In the process of my training, I realized that biking to work is one of the best ways I can squeeze miles into my day “painlessly” – scheduling-wise, if not physically. Even though Bike to Work Day is actually next month, my recent experiences may be useful for anyone looking to start a little early. My route is 20 miles each way, much further than most, but these are some universal issues. (Well, maybe not universal -I’m pretty sure my boss, the Secretary of Energy has a few more in getting to work, like Secret Service agents.)
Here are the biggest challenges I’ve faced so far and my personal solutions to them:
1) The route
This was probably the easiest challenge for me. Just for the heck of it, I had already biked into DC from my house last fall, so using most of that route was easy. The slightly harder part was figuring out the best way to get from Georgetown to downtown D.C. When I had just wandered into D.C., I tried to maneuver through Georgetown’s main street, which is a virtual parking lot most of the time. No fun. So the first day into work, I looked at the map and thought, “Oh, this is easy – I can just take Virginia Ave. all the way to the Mall!” Being as I usually walk through D.C., I forgot about the numerous one-way streets and weird intersections. The next day, I found a much easier route by just looking more closely at the Google map. Using Google Earth (or MapMyRide, which is powered by Google Maps) and then actually trying the route on a weekend are the keys to success here.
I had to hold off on biking to work for quite a while because of the lack of daylight. Until last week, I would have been biking for a good half-hour or so before the sun came up. Now, it’s a few minutes, but with lights and my bright yellow rain jacket, I’m quite visible.
Coming home has been slightly more of a problem. Because of some high profile events at work, I’ve been staying later than usual. Unfortunately, in order to get home while it’s still light out, I have to leave at 5:45 PM. The times I’ve to leave significantly later than that, I ditched biking part way and took the Metro the rest of the way home with my bike. The key thing here is that you need an alternative method of getting home, if for some reason your schedule goes awry.
3) The clothing
For very short rides – 2 miles for the most part – some people can actually ride wearing their work clothes. I’ve actually seen businessmen riding in suits! But most of us have to have two sets of clothes. While they don’t have to be made of spandex, bike clothes should be breathable and easy to move around in. If it’s chilly enough for pants (rather than shorts), they should also be tight enough or secured somehow to prevent them from catching in your gears. There’s always the high-class option of tucking one side into your socks, but there’s also little cuffs you can buy that are slightly more socially acceptable.
But then how do you get your clothes into work? In the past, I had brought a backpack, which was annoying and hot. This week, because I didn’t feel like bringing one in every day, I brought a backpack full of clothes the day before I started biking. Unfortunately, of course, I have to bring them all home again. I think I’m going to have to pick them up on my day off!
4) The showering
I was really concerned about this one, as I sweat a lot. I used to shower in the gym at work, but now that I live across the street from a community center with a gym, I no longer belong to it. But by showering before leaving and applying a couple swipes of baby wipes once I get to work, I’ve been surprisingly pleased.
5) Changes in location
Everything would be much easier if I just had to go to one location for work. Instead, this week I went to a conference at the Washington Convention Center, which didn’t have my clothes or anywhere to park my bike. To maximize the time and mileage spent on my bike, I split up my commute. On Tuesday, I started at the office and left for home from the Convention Center, so I biked in. Today, knowing I would be starting at the Convention Center and leaving from the office, I brought everything (mostly) so that I could then bike home.
So basically, with a little planning, it’s possible to make even a long commute by bike. I know that a few federal employees even bike all the way from Frederick, about a half-hour north of me, although presumably not daily. Nonetheless, that is hardcore!