Bike Commuting as a Female Professional

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I bike to and from work everyday, and have been doing so for the past 8 years. Although my current job’s work attire is relaxed (my colleagues range from t-shirt + shorts to button-down + slacks), I tend to lean towards the business casual end of the spectrum. Dark-wash jeans and a nice top, or a knee-length dress are pretty standard for me. The photo on the right shows an example of an outfit of one of my typical work outfits.

I’m not one of those intense bikers with the ad-plastered specialized cycling clothing. I bike to and from work in normal clothes. Why and how do I do it?

Why I Bike

  1. A blast of fresh air: Like most people, I’m sleepy in the morning. A brisk wind in the face pumps up that adrenaline and wakes me right up.
  2. Quick access to nearby facilities: Eating out for lunch at the same old restaurants gets old fast. Hopping on that bike lets me visit restaurants farther afield.
  3. Get in your daily exercise: The CDC recommends 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week. A 15-minute commute each way kills that quota and lets me feel less guilty about skipping Zumba class 🙂
  4. Perfectly timed commuteSure, there are environmental benefits from not driving, yadda yadda yadda, but a major overlooked advantage of biking is a perfectly timed commute. My bike commute always takes exactly 15 minutes, allowing me to make that morning meeting exactly on time. The bike lane doesn’t have random accidents, broken stoplights, or mysterious traffic on a Tuesday morning.

How I Bike (Tips for Making That Commute Easier)

  1. Wear proper attireAs I mentioned, I firmly believe that you don’t need special clothing to bike to work . You do need to wear slightly more practical clothing (i.e., no tight-fitting skirts, but save those for the clubs anyway).
    • Tops: No restrictions. Layering is good idea to account for those uphills and downhills, which can vary pretty drastically in temperature.
    • Bottoms: Pants and leggings are no problem. In terms of skirts, A-line skirts are the best, following by maxi/billowy skirts (just tie a knot at the bottom). Pencil skirts are a no-no.
    • Shoes: No restrictions. High heels? No problem! Only the soles of your feet touch the pedals, not the heels.
    • Accessories: In the winter, a fleece balaclava and leather gloves will protect your face and hands. In the summer, sunglasses are necessary to protect your eyes from the dust and sun. You probably already have these items.
  2. Don’t sweat it! You might got a bit hot on the way to work, especially if it’s an uphill commute. I just bask in the office AC in the lobby for a few seconds extra, and nobody’s ever been the wiser. If anything, it gives you a nice healthy glow in the cheeks.
  3. Live close to work: While this one is admittedly harder, pick a place to live within biking distance of your workplace. My colleague once told me I was lucky to live close enough to work to bike. But, I protested,  I wasn’t “lucky” – distance was one of my main criteria in purchasing my condo! Others have said it better than me.
  4. Have the right equipment: Nothing fancy, but you need the basics.
    • Helmet (SAVE): The US standardizes bike helmets, so you can get a basic one that meets the standard. I have the fancier Giro Savant, and it’s lightweight and well-fitting.
    • Lights (SPLURGE): Brighter is better, and safety is paramount. Those $15 cheapies from Amazon aren’t as bright – trust me, I’ve tried. You don’t want to trip on a pine cone and fall over onto the curb, and get found with leaves in your hair by your boss who just happens to be passing by (true story). I have this Cygolight combo.
    • Rear rack and basket (SAVE): Where are you gonna stash your stuff? I’ve used both cheaper and sturdier bike racks (Topeak Explorer), and haven’t found much difference. Wald makes good baskets (use a zip-tie to attach to the rack). Panniers work too, but I personally prefer baskets because it’s easier to add/remove items.

My personal commute

Currently, I bike 2.3 miles (184 feet vertically) one-way. It takes 10-15 minutes each way, depending on whether it’s the uphill or downhill direction. There is a bike lane most of the way, although it took me a few tries to figure out the optimal route. It was a little scary at first getting used to the cars driving right at your side, but 99.9% of the time the cars stay in their lane, and I stay in mine.

My current bike is a Kona Jake the Snake, bought off Craigslist for $400 in 2013. It was a great deal (retail ~$1000), and I stalked Craigslist for weeks before rushing off (on an hour-long train ride) to NYC to buy it from a lady in the East Village.

IMG_20170910_123017Photo: My current trusty steed.

My bike before that was a Trek 7.2 FX, bought off Craigslist for $200 back around 2008. I loved this bike, and went around everywhere in NYC, including the West Side bike path, Central Park, and the Five Boro Bike Tour. The sexy bike photo below is from the Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

CIMG2154Photo: Adventuring in Queens, New York.

Both of these bikes have served me well, and their usefulness over the years far outweighs their initial cost. For example, my car alone costs over $700 per year in insurance alone, compared to a few hundred to purchase a used bike, and minimal maintenance costs.

What type of bike to purchase?

I prefer a hybrid or a road bike for a typical work commute. While many people are familiar with mountain bikes from their childhood, as I read somewhere on the interwebs, “most people bike on ROADS on their commutes, not MOUNTAINS”. Craigslist is my favorite place for bike shopping, and will give you more bang for your buck than a low-quality bike at your local Walmart. Trek, Specialized, Kona, Jamis, and Fuji are good brands to try. I think a few hundred dollars is a reasonable starting price for a new beginner bicyclist.

Bike care and maintenance

Maintenance for a bike is pretty simple. Once every few weeks, you’ll need to lube the chain and pump the tires with air. If you don’t have a bike pump, most bike stores have an outdoor air pump that you can use for free. I’ve had trouble with flats occasionally, maybe 1-2 per year, but that’s a quick repair that can be easily learned on YouTube. Over the 8 years I’ve been regularly bike commuting, I think I’ve had a few minor repairs (chain replacement, spoke alignment, brake adjustment) which probably totaled ~$100 for parts and labor.

Overall, I love biking because it’s fun (nothing beats that speed rush in the morning), cheap, and saves my time!

What are your experiences with biking? What are the main reasons that discourage you from a bike commute? If you’re already bike commuting, what do you love/hate about it?

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