Friday, October 06, 2006

The trouble with commuting

Date: Oct. 5
Total mileage: 45.3
October mileage: 111.5
Temperature upon departure: 47

I made a decision a couple of weeks ago that I was going to work toward reforming my habits to minimalize if not eliminate the use of my car. It makes sense on paper because I'm already accustomed to cold-weather cycling, I already own a nice headlight and set of bike panniers, and I live in an area where I couldn't travel more than 40 miles from my house if I wanted to. Of course, what's easy on paper is definitely not always easy in practice. Gas-guzzling habits run deep, and I'm beginning to realize just how tough continuous bike commuting would actually be.

For starters, I can't figure out how people in wet climates would get around the whole social stigma of showing up at their destination wet and covered in road grit. And I don't mean walking into a store wearing a damp waterproof shell. I mean showing up in a public place looking like a jeep that spent the past hour spinning donuts in a wet gravel pit. I stopped at a grocery store on the way home from a three-hour ride today just to buy a newspaper, and I spent five minutes outside brushing my dirt-covered clothing in a failed attempt to look"inside" presentable.

This also is a huge problem for biking to work. At three miles one way, I can coast there without breaking a sweat, but I can't stay dry. Sure, I can carry dry clothing with me to change into, but this doesn't remove the aforementioned grit-stuck-to-skin problem, not to mention the whole wet hair thing. How do bike commuters keep their hair dry? I know I can lift up my hood before putting on my helmet, but this in the past has not exactly preserved "dry" hair. My only idea was to begin storing a hair dryer at work. I'm not crazy about doing this, though, and I'd love to hear better ideas.

Being wet and/or sweaty in the fall/winter also ups the chance of mild hypothermia. What's comfortable for me to wear while pounding out 20 mph on pavement is definitely not good for stopping for any length of time in a marginally heated grocery store, bank or library. Stop for more than five minutes and my core temperature plummets to noticeably uncomfortable levels. Like today, my wet feet and hands felt fine before my newspaper run, but afterward became numb and stiff. It's fine when I can go straight home and take a warm shower. But what about all the times I can't?

Then there's groceries. Luckily, Geoff does most of the grocery shopping, because I hate it something fierce. So much so that I usually suck it up and spend an hour shopping for two weeks worth of food in one large load. A bicycle necessitates frequent small trips to stores that aren't Costco (A new favorite of mine.) And how will I haul home my 24-packs of Diet Coke? I need these.

Look at me, making pathetic excuses. I'd love to hear some suggestions, especially on the issue of staying as socially acceptably dry as possible. I really don't think those skinny little road fenders are going to do much. I already have fenders on my mountain bike, which I'll begin using exclusively as soon as it gets much colder, and I already know they're pretty close to useless in that regard. But I do have an honest desire to become a dedicated bicycle commuter. I was doing really well before I left Homer, but it was easy in Homer. I Homer, I had a.) an awesome commute route (as opposed to the current one, which in three miles covers all of the only truly awful stretch of bicycling in town.) b.) an employer that didn't mind if I showed up to work looking like a lumberjack who had been out on the job for six weeks. c.) less than a quarter of the rainfall. Bike commuting in Juneau takes true dedication. But I'm working at it. I really am.

Also, I wanted to thank Bone, The Blasphemous Bicycler, for archiving my orphaned Web site on his server. I had no idea it was so easy. I now feel embarrassed to think about all of the money I've thrown down over the past few years just to keep this thing from fading into cyberoblivion because it felt like trashing a cherished photo album. Oh well. In the same respect, I should probably feel the same way about all of the money I'm tossing to Big Oil.

But I need my car.

Well, actually, I don't.


  1. A small towel or possibly even some baby wipes might be useful in removing any road grit that really sticks to the skin after riding in the rain.

  2. In bad weather, I sometimes need to shower after I get to work to get all the grime off.

    If that's not a possibility for you, in the past I've taken little bird baths at the bathroom sink. Two towels (one wet, one dry), baby powder, and a plastic bag for my dirty stuff and I'm able to look presentable.

    As for wet hair, I don't have that problem seeing as my hair is short and dries quickly. However, a swim cap might not be a bad idea.

    As usual, great writing Jill. Keep it up.

  3. Jill....I ride to work no matter what the weather. When I ride in the rain I never end up with grime on me. Even in spring when the roads are constantly wet with snowmelt and covered in sand and salt. I have to wonder if you're using full fenders? Both the bikes I use for commuting have full coverage Freddy Fenders. They keep everything off me. The right fenders will work. Also I've learned as a bicycle commuter I will never be able to show up somewhere and just blend in. I have to be willing to be the oddball or else it will never work. And...I hope you're not still wearing cotton. Ditch the cotton and go all synthetic materials. I mean every stitch of clothing should be synthetic or wool blends. These will insulate and keep you warm even when wet.

  4. So, You have to buy a car..A logan ?

  5. Try driving just once a week and bring a full weeks worth of clothing on the days you drive and then you can bring the dirty clothing back. I also leave shoes at work and try to keep my work clothing as light as possible. Also, I agree with Doug. Ditch the cotton and wear your bike clothing like a badge of honor. Also think of investing in some Hypnotic clothing ( I love my hypnotic pants. They never seem to need washing either.

  6. Jill, the only suggestion I can make regarding your commuting dilemna, is a solution I use. I am fortunate enough to have a sports club (gym, whatever you want to call it) next to my office building. On days I want to ride my bike, I pack a change of clothes, leave about an hour earlier than when I drive, and shower/shave/change at the club. I also lock up my bike on the provided racks, and walk the very short distance to my office.

    Is there a gym or club near your work?

  7. I have Esge/SKS full fenders on my road bike, and they are wonderful. You'll need to make mudflaps for them, but they really do keep lots of gunk off of you.

    Even so, I always ride in "grungy bike clothes" and keep my corporate drone uniform in a plastic bag inside a (somewhat) waterproof pannier.

    If you want to wear normal clothes, you might want to try a rain cape. It's kind of a poncho that hooks to your thumbs so it keeps the rain off you, but it's open on the bottom for ventilation. I haven't tried one yet, but I'm hoping maybe santa will bring me one for Christmas.

    There's also rain legs, which I also haven't tried, but I hear good reviews of them on the iBob list.

  8. Xertacycle is a great way to shop and carry a ton of crap... A buddie lets me barrow his when I need to... I am a fan of baby wipes, not quite always looking quite the best=) lucky I have a job that lets me be a bit crusty.

    I 2nd the gym, ymca, mabe another biz near by might have a shower.

    You just have to plan your rides ok today I ride to work make sure I have panniers so I can shop for a few days.. Todat take a few changes of coths and have them tucked underneath my desk..

    Good luck going car fee oh yeah I likes the wool for base cothing still keeps you warm when wet. I like ice breaker very $$$ but super worth it

    Hope some of this helps =)

  9. Hi Jill!

    Yesterday Opec said it was going to cut back on production because the price was falling.

    I vote to cut back on consumption! If you can ride every day -- you can be proud of that.

    I picked up a pannier backpack dry bag that is sweet and so waterproof. I'll even throw my camera in it.

  10. A big draw for me about working at universities is the fact that they all have gyms and I can always shower when I finish my commute in the morning. So that problem is taken care of.
    The OTHER problem is all your wet clothing - which just drips in your office all day.
    And another winter problem that gets on my nerves is that it starts to taken 15 minutes just to get all your socks, booties, liners, balaclavas etc on for each ride.
    Thank God the actual cycling part is usually fun!


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