Ask Ryan A Question – Commuting to Work

Former UNH person Bella knows that I ride my bike to work, so she emailed me a “a few questions” and I obviously responded like an insane person with 1600 words of commuting KNOWLEDGE. For many of the people on this Internet Website, this may be old news and you may not care. But maybe others will like it? Who knows.

If you have other QUESTIONS FOR RYAN you can send them to ryank at exit17 dot net, and I think I’ll get them.

Bella writes:

Hi Ryan,

So I just recently started commuting to work (44 miles round trip, about an hour and ten minutes one way) and I’m generally loving it so far but I was wondering if you have any advice, as a well-seasoned bike commuter.  I work in a lab at a university so I bring a change of clothes and shower at their gym which is nice but I end up having to bring a fair bit of stuff with me especially since the mornings here have been really cold (mid 40s) with warm afternoons in the 70s.  What have you found to be most comfortable for riding (backpack/panniers/messenger bag)? How much food do you end up having to bring with you to work?  Because I seem to always be starving on my rides home but feel like I didn’t have to eat this much to ride 44 miles in my collegiate racin’ days.. haha. How do you motivate yourself to wake up at the crack of dawn to get to work on time?  Coffee on the bike, before you leave, or in the office?

Thanks, and sorry for a million questions!  Any advice is helpful.

HI THERE. This is going to be absurdly long. HAHA JOKE’S ON YOU, YOU THOUGHT YOU SENT A LONG EMAIL.

First of all, you have almost EXACTLY the same commute as me. Now you get to experience the excitement of walking the fine line between “always being in shape” and “totally burning out”.

It sounds like you don’t leave clothes at work – you should do this! I have an entire wardrobe at work. Because you’re at a university, and you work in a lab, I BET that there is a washer and dryer somewhere (or in a dorm!). I would HIGHLY RECOMMEND getting access to it.

If there isn’t a washer/dryer, and you’re able to drive one day a week, I’d try to bring a week’s worth of clothes in on that one day, take home the stuff from the previous week, wash it and swap it the NEXT week. It takes a bit of planning, but it is WORTH not having to ride with clothes every day. This could also lead to you not being so hungry!

When I do have to ride with a bag (laptop, some situation where I need to bring clothes/something with me), I am a big fan of a messenger bag. I find backpacks aren’t great because they usually sit high up on my back and my helmet hits them. Also, backpacks are designed to distribute weight well when you are walking/hiking, not when you’re bent over on a bike. I have aBailey Works 253 Courier (which I’ve had since 2006) and have ridden with in all sorts of weather. It is NOT waterproof…which is not ideal, but I haven’t had any huge issues with that. I do like it very much, and it is very comfortable. If I were buying again, I might get a Super Pro. But you should be good with any decent bag (make sure it has a stomach strap!). Timbuk2 makes good bags, and they are available everywhere.

Oddly enough, the transitional seasons are some of the most annoying times to ride, because of the temperature swing between when you leave your house and when you leave work (riding in the winter sucks for entirely different reasons).

Lately, I’ve found myself riding to work in leg warmers, arm warmers, light-ish full-finger gloves, a cap, and a vest. A VEST IS YOUR FRIEND. It gives you a lot of the benefits of a short-sleeve baselayer, but is much more functional. Because on the way home, when it’s 70, I cram my leg warmers, arm warmers and gloves in the pockets of the vest, leaving my jersey pockets to hold my phone and wallet. Layering is good, because you can shed them if it suddenly becomes 70 degrees. I usually don’t break out the long-sleeve jersey until I’d want it for my ride home as well (a few more weeks). Then the dark times arrive and I wear my armageddon suit.

I SPEND ALL DAY EATING. You are not eating enough! Not only are you riding 44 miles, but you’re at work all day and your brain is burning calories, too.

I usually have a bowl of cereal at home (or toast or something) and coffee. Then at work I have a bagel with cream cheese when I get in, and make a french press. The coffee usually gets consumed by 11:30. Then I have some lunch item (I have been grooving on Office Cafeteria egg salad lately) and seltzer (free at the soda fountain!). Around 3 I’ll get another coffee and probably have a bagel with peanut butter, honey, raisins and other things. I also spend a SOLID PORTION of the day eating peanut butter or Nutella from the jar, with a spoon, like some sort of animal.

Again, if you have a car (or if you can take a long lunch) it’s a good idea to go out and get food supplies once a week or every other week…depending. I usually go every other week and get two dozen bagels, replenish my peanut butter/Nutella/raisin/honey stores. I get cream cheese as I go through it. This is WAY cheaper than buying food at the cafeteria (bagel with cream cheese down there is $.85…not a lot, but more than doing it my way). Please note that I am very cheap.

I’m also lucky that there is a freezer (for bagels), a microwave (for defrosting bagels) and a toaster (for toasting bagels).

I’m realizing, as I write this, that I probably eat far too many bagels.

It sounds like you drink coffee, so I’d recommend getting a french press for your desk/lab/area/whatever, and some beans you like ground for it. Again, cheaper than buying it, and usually WAY BETTER. And you get to be the weird person who spends the first 25 minutes of their day making food.

It’s terrible. It always sucks. Why didn’t anyone tell me that adulthood blows?

When I am on top of my game, I usually get up at 5:20 and get out the door at 6:40. But this summer has been insane (got married, bought a house, got a puppy (in addition to our current dog), got Lyme disease and was dead for 2.5 weeks), so I keep hitting snooze until 6 and leave at 7:20. Whoops.

But I’m getting back to it.

I’ve found a few things:
1. I need 8 hours of sleep. I can do 6 hours of sleep maybe twice a week.
2. I can either stay up late or have too many beers. I can’t do both.
3. Not getting enough sleep/being tired is cumulative. So sleeping well Sunday/Monday/Tuesday can put you on cruise control for the rest of the week.

But you just have to do it. The real benefits are:
1. You don’t ever have to worry about getting a workout in, because it’s part of your day.
2. You can be one of those pretentious jerks who brags about getting up early.
3. By getting up at 5:20, when I “sleep in” to 7 a.m. on Saturday I feel like I am MADE OF LASERS and I have SUPER PRODUCTIVE DAYS.

Getting up early is the best, except at the moment your alarm goes off.

The only answer is you just have to do it. Even though it’s dark out, and you’re groggy, and the space outside your bed is cold, you sort of have to get all high and mighty and think “I am getting up before everyone to be healthy, save money, help the environment. I am going to live forever!”

I usually have one cup of coffee when I get up, with my breakfast. I also usually go through my gmail, Google Reader and get sort of caught up on Twitter while I eat breakfast. It sort of eases my brain into functioning. Then I head out. And then I have more coffee at work, but that’s more to deal with how boring my job is.

Lights: I have one of these for the front (not that exact model) and one of these for the back. I think both were ~$90 each. It may seem like a lot, but it is totally worth it. Not only from a “not dying” standpoint, but the fact that they charge with USB is really nice. Also, I went through at least one back light a year, because I kept buying $15 Planet Bike ones that would bounce off my bike and break. Or the batteries would slowly die. With USB charging, they are always at 100%, because I charge them at my desk.

Lube: I’m sure you lube your chain, but I find it’s helpful to just have it be part of my routine (especially since I ride so much, I don’t want things to get shitty on my bike). I usually throw ProLink on my chain when I get home in the evening, wipe it down in the morning (after it sat all night). I also have lube at work, and I often do the same thing there (lube when I get in, wipe down before I leave). It keeps things happy.

Fenders: If you are riding during the winter, ride your cross bike (which I assume you have!) and get FULL FENDERS. They will make your life so much better.

Balaclava/gloves: If you’re riding during VERY COLD WINTER DAYS, get a balaclava. I bought one two years ago, and it is the single best cycling purchase I’ve ever made. Get GOOD GLOVES if you are riding when it’s cold. They are worth it!

CO2s/tubes/bike shit: If you use a CO2 inflater, I’d recommend keeping a bunch of cartridges (I ordered 50 on eBay, it was less than a dollar per cartridge (if I recall) and I had them shipped to my office) at your desk – tubes, too. That way, if you flat on the way in, you don’t have to worry about flatting on the way home (or try to stop at an open bike shop). I even have an extra set of shift cables at my desk, which came in handy a few months ago when I broke a shift cable on the way in!


So yes.

One thing to remember is that you are saving money (gas and wear and tear) on your car – so if you’re debating between the $20 gloves and the $80 gloves, go with the $80 ones, as they’ll let you ride more! I have to remember this all the time. Amanda and I only have one car, so we’re saving even more money (on paper, at least). So I think I’m going to stop buying booties (which ALWAYS FALL APART) and maybe buy a pair of $300 winter riding shoes.

7 thoughts on “Ask Ryan A Question – Commuting to Work”

  1. What do you do for an hour and 20 minutes between waking and leaving for work? In order, and I bet pooping is involved …

  2. so much to add – but a good start, will be quiet. Other than the backpack/messenger bag.

    i totally get the weight thing but for me i found out that the Messenger bag totally tweaked my back. Has taken a year or so of not riding with one ever, but using the backpack (and trailer) has helped restore some balance and less back problems. the one should was becoming a big deal.

    I have no problem with my planet bike rear superflash turbo falling off and the roads here are brutally terrible YMMV on that issue though.

    only two points worth taking up space here…

  3. What do you do about your feet in cold weather? I have some older PI neoprene booties that give me 45 <30d maybe an hour or more at 32-40. Wool socks have helped but not as much as I would have hoped. With spring nowhere in sight (here in MA), I'm trying to get out for longer rides.

    1. Feet are always the least comfortable part of my body.

      I have a pair of Northwave booties that are…very okay. I do wear wool socks as well.

      But on days that are super cold, or if I’m out for a while, I’ll put a pair of hand warmers/toe warmers in my shoes (on the top of my feet, because on the bottom it is uncomfortable/moves my foot too much). It’s not an ideal long term solution, but for $1 you can have warm feet for (most) of your ride, or at least until the sun hopefully comes out.

      If it snows again this week I’m going to lose my mind.

      Next year I may invest in a pair of rechargeable, heated foot pads.

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