Tips for Better Bike Portability: How to Carry it all to Work
Mike Wallenfels, the new president and CEO of Timbuk2 Designs supplements his training mileage with a daily bike commute from Marin County to San Francisco and back. He takes a ferry part of the way and rides the rest; it is 38 miles door-to door. Mike has commuted by bicycle for many years and has some great tips for commuting to work by bike. He is especially well qualified to give advice on how to carry it all when you go by bike.
Choosing a Bike:
If you have a nice bike, leave it safely at home. Choose a bike according to type of commuting you are doing
If you are going over 10+ miles, you’ll want a bike with some speed as well as comfort and the ability to get on and off the pedals easily when stopping.
An old racing bike can be altered to become a good long-distance commuter bike. Replace skinny tires with more robust tires that can hit the curbs and bumps in the road without getting a flat. Change the hard seat for one that is comfortable for riding in everyday street clothing.
For shorter commutes: a hybrid bike will usually be fine for a short commute. An older mountain bike with a stiff fork can be made into a city bike by switching out the knobby tires with slick tires.
If you are looking for a new bike, there are some great bicycles out there that are perfectly suited for the commuter. Some of them already come with racks, fenders, even lights. Mike Wallenfels specifically mentioned the brands, Globe, Janis and Electra.
Cleaning Up at Work:
Mike said for most of his time as a bike commuter, he has not had access to a functioning shower. He was able to clean up with a wash cloth, warm water, soap and a towel in the bathroom. His commute is a long one, though. He notes that with a shorter commute, you don’t need to get your heart rate up very high. Slow down to minimize sweat and you shouldn’t need more than a quick towel off.
Ways to Carry Your Stuff:
There is a reason messenger bags are popular with cyclists. They are convenient and offer flexibility for those who need to frequently access the bag to get things in and out of. It is ideal for short commutes and stable if worn correctly. They are often perfect for carrying lap-top and other office materials and if that is what you carry, look for the bags that feature a padded lap-top sleeve.
Messenger Bag Con: Can be clumsy to wear if going fast and may cause a sweat band.
Backpacks offer stability; they are always on your back and are often inexpensive and just as nice as messenger bags for carrying office supplies. A well-made one is also quite comfortable. “I actually use Timbuk2’s Maverick Swig a fully-waterproof backpack that is stable for long-distance commute.”
Backpack Con: They aren’t as easy to access as a messenger bag, and can leave a sweat mark on your back.
Once panniers were mainly used for touring, but the trend is now toward business-oriented panniers. Panniers attach to a rear bike rack and take the weight off the rider and onto the bike. The con with panniers used to be that it wasn’t easy to carry them around once they were off the bike, but Timbuk2 has a new series of panniers that once removed from the bike become “with-you bags.” The Bullet Pannier, for example, has a strap so it can be used like a shoulder bag and the Mission Tote changes from pannier to tote bag.
Timbuk2 has also designed their business-panniers to fit a lap-top in a nylon sleeve and offers many messenger bags and backpacks designed expressedly for carrying lap-tops safely. (My photo below is not of a Timbuk2 pannier, but shows how to pack a lap-top safely.)
Mike recommends keeping a spare pair of shoes and a few nice clothing items at work to change into. He also keeps a toiletry kit with all the basics at the office. Keep what you can at the office, so you aren’t weighed down on the commute.
Still, most days, you can carry what you need. He notes that many people recommend rolling clothing and then placing the clothing rolls vertically in the pannier for stability. Another suggestion is to wrap the clothes in a plastic bag from the dry-cleaner because the plastic reduces friction and friction causes wrinkling. Protect the laptop in its nylon sleeve by placing the clothing around it. Mike highly recommends Eagle Creek’s Pack-It Packaging Folder which is a big envelope to fold clothes into and keep them wrinkle-free.
Wet Day Commuting:
- It is critical to keep your stuff dry during a wet commute and you need to protect your clothing and computer. Choose panniers, messenger bags or backpacks that will stay water-tight (Timbuk2 has several very-well made water-resistant bags to choose from such as the Timbuk2 Bullitt Pannier which converts to a messenger bag.) Some panniers come with water-proof bags to cover them in case of rain.
- When you ride in the rain, you will get wet, but to avoid getting chilled, wear good wind-stopping bike apparel. On warm, wet days, you may just need a top. Have dry clothes available so you can change once you get to work.
- A bad weather day may be a day to cut the commute shorter by taking your bike on public transportation.
A Few Safety Tips:
- Look for the right route –“hopefully, you live in a community with bike lanes” Try to determine your bike route to include as many bike lanes as possible, even if it takes you a little out of the way. This is the main safety tip.
- In low light conditions, you need to have the right lighting on your bike and on your body so you will be seen by cars. You need a flashing red light behind you and a flashing white light in front of you. (Reflective clothing isn’t enough.) You also need a good light to illuminate the road ahead.
- Look ahead and anticipate what the cars will do and assume they don’t see you. Just remember, on your bike you have a small profile.
Staying motivated after Bike-to-Work-Day:
Mike notes that many people bike to work during the Bike-to-Work Day or Week, but lose motivation to keep it up. Here are his recommendations for keeping that motivation to bike commute longer.
- Set goals for yourself.
- Find a commute buddy so you can keep motivating each other.
- Decide the day before (and pack your stuff up the night before)
- Calculate how much money you are saving by not using the car (“I calculated I saved $4500 by not using the car.”)
- Fitness is a motivator you can calculate how many miles you cover, your speed, etc.