In my experience being a woman bike commuter has some extra challenges. I’ve figured out some ways to deal with them – here are my top 9 useful tips for women bike commuters!
When Joe decided to commute to work by bike he took a deodorant and a couple of extra shirts to work, bought a Gortex rain jacket (read his review of the 7 best waterproof cycling jackets here) and he was pretty much done. Must be nice! But as I say to Joe, it takes a village to be a woman, and never did I realize this as much as when I was getting ready for work every day out of a gym locker. Over the last few weeks I’ve made a lot of mistakes and had many bad hair days, but I have learned a lot! Below, I explain how I turned my rookie mistakes into useful tips.
Mistake #1 – Thinking that if your gym has a hair dryer you don’t need to bring your own. Yeah – no. What happens when there are two or three women trying to get ready at the same time, and you have an important meeting to get to? So here is my first tip:
Tip #1: Invest in the Necessary Equipment
Best to have your own hairdryer if you don’t have time to wait around. But of course, you don’t want to be carrying your hairdryer in your pannier, so you will need to buy an extra one. Be prepared to spend a few dollars to have what you need. In my experience, the investment is well worth the reduced stress.
Here is an inspirational video about women cycling to work:
Mistake #2 – If you cycle to work, your stuff will get wet. Even if you don’t shower, your cycling clothes are likely to be wet from sweat or rain. So, the important point is to figure out a practical way to dry your gear.
My second mistake was not thinking about that at all. In fact, I just assumed that toiletries, clothes, shoes, wet towels and sweaty cycling gear would all fit in a 1 foot by 1 foot locker … and that everything would dry out during the day. Actually, not so much. In fact, if wet clothes spend the day crammed in a locker, they may not dry out at all, so you have the fun of putting on wet clothes in the evening! Even worse, if you keep them in a locker with your work clothes, your work clothes may start to smell like sweat or moist towels. Yikes! So here’s my second tip:
Tip #2: Make Sure You Have a Good Place to Dry Your Gear
To solve the “smell” problem I bought a second lock for a second locker. Now when I get undressed in the morning I put everything wet in a vacant locker, including the wet towels, so they get a chance to dry out during the day – and most importantly, my wet cycling gear stays away from my working clothes in my first locker. When I get back into my cycling clothes at night I transfer the now-dry towels back into my main locker. Most gyms will allow you to keep a day locker at no charge. Even if there is a charge, it is worth it. Alternately, and perhaps a bit more simply, Joe put up some hooks on the walls of his office, to hang things up.
Mistake #3 – Thinking one water bottle will be enough. In the morning I park my bike underground and then take my empty water bottle and pannier to gym where I shower. I keep the bottle in my locker, and then refill it at night before I leave. But every so often I forget to bring my water bottle off the bike in the morning – and then I suffer on my way home. My commute is 14 km (8.7 miles) one way with a few good hills, and I need my water! So here is my third tip:
Tip #3: Make Sure You Have a Spare Water Bottle
Now I keep an extra water bottle in my locker for those days when I forget the bottle on the bike. A really cheap solution to what can be quite a crippling problem – especially on a hot summer’s day!
Tip #4: Don’t Cheap Out on Panniers!
Invest in a good quality set of panniers. There is no way that I could survive without mobile storage. My daily needs are too big for a backpack, and besides, cycling is enough of a workout without extra weight on my back. You wouldn’t go camping without a tent – don’t try to bike commute without the right equipment.
I highly recommend getting panniers that make it easy to take along your dresses and suits without getting them creased. For me, it’s important to be able to ride my bike to work but still look like an executive when I get there. I have found the perfect panniers in the Two Wheel Gear Panniers – read my full review of Two Wheel Gear Garment Panniers for Women Bike Commuters here. You can also read Joe’s review of the Two Wheel Gear Panniers here. If these seem too big to you, you can see our pick of 7 of the best panniers here.
Another option is to use a really good cycling backpack. Some of these are amazingly comfortable. You can read our reviews of the Targus Work + Play Waterproof Cycling Backpack here, and our review of the Craft Cadence Cycling Backpack here. We highly recommend both of them!
Tip #5: Keep your Bike Lock at the Place Where you Park Your Bike
Locks are really heavy to drag back and forth daily. Get a really great lock and then leave it wherever you park your bike. I recommend a really strong U-Lock. Don’t ever rely on a cable lock. We are fans of the Kryptonite U-Locks. Here is Joe’s post about 5 of the best bike locks. The lock below is his pick for the best bike lock money can buy, based on independent reviews and testing.
Tip #6: Keep Dress Shoes in Your Office
I keep several pairs of dress shoes under my desk. And I keep a pair of flats in my gym locker to get to the office. I also keep my suit jackets in a closet at the office. They would take up far too much room in the gym locker. Figure out a plan that works for you, and be organized and systematic about it. It beats being at work with nothing appropriate to wear! Joe had that happen one day, so he had to go out and buy a pair of dress pants first thing in the morning – wearing bike shorts at work would not have been appreciated!
Tip #7: Have a Double Set of Toiletries
I keep a supply of makeup, hair products, creams, and of course my hair dryer, in my locker rather than packing things in and out daily.
Tip #8: Pack Lunches in Bulk
At the beginning of each week I bring in a pannier packed with all the foods I will need that week. We have a full kitchen at our office so I can bring in soups, leftovers, bread, bag-of-salad, whatever. I also pack in my work clothes at the beginning of each week and pack home my laundry at the end of the week.
Tip #9: You Cannot Have Enough Plastic Bags!
I always keep at least three plastic bags at the bottom of each pannier. This makes it so easy to keep my laundry from smelling up the locker and my panniers, especially the towels. (Comment from Joe, who is leaning over my shoulder: And you can wear plastic bags between your socks and your shoes if there is a sudden downpour – they do an excellent job at keeping your feet dry, and are much cheaper than waterproof socks.)
It took me about three to four weeks to get most of this sorted out, but now I’m organized. Using the second day locker has been my final tweak. Since I work downtown I can buy make-up, shampoo, and some foods at lunch time, so that makes things easier. Once you are organized, the maintenance is easy.
One thing that I’m still having trouble with is organizing my locker. It is hard to keep shirt, pants and skirts all looking fresh when they are hanging off three small hooks. I’m trying a few different methods and I’ll let you know how I make out!
Below are links to all of our best posts on bike commuting
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