continued Cool - Many riders feel hot or continue to sweat for 10 - 15 minutes after they have already stopped riding, freshened up and changed into work clothes. A small electric fan at your desk will keep you cool and dry while your heart rate returns to resting.
Hair - A co-worker of mine has a little travel-style hairdryer in his desk drawer. I don't know what he does for styling in there, but it seems to work well for him. Not a bad idea. I keep my hair a little shorter than I used to - problem solved. Might seem like a big sacrifice for some people, but if it's a priority to you, it's a great option. No fuss for me.
Deodorant - Stash a stick of your favorite anti-perspirant in your desk and grab it on your way into the restroom. So far so good for me. A scented deodorant or a lightly-scented body spritz should be plenty to cover up any lingering sweaty smell while you are cooling down.
Don't be stinky - Body odor and stinky clothes are caused by bacteria in your sweat. Cleaning up with baby wipes, a dab of witch hazel, rubbing alcohol and even hand sanitizer can all kill bacteria and go a long way to reduce odor if you're having problems in that department.
READER TIP - I deal with the sweat and odor issue by toweling off in the restroom at work, and then use some hand sanitizer under the arms, down the back and anywhere else that was sweaty. Kills the odor-causing bacteria, dries fast and leaves me smelling fresh.
- (Steve S., Albuquerque, NM)
Other personal products - If you use hair gel or a particular comb, get another one and keep it at work too. Whatever you need, if it's something you use every day, keep one at work. It's easier than ferrying it back and forth every day, and you can't ever forget it that way.
No sweat to begin with - You might avoid sweat all together by riding an electric bike. More about Electric Bikes.
Managing Your Work Clothes
Wet clothes - Storing your damp, sweaty or rained-on clothing without offending your co-workers can be a problem, but it is easily solved. I hang the damp stuff under my desk on a small stick-on hook (no one knows!), everything else goes back in the backpack. A good employer might get you a mini locker, or allow you to supply your own. No matter how rain-soaked my stuff is in the morning, it's always dry by quitting time. There are all sorts of unused nooks in most offices, a broom closet, under your desk, a computer server room. If you leave damp clothing cumpled in a pile it will stay damp and stink. Hang it up to dry.
Kep it fresh - I keep a small electric fan at my desk, keeps the air circulating and dries my stuff quickly. Some riders use a spritz of febreeze to kill odor-causing bacteria on their damp shirts and socks. Some folks like to give their wet cycling clothes a little rinse with Woolite in the office sink. If you wear typical cycling clothing such as spandex or a wicking jersey, they will be dry within a couple hours.
Wrinkles? - To tell you the truth, I have not had a problem with wrinkles. If you iron a dress shirt and fold it smartly, it keeps pretty well for a 30-minute ride. Some folks I know drive to work once a week and they bring all week's works shirts with them in the car, and hang them up, crisp and ready to go. Great idea!
Shoes - Leave 'em at work! I don't wear those shoes around the house anyway. Keep a brown pair and a black pair under your desk. No sense hauling them back and forth all the time - they are the heaviest thing in your pack, if you do. You'll most likely want some dedicated cycling shoes on your feet for the ride anyway.
I don't want to be a wierdo
Go Stealth mode - If you arrive 15 minutes early, you can usually beat the rush, and no one even has to know that you already earned your donut for the day. Many days my co-workers assume that I drove a car because I am fresh, clean and my shirts are crisp. They have no idea. Perfect.
Getting used to it - I must admit that for my first two weeks of bike commuting I was subject to some funny comments, mostly about my tight pants. After about two weeks though, everyone seems to have gotten used to seeing me in spandex in the morning, and it wasn't long before their jesting turned to praise about how healthy I was getting, saving gas, planets, etc. Once I started losing weight (without even trying), all I heard was "You know... you're looking trim lately." I can live with that.
no Spandex required - Cyclists don't wear spandex because they are stuck in the 1980s. Those aren't regular spandex, they have a big soft pad in the ass, called a chamois (pronounced shammy). They also keep you cool and comfortable in any weather, but if you don't like them, don't worry about it, wear whatever you like! There are plenty of options. Avoid pants with thick seams, like jeans - ouch!
manage perceptions - In many offices there is someone who is predisposed to believe that you are going to stink the place up with your sweaty gear, track mud everywhere and just ruin the place in general, because you are not being a good little sheep and doing the "normal" thing. Take a little extra care to prove them wrong. Wipe down the restroom counter when you are done. Hide your wet jacket out of sight. Leave no trace.
What about biking in the rain?
Riding in the rain is not as bad as it would seem - refreshing, actually! A little rain gear and some good tips are all you need for happy and comfortable commuting in the downpour - that's right, COMFORTABLE! This topic is covered in much greater depth on the Rain Page.
Aren't bikes slow?
Cars are slow too - I read a study that showed the average speed of an urban car commuter to be 10-13 mph when stoplights and congestion are factored in (need citation). Cars aren't as fast as they look on the TV commericils are they? I've clocked my own average speed through the city at 10-12mph on my bike - also including stops, etc. That's a start-to-finish average (miles divided by minutes), in both cases.
The Bike advantage - If you are lucky enough to have a bike trail on your route, you can go miles through the city without a single stoplight. No car can do that. Bikes can also bypass congestion by cruising, uninhibited past the ranks of idling cars.
Reality Check - My 7-mile commute takes about 30 minutes on a bike and about 20 minutes in a car (on a good traffic day) - so the bike is a little slower. But here's the cool part - I'm getting 60 minutes of exercise every day, but I'm only really "paying" 20 minutes for it. I would have been in the car doing nothing for 40 minutes anyway. That's a 300% return on my time invested!
What about riding up hills?
go around them - Maybe there is a better route. Most urban bike paths follow old railroad grades. They are very rarely hilly. And bikes go just as fast on backroads as they do state highways. Maybe you can find a new route that's better suited to biking than driving in a car. They are often not the same roads. Look for a map on your city's Department of Transportation website.
Conquer them - After a few short weeks of bike commuting the hills on my route got easier and easier. You might find a great sense of pride in your own progress as your fitness increases.
Skip 'em altogether - My ride is mostly uphill one way, and mostly downhill in the other. When I'm feeling exhausted, I'll take my bike to work on the bus in the morning, and have an easy ride home after work.
gears gears gears - Any commuter bike is likely to be equipped with plenty of gears to get you up that hill. If you haven't been on a bike in a while, you might want to brush up and see just how easy it can be. Those gears can grind you right up a hill, slow but steady.
ride an electric - A twist of the wrist and you zip right up that hill, no problem! They are lighter, sleeker and cheaper than ever. More about Electric Bikes
Try Clipless Pedals - Clipless pedals can help you get up hills. These are the ones that DO click in (confusing name, I know). A little awkward for maybe three rides, then you'll get the hang of it. The hills will seem smaller, and you'll be a pro.
It's just too far to bike
Bike & Bus - Something like 90% of Americans live within 5 miles of a bus stop (need citation). You don't have to ride your bike all the way to work, just ride to the nearest bus stop - much easier! Most buses have easy-to-use bike racks.
Check your mileage - Many destinations are closer than they seem. Look on a map to see how far your commute would really be. Anything less than 10 miles is pretty doable by the average person. Less than 5 is a piece of cake. I think the average commute in this country is about 8 miles (need citation). That's perfect for a bike.