Friday Group Ride #118

It’s National Bike-to-Work Day here in the States, or as I like to call it “Day.” When you distill all the riding I’ve ever done, road, trail, etc., the most persistent “style” is commuting, in which I include errand running, date going-on and most all general transportation travel. If you ask, I’ll tell you I’m a roadie, but that mainly means that those are the bikes I drool over and dream about. And that’s what I ride to work.

Over the years, the bikes I’ve commuted on have morphed from old mountain bike frames with slicks, to cross bikes with fenders, to a plain old, go-fast road bike. Really, whatever bike seems right at the time is what gets ridden.

Rivendell founder Grant Peterson is on NPR today talking about how he thinks Americans should ride, i.e. more like Europeans, and we got to wondering how many of you, who we perceive of also, by and large, as roadies, are actually commuting as well.

If you’re here, you love the bike, but is it just a hobby for you, or is it a workhorse as well?

This week’s Group Ride asks: Do you commute? What do you ride? Do you kit up to go to work? Or do you wear your work clothes, a la Amsterdam? Do you have a complex shower/clothes storage strategy? What is your co-workers’ attitude toward your cyclo-commuting? And do you notice more people doing it now? Or less?

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  1. Steve

    Yep, I ride year-round. My basic commute (without errands or without taking the long way) is only 6.5 miles each way, so I don’t kit up per se. I do ride in different clothes than I wear in the office, mostly because I shower at home first and prefer to put on something fresh when I get to the office.

    I usually ride a dingy single-speed Raleigh One-Way with flat bars, bmx pedals, fenders, and a big Carradice saddlebag. It meets the “only as much bike as necessary” rule for commuting, though it’s fine for rides up to 50 miles or so, if I’m feeling frisky and there isn’t anything too steep.

    The co-workers think it’s normal, but then I work at the university and most of the rest of the staff doesn’t drive to work either.

  2. Dave Gifford

    I commute 5 days a week, as I find it is necessary to do this all or nothing, once the occasional car trip happens, then the excuses to not ride pile up. A couple weeks on the bike is enough to break the hold of the car, though, and then the bike is the habit. Used to commute fixed for the simplicity, plus the quality time spent waiting at lights can then be used to practice the new skill of track standing (did eventually get good enough to stand through an entire freight train). Now the old beater MTB is the choice, as it is easier to swap wheels out for the times when I need to run studs. A three mile trip is too short to kit up (shy of shoes), and also negates the need for more complex strategies. That said, the amount of rain gear you need to own to commute in Oregon is substantial, as are the lighting requirements. Over the last few years I have accumulated nearly as many strongly held opinions as Grant Peterson about lighting and dressing strategies for comfort and survival.
    My co-workers think I am a looney, which may not be far off, but there is nothing like arriving home invigorated after a long day’s work and a short ride, able to play with the kids and be present and involved, as opposed to the lethargy that comes from climbing out of a car.
    Spring brings out more people, but there is no denying that it will always be easier to push a pedal in a car than to pedal a bike. Takes a lot of effort to get your life in order so that you can work within biking distance, via a safe route, but it certainly is worth it. It’s a lifestyle thing…

  3. Drew Wilson

    I ride about 12 miles daily, year round, on a 1999 Trek 720 Multitrack with many upgrades. It has the fit/feel of a steel cyclocross bike at this point with a carbon fork, shallow drop bars etc.. I use flat pedals and normal clothes. Most people here seem to commute either on “expensive” commuter specific bikes or old mountain bikes.

    The institution where I work is very “bike friendly” according to their literature and propaganda, but I think they do basically nothing real. Most of my co-workers think I’m crazy to ride that far- I happen to be racing 162 miles on gravel tomorrow in the Royal 162, I generally don’t share that stuff with them. If I did they would give me a blank stare and mention someone they know who once did a triathlon or the tough mudder.

  4. Peter Lütken

    I commute about 7mi total every day. Actually, it saves me about ten – fifteen minutes of time over driving. My sons daycare opens at 7.30 and since that is only three blocks away he rides his little Specialized HotWalk there while I tag along on my 8spd Gary Fisher Simple City. Having dropped him off I’m left with 20-some minutes to get to work in time, wich is perfectly doable in my street clothes as long as I disobey Stephen Roche and unzip my jacket on that last hill.
    I’ve got an old beater Schwinn steel MTB with a hub dynamo powered front light, full coverage fenders and studded tires for winter use.
    Currently drooling over an All-City Space Horse, but it is nigh on impossible to find a 49cm frame in stock that ships to Norway

  5. Christopher Herzberg

    I ride 3-5 days a week in Minneapolis, with a flat, 6 mile, one way ride. I ride a 99 Specialized Rockhopper Comp that I converted to my regular commuter 3 or 4 years ago. I use 26×1 tires and I recently added a set of BB5 disc brakes to help when it is wet out. I do kit up but it is just what I feel most comfortable riding in. I often will leave directly from work on longer rides so the full kit is a necessity. I work in a very casual office so I can carry what I wear on a daily basis and not worry too much about more formal attire. I often will bring extra clothes to work with me on days I don’t ride so I can keep a few outfits at my desk, or nicer clothes for the occasional meeting. I work with a number of rabid cyclo-commuters and we sit around a kibbitz about bikes, routes, lights, helmets and crazy drivers quite a lot. Our employers support our efforts and have no problems with a later start once and a while due to early rain. As for the numbers of commuters, my casual observations are that there are many, many more cyclists commuting here than in past years. I am trying to ride later into the fall and earlier in the spring but I have not yet crossed into the studded tire/Surly Pugsley style community, which is also growing here in the far north.

  6. David

    I’m afraid I am just a fair weather bike commuter, and only when I can ride in daylight (since I get to work before 7am, and often leave late, that means pretty much mid April through September). I do have the advantage of a shower and locker room at work and an endless hospital-provided supply of surgical scrubs, so I ride the 7.5 miles each way in kit on my race bike. I also can keep the bike in my office, so I don’t need to worry about it. On my on-call days, when I could be at the hospital until very late (or all night) I drive- I’m not interested in a 7 mile commute home at 3AM!

  7. Jason

    Great post, I like your point about the most persistent style and it rings true for me. I was commuting before I was a roadie, but I was a mountain biker before i was commuting. As such I started commuting on my mountain bike and continued to do so after I bought my road bike (can’t ride that in the rain too often!).

    More recently I’ve bought a dedicated bike for commuting. It is a flat-bar road bike with disc breaks, a belt drive and an internal hub. There’s mounts for racks and fenders. It is pretty much ideal for my needs and the maintenance is so insignificant, even in bad weather, that I am loving riding it around.

    That said, I commute on either my MTB or my roadie every week as well in order to take them out during lunch breaks for a ride. My commuter is ok in some bunch-lunch-time rides with other roadies but at other times I’ll need my roadie to keep up!

    I had a fair amount of cycling gear before I started commuting so it always made sense for me to ride in kit, rather than my work-clothes. Over time I’ve added more kit in order to facilitate commuting in all weather. This includes jackets, gloves, tights and rain gear. I’ve commuted in all sorts of horrendous weather 🙂 For me it is difficult to commute without getting a bit hot and sweaty so work-clothes aren’t really an option. If I have to wear “other” clothes it makes sense for them to be cycling specific ones…

    Luckily my current workplace is quite supportive of cyclists. We have bike-racks inside the building along with change rooms and shower facilities. The cyclists do have to put up with the odd comment about lycra-clad inappropriateness but for the most part my department is very accepting.

    More recently I’ve noticed an increased number of people at my work commuting, and many of them are wearing regular work-clothes and are using their bikes purely as a mode of transport. We’re investigating how to put more bike racks in as a result, which is a pretty good sign of commuting by bike becoming more popular 🙂

  8. J-man's dad

    Commute about 60% of the time. Weather or time of year not a factor. I have lights & rain gear. Always kit up. I’m a firefighter, shower & clothing not an issue. The only factors are: if I need to work a double at a firestation other than my regular assignment, I need the car. It’s only 4 miles each way, but its all downhill going, then 24 hours later when my shift ends its all uphill. I seldom go directly there or back. Going home I usually drop off the messenger bag at home & go for a ride. 10 years ago the guys teased me endlessly. Now only a rare few make juvenile remarks about men in lycra, and a few have started riding for fitness. Some have become fans of the pro peleton since I force them to watch any tv coverage we get. Usually ride the # 1 road bike, second most the fixed gear, then the cross bike. I feel way more prepared for the job when I commute vs. when I drive. I have also bummed a ride home after a really physically taxing night. I wish I could rode to work every shift….the streets of Oakland are beautiful at sunrise.

  9. Joel

    I also ride to work 5 days a week, just under 6 miles each way. The best part of the ride is that it’s downhill all the way there and uphill all the way home, so I can get to work without being too sweaty and put in a bit of work on the return. That said, I do need to wear different clothes, and as Jason said, I might as well wear cycling-specific ones. Unfortunately there aren’t convenient showers/lockers, but its worth it, rain and snow regardless.

    I don’t ride the road bike in very often, though, mostly for fear of it or its components walking away into downtown Cleveland. There are at least covered bike racks in the parking garage though which fill up in the summer and are very lonely in the winter.

    The commute is always one of the highlights of my day. I always arrive home refreshed, having worked out the stress of the day – which isn’t ever the case when I drive.

  10. Bo L

    For me, it varies. I used to work the type of jobwhere I would be sweating during my shift and it didn’t matter that much that I had a 20 mile commute. I rode every day for that job. There was nothing more than an employee break-room and a bathroom in which I would take a “sink shower”, which meant I rode in street clothes sometimes and cycling shorts others. . Then, my focus turned back toward my scholarly endeavors, where I could ride 10 miles every day and I was not too bothered about being the smelly guy in class. My on-campus job was no big deal. Street clothes every day, unless there was a race after class, at which time I would just slide some basketball shorts over my kit during class.

    Lately, I have been at a slacks-and-tie internship. A desire to be perceived a certain way (conventional) and a desire to be employable has driven me to …. drive. I hope to secure a job near enough that business-appropriate dress does not interfere too much with bicycle commuting, which I miss.

    My wife’s car had a recent engine failure, which further helps motivate me to commute under my own power lately. I will drive to interviews, though.

  11. Paul

    I kit up, ride 13 miles to work one way about three times a week and treat it as base miles training. I do it year round, and miss it when things intervene. I still drive when I need to but love living in a place where I can make this my mostly commute option.

  12. Matt

    I commute every day on a road bike built from EBay and internet deals. I used to be a dyed in the wool mtber and finally got round to building up my dream bike – a Turner Sultan with XT and Chris King. Living in New Orleans that gets less than 200 miles a year, but my $100 Nashbar Kenesis frame gets thousands of miles commuting as well as charity and weekend rides. It’s all biking and I don’t miss driving to work at all. I just wish this country would get with cycle to work schemes like the UK does. My coworkers get parking reimbursed, but I get no incentive for cycling to work other than the huge smile it puts on my face.

  13. Hautacam

    I commute by bike (fenders and loads of blinky lights on my old RB-1! yay!) 3-5 days a week 9 months a year (less in November-February when it is just so darn yucky and dark here in the 206). Have done for many, many years. Lucky enough to have an employer that provides a secure bike room(!) with shower and locker facilities. Keep a small wardrobe of office clothes in my small office. I’ve been doing the lycra/club rider thing for a couple decades now, and no one at work gives it a second thought, but I am contemplating a switch to more civilian clothes this fall (messenger style knickers, multisport shirt or jersey, etc.). The lycra just seems like overkill for riding to work. Though it sure is the most comfortable thing to ride in. Everything else seems to bind in uncomfortable places, or hold too much sweat/rain.

    Apart from blinky lights and waterproof backpacks I can’t say enough good things about spd-style pedals/shoes and also tire liners (e.g. Mr. Tuffys). You lose a bit of road feel with the liners but no flats is a great thing. Also I only have to add air to my tires about once a month because the liners I have seem to be impermeable to air.

  14. Rod Diaz

    Year round commuter. Winters may be a bit rough (Ottawa, ON, Canada), but discovered that I can fit the skinny studded tires on my commuter, a fixed-gear fendered workhorse. Fixie is good, since at -20 C the freehub gets sticky and you go nowhere.

    My commute is very short, about 4 km. Buses are pretty bad and slower than me on the bike. So really there’s no excuses.

    I ride on cycling-specific knickers (no lycra, it’s better to go do groceries and there’s more pockets in these shorts)and crank bros pedals on waterproof shoes. A bit warm in the summer, but not terrible and beats having soaking feet on when caught in the rain.

  15. Doug Page

    When I lived a bit farther from work I commuted to work most of the time. I took quiet streets even though the busy, shorter route had a bike lane. No way would I want to ride next to speeding cars if I had a choice. So I took 15 mins instead of 10, and in addition I would ride home and back for lunch. I had an hour of riding every workday! I will always remember the fellow employee who said she thought cyclists “stunk”. This person smoked right next to my desk and I had to smell her smoke and ashes all day long. Sheesh!

  16. Michael

    I commute daily on a 1973 Raleigh Competition I turned into a single speed using old parts I (and several friends who contributed to the project) had sitting around. I saw the bike in a friend’s office, and had ridden one all over the western US in the 1970s, so asked him for it after he finished stripping parts off it. I set myself a $20 limit on money to put into it (new cables and housings, as it turned out). I rode it that way a while, but have gradually dug deeper into the investment (in for a penny, in for a pound) as I replaced the tires, then built new wheels and added on some fenders. Over the years, I probably have $300 into it. But it still looks awful and rides beautifully. I ride with flat pedals and in street clothes, other than a warm hat under my helmet when it is into sub-zero temperatures. Stopping for a coffee on the way to work makes a difference then. Having a nondescript-looking bike makes it much easier to stop without a heavy lock – I use a light cable.

  17. sam findley

    I commute most work days, usually 12-15 miles one way, unless it’s nice out, then the ride becomes 20 miles or more.

    But I am moving farther from work, so the new commute looks to be something like 40 miles one-way. I’m not totally sure that I’m going to be commuting every day anymore, but I’ll go for at least once a week. Five hours of commuting time just isn’t doable on a regular basis. If fast e-assist bikes ever get legal in the U.S., I might contemplate one, and go back to commuting every day. It kind of sucks when the e-assist is required to cut out at anything above 20 mph. What’s the point of that? I can do that on my own, thank you very much.

    I ride a really old Trek that I got for 30 bucks when it’s nasty out, and when it’s nice, my nice CF synapse. And in the winter, I have more lights and reflective tinsel than a Christmas tree (my goal is to put out an illegal amount of lumens)

  18. Redroadrider

    I commute three days a week on average, usually using my trusty Lemond Poprad w/35c Panaracer t-serv’s. I’ve got a 20 mile commute each way with a nice mix of hills and flats. I’m an operating room nurse at an outpatient surgery center, with showers and locker room available, and scrubs provided, so I kit up to ride. After a ten+ hour shift on my feet, it feels great to get on the bike and spin my legs out. The only real downside of the commute is getting up at four a.m. to leave at five. That said, once I’m at work, showered and changed, I feel so much more energized than on the days I drive the car.Most of my co-workers think I’m nuts, but a few of the MD’s respect it. My route includes about ten miles of rails-to-trails paved path, and the rest is a mix of city streets, dirt trails, and multi-use paved paths. I try to avoid heavily car-trafficed roads as much as possible, as Tallahassee is home to multitudes of jack-asses who love to terrorize cyclists.

  19. ben

    I heard the Grant Peterson piece on NPR and i’m glad he’s getting his POV out there and encouraging people to simply pick up a bike and ride to work. I do kit-up for my commute most of the time and thought Peterson seemed to be looking down at that practice and racing as a fun passion in genera…oh well, to each his/her own right? Somewhere I read how racing provides a competitive goal-oriented process that many (me included) don’t get anywhere else. I think Peterson (and others) get that through his craft and business.

    My commute is just under 10 miles each way so I base my clothing choices on weather and training schedules…sometimes the commute is the cool-down or warm-up from a training ride so the kit is on. Sometimes its snowing/raining/muddy and I’m not into getting my decent work clothes (not a suit, but still)mucked up. So I guess I’m not very Euro in my commuting yet. I’m ‘merican dag!

  20. ben

    Forgot one thing…Peterson seemed to think that many people don’t commute b/c they don’t know how to get started (gear/clothing/maintenance, etc.)

    Probably so, but I think the biggest hurdle is being comfortable and confident/defensive in traffic. Most people at work and friends, even in bikes-a-plenty colorado, are sort of astonished that I commute even though most of my commute is on quiet side streets, a bike path, and/or a busier street w/ a bike lane. And obviously that’s where Euro-land (and to a certain degree many US cities) have a leg up in people commuting. That and they’ve been doing it since they were kids…something I’m working on w/ my own b/c I think the reason I still ride a lot today and don’t mind riding in traffic is that I started riding roads beyond my neighborhood in traffic at age 12. Not that I don’t have any scares that leave me shaking my head, but you get over it quicker i guess.

  21. bigwagon

    I started commuting one day week to work last month. Ironically, this week was the first since I started that I could not fit a commute into my schedule.

  22. armybikerider

    I commute everyday, unless it’s raining. But….I ride a total of 1 mile each way to work. I live on post at Fort Campbell KY and work in the Army hospital there.

    I wear my Army uniform…boots and all since the overall time is rarely more than 5 minutes. As much of a no-brainer this might seem to be, I know of lots of other people that drive cars similiar distances to work.

    I ride an old Cannondale mtn bike with 1993 circa XT. It’s just more comfortable to ride in my uniform than any other bike and should the bike get stolen, I won’t be as upset if it was instead my roadbike.

  23. brucew

    I got rid of my car in April 1999. I bike to work every single workday.

    Like Robot, I self-identify as a roadie. Road bikes are what trip my trigger. I own four of them. Two are completely commutified (rack, fenders, mirror, lights), but only one (closer to a cross bike) fits studded snow tires for winter.

    Even so, I ride all four bikes to work. My crit bike is a hoot to ride in city gridlock. The best weeks are when I can ride a different bike on each of my four workdays.

    I listened to advice and started out on more “sensible” bikes. I hated them. My commute became fun again and was no longer a chore when I decided to ride what I like, instead of what other people think is sensible.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying everyone should ride roadies to work. I think you should ride whatever puts a big schidt-eatin’ grin on your face. If that’s a Dutch bike, so be it. Enjoy your ride!

    Since I’m still bike commuting, running errands, and shopping by roadie after 13 years of being car-free, it must work for me. If forced to follow a Petersen or Amsterdam model, I’d buy a car instead.

  24. royalewithcheese

    As one of the lucky few able to work in a bike shop, and live within a few miles of both work and school I ride whichever bike I feel fits the weather, my Force clad Surly Pacer when there isn’t snow on the roads, and the mountain bike otherwise. The Surly takes care of my roadie sensibilities nicely while still being able to mount real fenders when it rains.
    Since I work at a bike shop its relatively expected that I commute by bike, and I have a place to park my bike inside at both work and school. Living really close means I don’t need to kit up for my commute, and I can cut it really close on making it to class or work on time.

  25. Dan O

    I’ve been bike commuting on/off for 20+ years, the last 9 or so mostly “on”. Year round commuter, though some winters (Dec – March) I slack off big time. The last two winters especially. Once rolling though, commute 3 – 5 times per week. 34 mile round trip.

    Rainy days, ride the ’97 Ibis Hakkalugi with fenders. Nicer days on the newer Ibis Silk Carbon. I leave some clothes at work – shoes, a few pairs of pants, etc. Carry everything else in a messenger bag – clean shirt, underwear, socks, lunch, tools, phone, pump, etc.

    I shower when I get up, then ride in. Works for me. I wear full roadie kit, works better for the mileage involved and weather changes. My work building has a secure bike room. I quickly change right in my work area, less hassle then lugging everything to a rest room. Typical office cube, but I’ve pulled this off a few zillions times now…

    Some co-workers think you’re some kind of super hero – or nuts – to ride 17 miles each way. Mostly though, not many notice, since plenty of folks here in the Seattle area ride. And yes, I’ve noticed the bike commuting numbers increase over the years. Cool to witness.

    If you ride and don’t commute – you’re missing out on some fantastic “training” time that will also save you some serious dough per year. Then add in the mental health aspects. Bike commuting rocks.

  26. Champs

    @brucew: you are the winner. FWIW I’m approaching middle age having never been a driver.

    Petersen offers some fine advice about how little you actually need to ride a bike. I’ve got a fixed gear runabout; it’s cheap, I wear street clothes, all that good stuff. Of course I’d also go out of my mind if that’s all there was, and anything beyond a 10 mile/200 ft climb radius was an adventure.

    I’ve got a fancy Rivendell-style ride. It’s a proper Litespeed touring bike that I use for commuting, errand runs, and some longer rides, when I don bike-specific kit with baggy MTB shorts. Two hours with a seam between your crotch and the saddle isn’t my idea of a good time.

    Where he and I *really* part ways is with this tangent about racing and go-fast cycling in general. Sure, I can understand why he’s soured on actual bicycle racing, because I am, too—at varying levels, the culture is off-puttingly jockish, insular, elitist, and parochial.

    That doesn’t make my “exercise machine” with “click in shoes” any less fun to ride. It is a ticket to explore Oregon’s beautiful Columbia Gorge. It is a roller coaster with no lines. It is the sauna I step out of at the top of a climb, into the brisk chill of a descent. It is the altar where I meditate on the road ahead, shutting out the screams of pain in my legs. All of this for just a few dollars per ride.

    All the better that I don’t have to share it with Petersen or converts to his sect, much less the many Gentiles who know nothing about The Way, I suppose.

  27. StevenG.

    My commute to work is 37 miles each way. I try to fit it in 2-3 times a week during warmer months here in New England. The route includes lots of climbing, so it is good training. I kit up and ride the Colnago. Luckily, I have a shower and my own office at work, so bike storage, and a fresh change of clothes is no problem. Most of my co-workers think I’m crazy.

  28. PeterLeach

    Like many, I’m a fair weather commuter. I aim for three days a week, but don’t achieve it as often as I’d like to. My commute is 15km each way, so I ride a road bike {Litespeed] in cycling gear. I have shower and change facilities in my building, so I bring clothes etc. in on ‘car days’.
    Currently [in Canberra, Australia] it’s still dark and cold for my ride in and dark and getting cold for my ride home, but nothing that decent lights and merino baselayers can’t fix 🙂
    Also like others, many of my colleagues think I’m crazy …

  29. Mark K

    I ride in 2-3 days a week, 35 mile round trip. I do more riding on my commutes than any other way. It isn’t the most exciting riding, but it saves me 10 bucks each day on Metro, and obviously has other great benefits. I’ve lost 30 pounds in the last year, with just 10-20 more left to drop. I ride in a kit on a Specialized Tarmac Sl3. It takes about 2 hours and 15 minutes total, and I have to face some hills and a consistent headwind on the trip home. No shower so I duck into the server room to cool off when I arrive on hot days and use baby wipes. Have a locker though for storing clothes, shuttle in fresh togs and out dirty laundry on the one day a week I Metro, and I work from home the other day.

  30. BigWheel

    Yes I commute and have been doing it for about 18 years, all in the Buffalo, NY area. I ride a fendered and belighted 1994 RB-T, but lately I’ve been jonseing for an all weather ride with a front dyno hub, rear multigeared hub and a belt drive as I usually stop riding when it gets too sloppy. Hosing down a derailleur when it’s near freezing just isn’t practical. I do kit up for the 25 mile round trip and we do have showers where I work. I physically and mentally feel so much better when I’m bike commuting that I wish I could do it year round. Maybe it’s time for the upgrade.

  31. RyderJohn

    I kit up and I ride a Specialized carbon, flat-bar Roubaix – aka the Specialized Sirrus. I don’t have time for fenders, baskets, or panniers. I just don’t have time for fooling around on my 34-mile round trip. It is plush, nimble, and fast. Zoom, zoom, zoom!

  32. Fatima

    I ride 2-3 times a week, 40 miles round trip on my Trek hybrid. Rain, fog, high winds, and 3 digit weather keep me off the road. I wear padded bike shorts I got on clearance and workout shirts from Target. A sink shower + baby wipes keep me fresh. I haul my work clothes & lunch on my rack and hang my cycling clothes to dry under my desk while at work. Some of my coworkers think I’ve got a death-wish others think it’s pretty cool. Eh, saves me money, don’t have go to the gym, and makes me feel good.

  33. Alan

    Commute twice a week with a friend on my Roubaix SL3. We only live a few miles from work, but we kit up and climb the ski hill on the way in (2500′ vert). On the way home, just throw the shoes on with my jeans and blaze in about 10 minutes. For the winter – a few times per week on a studded Pugsley. The worse the weather, the more fun it is.

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