A Girl’s Guide to Commuting by Bicycle
By Tara R. McKee
There isn’t just one type of bicyclist and there isn’t just one type of commuter cyclist either. Commutes vary according to where you live and how far you have to ride. Let me introduce you to some of the most basic types of bicycle commuters, but the definitions aren’t strict. A combination of two styles may be preferable for some. If you haven’t tried commuting by bicycle before, then why not give it a try for a couple days a week?
European Style Commute
The Route: Relatively short (4 miles or less) trip that is mostly flat and has good bike lanes or low-speed traffic route the majority of the trip. Often, this is a completely urban route for women who can ride from their downtown loft or apartment to work or shopping within the downtown area.
The Bicycle: Upright, comfortable “city” bike with a step-through (women’s style) frame, fenders, chain guard, maybe even skirt guard. Dutch-style bicycles, which may be a bit heavy for a longer commute, are perfect for such a trip! Vintage bicycles with a step-through frame are also fun to ride. (Steel frames make for a softer ride.)
Extra accessories: Have your bicycle equipped with a bell, a light to make you visible on a gray, foggy day or in low-light conditions. A basket fitting on either the front or rear of the bicycle is an absolute necessity for many women. Buy a nice basket that appeals to your sense of style and is large enough to carry a purse, perhaps a small shopping bag and a few other items. If your bicycle has a rear rack, you may want to add some panniers to carry even more items. Thankfully, panniers have come a long way from just basic black and many sport beautiful prints and colors.
Clothing: The beauty of the step-through bicycles with chain guards and fenders is that a girl can wear a pretty dress and heels or fashionable boots and wide-leg pants without worrying about damaging them. Wedge heels are a little problematic for pedaling but a spike heel nicely fits around the pedal, making them easier to ride in than walk in!
Learn the best and safest places to keep your bicycle safe and secure. If you are comfortable locking it in the nearest bike rack, use a good quality lock. Many cities offer bicycle lockers, as do some employers. Taking the bicycle into your office may also be an alternative.
The Route: A mid-length trip (about 4-10 miles) that may involve a little hilly terrain. (Remember, the best route by bike isn’t always the same for a car, you may wish to go a little farther out of your way to avoid high-speed traffic areas or significant hills.)
The Bicycle: The categories of bicycles that are called “commuter” bicycles are perfect for this. But any upright, comfortable, somewhat lightweight bicycle will work. Women can find bikes in this category with a step-through frame so wearing a skirt, dress or longer coat is not a problem. To protect your clothing from the occasional spatter from the road add fenders. Many “commuter-style” bikes have a chain guard so you don’t have to worry about the chain catching on your pant leg or staining them with grease.
Extra Accessories for the bike: To carry what you need, add a rack with panniers (those baskets or bags that fit on the rear rack of your bike) and/or a front basket will nicely hold your purse, lunch, and other items you’ll want to pack. If your load is easily carried in a messenger bag, you could alternatively take that instead.
Clothing: On some days or some commutes, one can dress as she would for work. Alternatively, a loose-fitting comfortable top can be worn then changed for a nicer one once at your destination. Wear comfortable street shoes and casual skirt or pants.
To Pack: You may just want to change from tee shirt into a blouse once there, bring or have at work small make-up bag and hair accessories for touch-up. Bring heels to change into if desired. If you are carrying a laptop on your commute, you should probably carry it in a messenger bag rather than panniers to protect it from occasional jarring as you hit a few bumps in the road.
Don’t sweat it! Take it easy, enjoy the ride at a more leisurely pace and you won’t have to perspire enough to worry about a clothing change. Just give yourself enough time so you won’t feel rushed and stressed.
Long Distance Commute
The Route: –A longer route of well over 8 miles that may have hills.
The Bicycle: –A lighter weight bicycle to get up the hills and cover the miles is preferable. Bicycles types such as hybrids, commuter-style bicycle or a road bike ____
Extra Accessories for the Bike: –Have a rack installed so you can carry so panniers, a basket if you like, and front & back lights for the low-light of early morning and evening commuting. If you have to keep your bike on a rack, get a good U-lock to keep it safe.
Clothing: Wear what you are comfortable in for the distance. A mix of casual clothing and technical clothing might be a nice and practical choice.
Technical tops work well to wick away moisture. Merino wool jerseys will do the same on cool autumn days. Once you remove the clothing that you biked in, you are removing 90% of the sweat. Bike shoes aren’t necessary unless you prefer them.
To Pack or keep in your desk at work: A complete change of clothing including shoes, facial and/or baby wipes to wipe off sweat, a small make-up bag, a brush, comb and curling iron or flat iron as desired. A little spritz from a spray bottle of a combination of leave-in conditioner mixed with water can be used to alleviate the compliant of “helmet hair.”
There may not be showers at work, but that shouldn’t stop women from commuting. A change of clothing, a wiping away of sweat with baby and facial wipes will remove most of the sweat. Clothing should be carefully rolled instead of folded to avoid creasing and some fabrics work better than others for transport. A change of shoes can be packed and you can wear the jewelry you wish to wear at work on the commute.
The Route: A long-distance commute made a lot easier by combining public transportation such as bus, train or ferry boat with your bike commute. This can include riding your bike to the terminal and locking it up on a rack or in a bike locker before getting on the public transportation or alternatively taking the bicycle with you.
The Bicycle: It depends on the length of your bike commute, but a light bike that can be lifted onto the front rack of a bus with relative ease is practical. A folding bicycle may be more practical when there is no room on the train/bus for a bike.
Extra Accessories for the Bike or Commute: If you have a folding bike, you’ll want a messenger bag or backpack to carry what you need. Otherwise, have your bicycle equipped for the type of commute you have.
Clothing: Dress appropriate for the commute. If you have a folding bike, it will not likely have a chain guard, so wear an ankle band around your pant leg if necessary to keep it from catching in the chain.
Is it difficult to get the bike onto a front-loading bike rack on a bus? To make it
easier, the directions are literally spelled out on the stickers and first-timers
would be surprised to find out how easy it is to put your bike on the bus and go!
(Thanks, UTA for your cooperation in letting us shoot these photos!)
The Route: Usually the route is a relatively short ride from apartment, sorority, dormitory or house to college or university campus. It may involve a hill, perhaps two, but usually nothing significant.
The Bicycle: A nice fit for student budget; nothing flashy to attract thieves, but just comfortable and nice enough that you will enjoy riding it. A step-through frame is easier for getting on and off the bicycle when wearing a skirt. If you have an older mountain bike that you are making over as your get-around bike, change the knobby tires for “Slicks”—smooth tires that will make riding on the pavement easier, smoother and faster.
Accessories for the Bike or commute: Buy a bike with a chain guard if you want to be able to wear wide-leg pants or not worry about the occasional chain grease on your leg.
A good-quality lock is necessary to deter theft. A fixed flat basket, in which books can be strapped in, can help balance the load so it isn’t all on your back. Any front baskets need to be difficult for thieves to easily take off.
Clothing: Dress in comfortable clothing appropriate for class and the weather. A light, easily packable windproof jacket is perfect for stashing when no longer needed.
To Pack: Books, school supplies, and a laptop. You may already have a backpack that carries these nicely, but if you get a sweaty back from the backpack, a messenger bag may be preferable. Keep a small make-up bag and comb for touch-up as needed when on campus.