I live in Los Angeles, the land of drivers that are remarkably incompetent, yet incredibly self-assured. This sense of entitlement often eliminates their need for caution when on the road. When I first moved out here, I was terrified to enter the stream of traffic that is LA in my car. Now I’m willing to enter these roads completely unprotected on my bike. Sometimes.
I live about three miles from work, and it seemed such a waste to sit in my car for my fifteen-minute commute. Every morning, I saw the bike commuters passing me by while I sat at each stop light. So I decided to copy them. I now try to ride my bike a few times a week, and I love it. It’s great exercise, it relaxes me, and it makes sitting at a desk most of the day far more bearable.
Here are some tips I’ve learned for those that are considering making the change and commuting to work by bike:
- Determine the safest route and go for a few test rides
This might seem obvious, but map out multiple routes and test them out on a weekend or during a time with less traffic. Are there residential streets that you didn’t know about? Avoid sticking to main roads unless your city has decent bike lanes. Mine doesn’t, so I spent a few weekends testing out residential areas that might take a little longer, but allowed me to feel safer on the road. This allowed me to gauge an estimate of my commute time, as well as how sweaty I might be by the time I got to work.
- Plan ahead for everything
Check the weather forecast and avoid any conditions that will make your ride unsafe. Invest in a solid bike lock. Keep a repair kit for flat tires, tightening screws, etc. and make sure you learn how to use it before you hit the road.
- Pack the essentials
Just like with ZW prepping, you’ve got to plan the essentials. On hot days, I recommend carrying a backpack and packing an extra outfit so you’re not sweating in your work clothes. I also pack an extra pair of shoes, a comb, my makeup bag, and my lunch. I don’t pack a heavy lunch on days that I ride, because I sure as hell don’t want to be lugging around glass containers on my back. Sometimes I pack a big lunch the day before I ride so that I can leave the leftovers in the fridge at work, eliminating the need to carry my lunch on my back. You also want to make sure that you have your ID and emergency contact visible in your bag as well, just in case of an injury. Make sure that’s in a front pocket so it’s easy to find.
- Be smart
I don’t wear headphones when I’m riding my bike because I don’t want to die. Stay alert, wear a damn helmet, keep your eyes and ears open, and don’t do anything stupid. Assume that every driver is an idiot, because you can’t afford not to.
What I keep on my bike:
- Water bottle
- Flat tire repair kit
What I keep in my backpack:
- A pair of flats
- A change of clothes – keep this light, maybe a dress
- Lunch tin
- Brush or comb
- Phone, keys, and wallet
- Bike lock
- Makeup bag
I usually wear my sturdiest running shoes, a pair of padded shorts – occasionally over a pair of old leggings, and a t-shirt or sweatshirt for my ride. Shoes are important, so wear something durable if you don’t wear cycling shoes. I don’t, because I don’t want to buy another pair of shoes. Some people commute in their work clothes, and I give them major credit. Levi’s makes some “commuter friendly” jeans, and many women wear cycling shorts under their dresses.
Once I lock up my bike, I go into one of the lesser-used bathrooms of my building to get ready, so my disheveled appearance doesn’t offend the corporate masses. I comb my helmet-hair, put it up in a ponytail, apply some minimal makeup on (especially face powder), and change into my outfit. I keep it very minimal on these days: RMS uncover up, my homemade mascara, homemade lip balm, and arrowroot powder. The arrowroot powder also doubles as dry shampoo on hotter days.
I try to keep my clothes as lightweight as possible, opting for materials that won’t wrinkle from being stuffed in my backpack. For the ladies, I recommend a pair of lightweight flats and a wrinkle-resistant dress. I then throw all of my cycling clothes into my backpack, which becomes my purse for the day. I reverse the process before I leave.
Best of luck, and happy riding.