"This time allows me to get my head right and ready for the day ahead – I feel I’m better able to roll with things if I’ve biked, run or walked and this, in turn, makes me happier and better at my job; and on the way home, time to unwind from whatever the day brought."
You CAN commute without your car! I’m not saying it’s easy (because anything worth it isn’t), but it provides a life benefit TRI-fecta! It provides an effective, environmentally sound, and fun transportation while also providing built-in exercise (training in a sense), and outdoor exposure.
It takes planning (it’s more feasible in some cities and situations than others) but if you make a commitment to the planet and your health, you can be a bike (or run, walk, public transit or a combination of the above) commuter! In this post I’ll explain how a perpetually tired, late, and always schlepping girl still makes it work.
First off, for me, non-personal automobile commuting (biking, running, walking and the rare public transit modality) is a way of life. This had become habit for me early in life because I’ve been doing it long before I drove or even had a car. As a kid, I grew up riding my bike to the pool, the market, picnics, and friends’ houses. Nearly every Sunday I would ride to my grandmother’s house for dinner. As I got a little older, even though I went to school outside of my town, I started riding to school whenever possible. For me riding was freedom and even though I probably didn’t appreciate it as such then, I still knew I loved it. In college and graduate school, I rode everywhere and avoided costly university campus and town parking permits and the challenges that go along with it. Regardless, it was in essence immersion therapy and bike commuting certainly became ingrained in me; and I recognize that this eliminated the hurdle that starting this lifestyle may pose for others. Now in “real life”, bike and slightly less frequently, run commuting is still transportation and freedom for me, but also my daily solace – on the way to work (or errands or dinner, etc.). This time allows me to get my head right and ready for the day ahead – I feel I’m better able to roll with things if I’ve biked, run or walked and this, in turn, makes me happier and better at my job; and on the way home, time to unwind from whatever the day brought. In the meantime, if I don’t end up with time or energy for a workout, I at least feel good that I got some exercise and reduced my carbon footprint too!
WHERE TO START
First off, commit to doing it. Then get organized and PLAN! If commuting to work (or to run an errand, etc.), consider your entire day (the task/goal and all its parts) and make sure you have...
THE RIGHT GEAR
For biking, a “tuned” / serviced (commuter?) bike (with appropriate wheels and tires, possibly an extra tube, maybe a hand pump, functional shifting, and BRAKES, maybe fenders?, etc.), helmet, (sun)glasses, commuter-friendly (bike) shoes and clothing (including rain gear (see below)), a bike LOCK, LIGHTS and maybe bags (see below)
Your work clothes (if you’re not riding in them) including undies, socks, shoes, jewelry(?) – I either carry this daily with my “work stuff” below or when I’m really on top of things (especially if I’ll be run commuting not biking where a bigger pack is more challenging to transport), I’ll take a week’s worth of work clothes (and meals, etc.) to work ahead of time (over the weekend or the first day of the week) and then not have to think about it or carry them again until the week is done. It’s kind of like meal prepping and we all know how that can be work but also rewarding later!
*REI, Roka and many other companies have excellent gear (commuter backpacks, pannier racks, panniers, and other bike bags) that can help with this facet of commuting which can really make or break it in terms of feasibility and efficiency (and thus ultimately making/allowing it to happen).
These include any items for showering (or at least cleaning up somewhat and changing) – it’s great if this can live at work in your office or a locker or someplace; I am fortunate to have an office that houses my shower caddy and flip flops, clean towels, and a drying rack as well as multiple locker rooms with permanent locker option and good showers! Advocate for this at workplaces that don’t have it and maybe more people will commute too!
FOOD + DRINK
Meals/water and food for the day – again, I’m fortunate to have an office stocked with some food and a fridge so it’s easier to meal prep for longer periods and not have to carry food each day. Your mileage may vary.
Your “work stuff” – for me, at minimum a backpack with my laptop and some papers, etc. For days when I have more I need to take with me, I specifically ride my commuter bike and add two panniers – I’ve been known to carry about 50lbs of crap on occasion so it’s no excuse! It just makes the workout better! Alternatively, as above, you can drop stuff at work ahead of time or drive on those occasions where you have this much to transport.
PLAN YOUR TIMING
Get your timing down by scoping out the route in advance and know how long it takes you when you’re not headed to work some time. After you figure out how long it takes then pad that time a little to allow for traffic and perhaps not riding as hard when commuting (though I’m always late so I think I actually ride harder (sprint essentially) on the way to work...but I get a good workout in), as well as time to lock your bike up (or take it inside), cool off a minute or two, and get changed.
A contingency and safety plan – ideally have someone at work (and later at home) know you’re riding (or running or walking) and have a cell phone in case you are delayed or for emergencies. Know the bus routes and if the buses accommodate bikes. Consider if there is a way (or a coworker) to get a ride (with) if needed (unexpected long day, unexpected inclement weather, etc.).
Consider the weather - depending on your climate, you may have an added challenge here, but I’ve lived and commuted in Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio; Ithaca, New York; Athens, Georgia; Auburn, Alabama; Madison, Wisconsin; and Saint Paul, Minnesota; and I promise, with the right attitude and gear, even snow and ice or 90+ degrees F and 98% humidity are navigate-able! You might need Pearl Izumi lobster gloves, shoe covers and a turtle neck, and ice tires; or need to be prepared to be soaked with sweat just standing still but...
No matter where you are, pay attention to the forecast – you can still ride in the rain, wind, etc., but it’s safer, easier and more fun if you are prepared (both in terms of expectation and gear – Showers Pass and many other companies make great bike rain gear!). You may also want to have your belongings in plastic bags inside your packs if they aren’t completely waterproof, etc.
Also, pay attention to the day length - summer day commutes require less time management and attention to sunset time (and even more/better lights) than short winter days.
It’s a lot to think about and prepare for sure, but for me, the benefits of commuting are totally worth it. It's definitely easier when I have it all planned out. If any of these tips help anyone even give it a try it, I’ll be glad I shared my experience! Ride safely, and may the wind always be at your back and a smile on your face!
Written By: Katie Diehl, Tri Sirena Siren Luminary
Have you ever considered using alternate ways to get to work? Let us know in the comments below!