Whether you’re trying to save money, get in better shape, ditch your hellish commute, or simply commit to being outside more often, commuting by bike is a great way to get a head start on those New Year’s Resolutions. September is the perfect time to start riding in Chicago as a beginner cyclist since it’s not too hot or too cold; however as the days get shorter and the temperature dips after the sun goes down, it’s important to be prepared so you can enjoy a comfortable, dry and pleasant bike commute, both to and from work.
DESIGN YOUR MORNING
They say that if you want to start a new habit, you should design your environment to support it. If you want to start running, put your running clothes by your bed and your shoes by the door. Hide the remote in the ceiling fan and set up a motion activated laser gate around your regular shoes. Yaddah, yaddah. Same goes for biking, since it requires just ever so much more preparation than leaving for the average work commute as it combines a workout and a commute all in one. That means you’ll need your work clothes, your bike clothes, water, your lunch, lights, helmet, lock, possibly a change of shoes…etc. Instead of letting this mean you are dashing all over the house accumulating these items, find ways to make them easy to grab and therefore make a bike commute the easiest choice.
a) Find a place to hang your helmet by the door (install a hook or even a simple nail will do)
b) Stay hydrated! A bike commute is much more pleasant, and being well hydrated also helps you regulate your body temperature.
c) Find a biking “uniform” that feels comfortable and buy a second set of it. Fold it the night before and leave it by your bed. Maybe it’s leggings and a pullover, maybe it’s jeans and a t-shirt. Maybe it is your favorite pajamas. Whatever it is, if you’re heading out in the cold morning, your body will resist anything that suggests being colder. Bargain with your brain from the warmth of your bed. Make sure your base layer leaves no gaps for wind to seep through, and if you really get cold easily, perhaps don a set of light gloves. By the time you’re ten minutes into your ride you will be cursing all the extra layers as you bake under the (still strong) autumn sun, but at least it got you out and on the bike, right?
d) Whatever it is that gets you out of bed (coffee perhaps) find a way to take it with you. There are coffee thermos holders like this one from Portland Design Works that you can put on your handlebar! Every stop sign is now a chance to java up (only after being super vigilant about checking everything around you).
e) Built makes great lunchboxes out of neoprene (they can be contorted to fit into the most stuffed of backpacks) and can be thrown in the laundry. They are also thick enough to keep most spills from migrating outside of the lunch unit, which is great in case you hit a bump.
f) This contraption changed our lives: no more shoveling an unwieldy U-lock into a backpack or back pocket, or digging it out of an overflowing backpack. Simply snap it into its holster and go. A fancier alternative is the Walnut Studio leather holster (which includes Chicago screws).
g) Get to know your local bike shop, and schedule a maintenance date with it at regular intervals. Like that gym membership that you’ve already paid for, knowing your maintaining your bike is more likely to make you want to get your money’s worth by riding it. Better yet take a class and learn how to maintain it yourself.
WINDPROOF OUTER LAYER
The Autumn winds are usually a great deal stronger than the summer winds (or maybe they just seem that way because they are colder). Now is the time to make sure you are as aerodynamic as a falcon.
You may have seen the label “windproof” on various items and you may have also wondered “what exactly does this mean?” Windproof simply means that the fabric has been woven with very, very little space between the threads, so that wind cannot get through. If you were wearing say, a macrame pashmina while biking, the wind would “catch” and not only slow you down but steal your body heat so fast it would make your wheels fall off. Keep your bike commute sleek and efficient with a synthetic fabric that feels a bit slippery to the touch.
One fabulous windproof outer layer (loose enough to accommodate under layers, but snug enough to not balloon up with wind and slow you down), will make commutes warm, cozy and quick. There are plenty of options at REI and small bike shops, but the thrift store is also sure to be brimming with finds. Most sportsy fabrics really stand the test of time.
If you take the train it’s easy to say “the trains were delayed” but biking tends to be much more consistent, which is usually a good thing. Next time you left on time but find yourself huffing and puffing on your bike commute, headwinds may be to blame. On windy days, add a good 5-10 minutes to your commute to avoid rushing or clocking in tardy. Check out this handy site for wind direction and wind speeds.
LIGHT UP THE NIGHT
The sunset will be changing this time of year and will catch you off guard (especially with Fall Back around the corner). Don’t ever forget your lights! At the very least a rear red light (this one is 1 Watt) and a front white headlight are required by law in Illinois, but a clip-on light for your commuting bag and reflective stripes on your clothing will help you be extra visible come dark. Maybe not the most sartorial, but individual stick on lights can be added to nearly any article of clothing or gear.
Those of us who like to be prepared (you know who you are) like to be really, really prepared sometimes. To you we say, the darker and colder and slippier it gets, and the more piles of leaves everywhere, hiding potholes and roadkill (?), all the better to pack an “E-KIT” just in case. What if your phone is dead (or its fragile screen shattered everywhere that time you sneezed) and its dark and its cold and you get lost. It’s never a bad idea to bring some portable hand warmers, (Zippo makes a nifty one, there are USB charged ones, or there are disposables) a flashlight, a spare battery, spare lights, fresh socks and a granola bar. Few situations in life are made worse by having an extra granola bar and clean socks. Also the colder and longer nightimes tend to drain light batteries quicker. Carry spares or make sure to charge ’em up. Or both.
EXPERIMENT WITH THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED
With more dark and wind and rain, it feels good to hang on the streets that are less occupied before the snow hits. On your day off, experiment with some alternative routes taking side streets and less busy streets and see what feels relaxing, even scenic. Adding a couple minutes to your bike commute is worth it when there aren’t a million cars zipping past you on a shoddy shared bike lane. To truly dig in, print out Chicago’s 2016 Bike Lane Map and highlight the most protected, calm and quiet route you can.