One of the major criteria for us when looking for our first home was how bikeable our home was from our jobs (and the city, for that matter). When we couldn’t find anything inside the city limits, we starting looking just outside the limits…which in the case of Traverse City means you’re going to go up a hill. All roads lead down into TC and the waterfront…the ancient glaciers that gave us all this beautiful water also carved up some pretty steep slopes on the edges of the lakes.
So, while I only live about 2.5 miles away from where I work, commuting on my bike isn’t always a simple task. Going into work is great: it’s basically all downhill and I arrive in ten minutes. Coming back home, however, isn’t quite as easy. I have to scale the hill home, and my commute easily doubles in time.
Just because my commute takes twice as long on the way home, though, it doesn’t mean I should drive. The past few days I’ve counted the cars I’ve seen stopped at a major intersection on my way home as I bike right by them: I biked past 38 cars one day and 43 the next. Can you believe that? This is not a big city at all and it’s not even summer-busy-season, but rush hour is still pretty fierce. I would need to wait at that stoplight at least 4 cycles before getting through via car, but on my bike I can breeze right up to the front and cross with the cross walk signal. I don’t technically know if it would take me longer to drive or bike home, but I do know that I’d rather be doing something I love (biking) than something I hate (sitting in a car, idling with no purpose).
Fall is my favorite season to commute on bike. The cooler weather means I don’t arrive to work with a good sweat before the day begins, but it still helps me wake up in the morning. The weather is uncertain in the fall, and the shorter days (yes, unfortunately the days are getting drastically shorter) means that safety is of the utmost concern. So, here is my personal guide to commuting in autumn to help make any work commute more comfortable and enjoyable!
(If you haven’t figured it out, I’m not a fashionista by any means, I wear what’s comfortable and what I like. That’s that.)
- Light, rain-proof jacket (with hood, if possible). Cooler temps mean your morning ride is going to be chilly (especially if you head down a hill or it’s really windy). You’ll want something that’ll break up the wind (I got the find jacket shown above–an Asics jacket with gore-tex–at Goodwill for $7). Autumn also tends to be rainier, or at least it is in my town. I always leave the house in something that repels rain because my ride home at night can be a lot different from the ride to work!
- Layers of clothing. It’s best to check the weather every morning and see what the day is bringing to help guide your outfit. You’ve already committed to wearing a jacket, but what to wear under it? I wear tanks/t-shirts if it’s going to break 60 degrees (F) in the afternoon, but if it’s going to stay cold all day I wear a long-sleeve t-shirt. The only time I wear a sweatshirt is in the winter: it is easy to get overheated when you’re burning calories on your commute, so it’s best if you’re a bit cold first starting out on your ride…you’ll be nice and warm (but not sweaty) when you arrive.
- Running tights / wind pants. If it’s rainy or cold, stick with running tights or another pant that cinches at your ankles (or use a rubber band to keep your pant legs close to your ankle, not in the gears). I know people make fun of wind pants that cinch at the bottom, but you know what? They are IMPOSSIBLE to buy anymore, and I would kill for a pair of them because it would help with extra rain-proofing. If someone knows where to buy wind pants for a fair price, please let me know! Sometimes I can get away with wearing shorts in autumn if it’s a particularly warm day, but if it’s 50 degrees (F) or colder when I leave, it’ll be running tights.
- Gloves. As the weather gets colder, it’s important to keep your hands warm for shifting gears and breaking. You don’t need any fancy gloves at all, just something to keep your fingers from freezing. You’ll figure out the best gloves pretty quickly, because some fabrics let in cool air and others don’t.
- Closed-toe, closed-heel shoes. You don’t have to wear a super athletic shoe for casual commuting. I often wear my Sperrys or TOMS, and if it’s raining I’ll wear my hiking boots or an old pair of gym shoes. The key is keep your shoes on when riding, which sounds dumb but is a big safety issue! Please, no flip-flops or high heels…no need to cause unnecessary accidents. For longer distances, stick to an athletic shoe: you’ll be more comfortable.
- Helmet, helmet, helmet. I wish this was basic enough to not list, but I’m still amazed at how many people I see riding without helmets on. (The worst is when I see parents riding with their kids and the kids are wearing helmets, but the parents aren’t. What kind of example are we setting here, hmm? That mom and dad don’t fall and crack their skulls, so when you grow up you don’t need a helmet? WRONG.) Helmets are by-far the most important thing to wear when biking anywhere, anytime. Period. Sam comes home with too many biking accident horror stories from the hospital for me to ever think about riding ANYWHERE without my helmet. I don’t care if you want to ride your bike naked, but for heaven’s sake, PLEASE wear a helmet.
- Eye protection. I stick to sunglasses if I know it’s going to bright, because I hate squinting under any circumstances, but if it’s going to be dark, cloudy, or rainy I wear some clear-lens glasses (I think I bought them for $3 at some store in the mall). There is all sorts of nasty crap that can get in your eyes (dirt, dust, bugs), but for me the biggest reason to wear something over my eyes is the wind. When the air temperature drops and you’re cruising along at a high speed, that wind will make you start to tear up. Best to help deflect the wind and prevent the tears!
- Bike lights. You should always equip your bike with lights if you’ll be riding at night, but I find it really important to keep lights with me at all times in the fall and winter. More rain and clouds means darker riding conditions, and the shorter days (why oh why must they get shorter?!) means you’ll be more likely to ride with less light. I use wrap-around silicone lights for the front and back of my bike: easy to attach and remove every time I get on and off my bike (unfortunately, I’ve had lights stolen off my bike when unattended, so I recommend taking your lights with you when you leave). They are best for giving cars a heads-up that I’m on the road, but if I know I’ll be riding far in the dark I strap on a headlamp to my helmet.
- Bike lock. I like taking risks, but I don’t take risks with items I value. I always lock my bike up when I go anywhere, even if I can see it, because I don’t see the point in creating an unfortunate situation that I could’ve easily avoided if I was more careful. I use a combo-lock with steel coil (coated in plastic), and I leave it strapped around my handlebars so it’s always ready to go when I get off.
- Plastic grocery bag seat cover. When you leave your bike outside all day and it rains like hell, you’re going to be upset when you head out for your ride home with a wet seat (and soon-to-be wet butt). The solution? Cover the seat with a cover when you park it! Yes, there are some really awesome bike seat covers out there, but I find a regular ol’ plastic grocery bag to be the best of the best. For one, it’s reusing an annoying plastic bag, which seem to multiply in our house even though we use reusable bags 99% of the time we shop. A grocery bag is great because you can tie it right under seat so it’s always there, and it can be reused over and over until it starts getting holes in it. It will keep your seat dry when it rains and your bike is outside…a simple and wise investment.
- Basket. You don’t need a basket on your bike to be a smart commuter–backpacks work great!–but I find that my basket helps alleviate any further stresses that might distract me from paying attention to the road. My backpack to work always carries a change of clothes (my work clothes), my phone, my lunch, and maybe some items I’ll need for running errands after work I leave work shoes at work). I love using my basket because it allows me to focus on the road, and it makes the load on my back lighter. If you’re serious about commuting by bike, it’s a worthwhile investment!
There you are! It’s a simple yet detailed list, and hopefully it gives you a safe, fun commute. Stay tuned later this week for reasons why you should smart-commute by bicycle…that way you can put all these tips to use!
Did I miss something important here? Do you have any questions for me? Let me know in the comments section! Thanks for reading.