Monday, July 21, 2008

Bike commuters dress for work

Image of bicyclist in a suit
From the Reading Eagle (PA), 07.21.08:

What to wear when bicycle commuting?
When the weather is good, Terry Plowman can get from home to his downtown Pittsburgh job in about 45 minutes. Not by car or bus, but by bicycle. And after a quick change from his biking gear to business casual, Plowman is ready for another day of work at Verizon.

There are signs that more Americans are commuting to work on bikes, a trend fueled by environmental concerns and the rising cost of gasoline. "It's unbelievable to me the change that has gone on over the past two or three years," said Brad Quartuccio, editor of Urban Velo, a Pittsburgh-based cycling magazine.

Whether rolling along trails, designated lanes or crowded streets, for bike commuters heading to work there's the question of how to dress. Most people who bike to work don't do so every day because of weather or schedules. But when they do, it takes planning because there's usually a need to groom and change clothes when arriving at work.

Plowman, 54, takes a change of clothes with him each day. Others, like John Burgess at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, keep a mini-wardrobe at the office to avoid added weight on the bike. In nearly five years of biking to campus, the professor has discovered that it's best not to wear your work trousers on the 15-minute trip. "You'll get grease on your pants, even when you're being careful," he said. "And on a hot day, you get sweaty."

There's an added dimension for professional women, who may find it more difficult to manage a bike in a skirt or dress. Barbara Brewton of Pittsburgh wears shorts or capris and a T-shirt, and carries a change of business-casual work clothes on her bike. Kim O'Dell of Mount Lebanon, her co-worker at the Heinz Family Foundation, keeps business suits and heels at the office. (Read more.)
Helpful article from Pennsylvania, about the techniques bicycle commuters use to meet their office apparel needs. Many bicycle commuters who must dress for business employ a variety of means. One standard approach is carrying office clothing carefully rolled in panniers or in a bicycling garment bag; perhaps with an iron at the office for quick touch-ups. Other bike commuters leave all office apparel at work, using a nearby dry cleaner as necessary. And some drive to the office on certain days, with a week's worth of clothing, and bicycle commute the other days. And a lucky few are able to make the commute in their suit or dress.

Any other suggestions for handling the office dress code as a bicycle commuter?

Image: Web capture.
Visit: Bicycle clothes explained, Marion Star (OH)
Visit: Biking to work brings wardrobe considerations, Toledo Blade
Visit: Biking to work forces fashion dilemmas, Scripps Howard News Service
Visit: Biking, walking gain in San Francisco, Bike Commute Tips Blog
Visit: No belt, no bra, no pants?, Bike Commute Tips Blog
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site


Daniel said...

I live in NC and there is no way I could wear my work clothes on my commute at this time of year. In fact I wouldn't be able to bike commute if we didn't have showers.

I have an 8 mile commute over rolling hills. I start to sweat as soon as I walk out the door, by the time I get to work I am drenched. So I carry my clothes in my bag. Shower and change when I get here.

The company I work for is actually headquartered in Denmark and quite a lot of the workforce there bicycles including the CEO. But here in NC I think I am the only one out of about 400 employees.

Tom said...

I'm in Tennessee and echo Daniel. I ride twelve miles to work and even when its cool (which isn't often in July) I sweat. I bring clean clothes in my saddlebags and use baby wipes. I need to get a work iron though.

Joel said...

I'm going to push my own blog, rather than repeat myself, since I put up a post about this just a few days back. I'm in the same boat as Daniel, not being able to "work clothes" it now (Baltimore), but most of the year I do.

RJ said...

Looks like the folks in Copenhagen, who ride bikes to work MUCH more than we do (36% vs. Portland's 6%).. looks like they just wear skirts n heels on the bike!

There's something called a "chain guard" and "skirt guard" that will take care of a few problems. ;)

To see what I mean, witness the heels at:

IgorTheCat said...

Casual Friday everyday, except no shorts. I carry trousers and my lap top in a Jansport "Man Purse"

Beem Commuting by Commuter Rail (San Diego Amtrak/Coaster from Carlsbad CA to San Diego Old Town),Light rail(San Diego Trolley from Old Town to El Cajon-Gillespe Field Airport), and bike (Two miles around to the other side of the airport), for almost two years.

In inclimate weather, I leave the bike home and bum a ride from co-worker.

IgorTheCat said...

Casual Friday everyday, except no shorts. I carry trousers and my lap top in a Jansport "Man Purse"

Beem Commuting by Commuter Rail (San Diego Amtrak/Coaster from Carlsbad CA to San Diego Old Town),Light rail(San Diego Trolley from Old Town to El Cajon-Gillespe Field Airport), and bike (Two miles around to the other side of the airport), for almost two years.

In inclimate weather, I leave the bike home and bum a ride from co-worker. said...

I live in south Mississippi where the high is about 100 degrees now, and I ride to work at noon.

I wear a lyrcra shirt and shorts, they breathe well and keep me about as dry as i could expect. I bring a change of clothes with me carried on my rear rack. I get to work about 20 minutes early so i have time to cool off, I also wipe down with a couple non scented wet-wipes. I also rinse my hair real qucik in the sink.

After getting dressed you would never know I rode to work.

Kevin Love said...

Three comments:

1. A lot of people are really pushing themselves on bikes. The bicycle equivalent of walking instead of running doesn't work up a sweat.

2. Electric bicycles would answer many of the concerns raised here.

3. These articles have a wiff of classism. I'm not reading about factory workers or clergymen.

Our parish priest goes everywhere on his bicycle in his normal black suit and clerical collar. Yet never breaks a sweat because he rides calmly. And he must be at least 60 years old.

erin said...

These days I wear as much of my work clothes as possible- my job is somewhat casual, so I have a pair of very nice but sporty shoes I wear, and will wear slacks or on days I can get away with it nice jeans on my bike, and only change my shirt when I get to the office.

At previous jobs I've left a pair of heels at the office so that if I had a meeting that day I could dress things up a little. When I lived in LA and didn't have access to a shower at the office I would bring a change of clothes (including bra! nothing makes you feel more gross than a sweat-soaked bra), and a small towel, and would towel off in the handicap stall of the ladies room.

luis said...

i have 3 shirts (knit), 3 pants (dockers), 1 belt and conservative shoes. that's 9 cominations in all which last me 2 weeks. i keep it all in a drawer i emptied for wardrobe and wash up stuff (deodorant, toothpaste, comb, etc). as for undies, it's commando for me everyday -- one less thing to worry about. i stash a fresh pair of socks and small towel in my bag every morning. this setup works great!

all i have to do when i get in is towel off, throw on the shirt, pants, socks and shoes and comb out the helmet hair. takes 5 minutes.

Marathon Me said...

I just biked to work for the first time today. I've very excited about it.

Anonymous said...

When I worked for the school district I was lucky that I could wear shorts, T-shirt and tennis shoes. So rode to work and didn't have to change. Somedays I would wear a bike jersey and some student or teacher would always ask "why does your shirt have pockets in the back?" lol

dygituljunky said...

For any other police officers planning on bicycle commuting here's what two of us at my department have found useful:

Leave your duty belt, vest, and boots at the station. If your lockers are too small, like ours, and your facility is secure, hang a garment bag at work and use that as a miniature locker.

Cart your radio battery (but not the radio) and duty weapon back and forth with you.

I have found that using a garment bag pannier also keeps the wrinkles out of my uniform better than rolling my uniform pants and shirt in a standard commuter pannier.

Don't try commuting in the same clothes you'll wear on the beat, not even the same underwear/undershirt. The sweat will make you all the more miserable in your vest and polyester uniform. Nobody wants to smell what you would be dealing; our vests already get potent enough, especially in the summer.

If your department has the facilities and allows you to wash your uniforms/clothes at work, take advantage of it and leave your entire kit, including socks and underclothes, at work.

Place a small container in the bottom of your locker or in the bottom the garment bag you leave at work to store your badge, various pocket gear, belt keepers, etc. It's amazing how much weight all the little extra stuff on our uniforms adds; don't bother carting the little stuff back and forth.

Find a place at the station to leave your duty bag. I don't know of a bicycle setup other than a trailer or xtracycle which can cart the gear in my duty bag and what's the point of schlepping the weight?

What you carry will still be significant. Consider using the Jandd Expedition Rack, or a similarly sturdy and large rack, to provide plenty of heel room and a sturdy base for the heavy load days.

Get (and wear) a Road ID, perhaps the dog-tag type with a police badge or IPMBA logo on the back so other officers can identify you as a fallen brother. Make sure your cellphone is readily accessible in your bag(s).

Finally, add your officer safety situational awareness to your bike-commuter situational awareness to make sure you aren't an easy target. (This is why I use a mountain bike with street slicks; I can hop curbs to escape cars used as a weapon).

Paul Dorn said...

Dygituljunky: Thanks for your thoughtful and comprehensive post. Police officers are a bicycle commuting population with specific needs that had never occurred to me. Paul

Daniel said...

@Kevin Love

I don't know where you live but I don't think that you've ever experienced the American South in the summertime.

When the temperature is in the mid 90s to low 100s (Mid 30s to 40C) and the relative humidity is near 100% you can't stand still outside without sweating profusely. It doesn't matter how slow I ride my bike I will still end up drippng with sweat.

Kudos to the Southerners here who are riding in without access to a shower, that's dedication.

no_relation said...

Austin TX has the same problems as the south, as far as heat. My solution is to take the bus on the way in (the buses have bike racks on the front) and bike back at night (10pm) when it's only upper 80s-lower 90s, and I know there's a shower at the end of the road.

dygituljunky said...

@Paul Dorn: Thanks.

@Kevin Love @ @Daniel & @no_relation:

I failed to mention that I also commute in the Southeastern United States.

Heat plays a major factor in my commute. During the summer of 2007, I stopped riding completely due to the heat wave. Now, during the summer of 2008, I ride the bus for about 2/3 of the trip and ride my bike for the portion of the trip closest to work. As fall and winter approach, I'll make the transition to riding the entire distance.

Here in Atlanta, it almost seems like you sweat from just breathing. During the summer those of us who wear extensive uniforms are even worse off than the average Joe. Even if I have a very slow night (notice I said night, when it's supposed to be cooler) at work, I can still end up with a soaked T-Shirt under my ballistic vest. During the summer of 2007, I even had mild heat stroke while (of all activities) riding around on a Segway at work. The heat island effect here in Atlanta also seems to be particularly intense. The climate here really is one that you have to experience to know that we Southerners aren't exaggerating at all. (The heat is also probably a major contributor to our generally more sedentary lifestyle and higher obesity rate.)

But all in all, the heat and humidity in old Dixie means that we pretty much have to include showers at work as a key component of our bicycle infrastructure. Should we fail to do so, we will likely never Copenhagenize the Southeast.

IgorTheCat said...

I commute in an area where summertime temps frequently exceed 100 F, but thankfully, the norm in Southern California is for humidity to drop as temperature rises. Also, I get off the trolley at 7:00 a.m., and I have never seen it top 85 that early in the morning.

The ride to the trolley after work is a different matter, but I have a shower waiting at the other end.

cadabeso said...

I live and work in Seattle. I've been bike commuting within the city for nearly 20 years now, and I've seldom needed to shower at work. Instead, I hit the showers at the gym before biking to work. My current commute is just over 3 miles, with no hills to climb.

I ride to work in my work clothes, except for my shoes, which are either beat-up tennis shoes or rain-resistant boots (depending on the time of year). I do make sure to wear either neon yellow velcro bands around my ankles OR rain pants over my trousers. Even when wearing dress slacks, this works fine for me.

There are showers at my workplace, but I've never used them. I'm sure I would shower at work if I lived in a place of high heat and humidity, or if I had a hillier commute.

Kevin Love said...

Daniel wrote:

"@Kevin Love

I don't know where you live but I don't think that you've ever experienced the American South in the summertime."

Kevin's comment:

I live in Toronto. I have experienced the US South in the summer time. And Mexico and Central America. The original article was about Pittsburgh which is a tad north of the Mason-Dixon line.

I know some people who both live and work at places with direct and climate-controlled access to the subway network. Everyone else is going to experience the great outdoors whilst going to work.

It can get quite hot in Toronto with several days over 30 degrees in July and August. My own personal solution is to use an electric bicycle. I put in about as much "human power" as I would walking. And therefore arrive in about the same condition as everyone else.

Alexandra said...

I live in Washington DC and have been commuting by bike for about two months now - and am playing it all by ear. It has been hot and humid this summer - typical DC (although today is lovely) - but nothing in comparison to the real south. My ride is only three miles - takes about 30 min door to door - but it is uphill to work so I ride slowly to enjoy the view and reduce the sweating. (somewhat)
I have been able to wear work clothes on my ride and do not need a change when I get to the office despite the heat. (let's see how Aug goes!!) I used to walk to the office (about 20 min) and was as 'damp' as I am from my current ride. I find I am dry in 20 min and cool enough to add a cardigan in 30 - and not offensive enough for complaints and I give the guys plenty of opportunities for honesty.
I love wearing skirts - much cooler than pants. I have a chain guard but no skirt guard - long skirts have not been a problem YET. I do wear my heels and find them no different than loafers when biking (I don't pedal with my heels so I don't see how it is a challenge).
On top I prefer two options - a simple well made cotton tee or tank that can be dressed up with a cardigan or blazer OR a cotton or linen shirt untucked for the ride in (for air circulation) to be tucked in after about a 15 min cool down.
Generally, my office does not require a full suit - typ for DC summers -- I keep two jackets at the office that work with skirts and pants for meetings.
I can easily head out after work for drinks and/or dinner with friends after and not worry about changing into something that won't be appropriate at the restaurant.
This has been a great solution for me so far - but it is still a work in progress.
I am still working what to do about rain -- so far an umbrella seems to work in a light drizzle but I'm not going to try it with a downpour or wind.

Kevin Love said...

dygituljunky wrote:

"Cart your... duty weapon back and forth with you"

Around here weapons are legally required to be safely locked up at the police station when not in use. Its a public safety issue. Things are different where you are?

dygituljunky said...

@Kevin Love:

The law allows citizens (except convicted felons) to carry weapons; to carry concealed, one must obtain a permit.

Police officers are allowed to carry off-duty in more places than private citizens. Most police depts don't provide a place to secure a weapon at work while police officers are away from work.

Not that I agree or disagree, but the philosophy is that off-duty officers who carry can stop crimes if they happen to be in the area when a crime occurs and that citizens and off-duty officers who carry actually serve as a deterrent to violent crime.

Paul said...

I live in Stockholm and a lot of people commute to work every day, but I have never heard of anyone requesting showers. Never heard of that anywhere in europe.

Some things you can do to keep cool:

1. Ride in an upright position. If your leaning forward your shirt will stick to you back. This is very important. The handle bars should be at least 2 inches higher than the saddle.

2. Get a big front basket where you can put your jacket or even trousers without getting them wrinkled.

3. ride slow.

4. Avoid back packs

5. If you ride slow and carefully you wont need a helmet either.

David said...


Helmets are a good idea at any speed.

Riding slow to work is alright, but when I get off work, I have ten minutes to go two miles to catch my train. Riding slow is not an option, thankfullly it is not far.

dygituljunky said...

@Paul in Stockholm

Oh, how I wish we had the same environmental and road design conditions as in any part of Europe.

Here in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, you can quite literally sit still outside in the shade in just a pair a shorts with a fan blowing on you sipping a cool drink and still sweat. Exercising to the point of even walking will cause one to develop a certain funky smell.

Culturally, we in the USA have little to no tolerance in workplaces for bodily odors, regardless of the commute required.

Not to mention that a huge number of Americans (no pun intended) look like they've eaten too much fast food and that extra body mass retains body heat and requires more energy to move.

Using the electric motor in an electric bicycle would help but 1) it is limited to 20 mi/hr (32 km/hr), 2) it reduces the amount of exercise, 3) it's much more expensive than a plain bicycle, and 4) they aren't commonly sold in stores.

Showers at the workplace really are a necessity in the Southeastern USA

As to helmets, while an adult here in Georgia is not required to wear one, children are. It is, however a good idea to wear a helmet on our roads because people aren't used to sharing the road with cyclists to the same degree as Stockholm or Copenhagen; we are frequently subjected to idiot drivers not even visually registering an approaching bicycle which is clearly within the drivers field of view. We get drivers who tailgate, we get drivers who whip past us after barely moving over within the same lane, we get drivers who get belligerent and tell us to use bike paths (even though the bike path is designed like a wide sidewalk with 20 times as many stop signs). Around here, it seems more like a matter of when, not if, I will get hit by an idiot or angry driver. So, helmets are a good idea for cyclists.

Oh, and the behavior of motorists makes us feel like we have to ride fast(er).

Until very recently, it would be very near impossible to walk into a bicycle store and find a bicycle with an upright riding position, nominally designed for commuting. Almost all bicycle shops have one of two kinds of bikes, both with a forward leaning position: street racing (as used in the Tour of France) or mountain bikes (which are outfitted to be ridden in downhill races. Bicycling for transportation has only recently caught on (because our gas prices are now what Europe's were 5-10 years ago) and the bicycle shop tend to still specialize in sport bikes rather than commuter bikes. It's difficult to find a bicycle truly designed for commuting with an upright riding position, an expedition-sized pannier rack, a large front basket or rack, a comfortable seat, skirt/coat protectors, chain protectors, and a cushy ride; such bicycles are still considered specialty items.

So, Paul of Stockholm, some of us in the USA would love to have bicycles as integrated into daily life as Stockholm or Copenhagen. We are far from such an ideal life but we are getting there. To reiterate, due to environmental and cultural conditions, showers in the workplace will be a necessary part of the "bicycle infrastructure."

David in sd said...

dygituljunky said...

"It's difficult to find a bicycle truly designed for commuting with an upright riding position . . . such bicycles are still considered specialty items."

This may have been true a couple of years ago, but Giant, Specialized, Trek, and all the others have jumped on this bandwagon big time. I bought an new Trek commuter bike, back rack, and rack top bag about three weeks ago at a bike shop where about half the inventory could be classified as commuter friendly.

Scandi said...

I'm in NC too, and for my 10-mile commute to work, I take a change of clothes in my panniers. It does require coordination, and it's easy to forget to bring some essential thing, so I try to keep a spare change of clothes, towel, toiletries at my office.

I can also bike 2 miles to the bus stop and take the bus in (or out). A packing list for busing in, biking home is here.

I will admit to appearing, occasionally, a bit more disheveled than I might had I driven in--but at least I arrive at work awake and happy! I do miss the days when I lived in Boston--there was lots of bike commuter traffic, and the guys in suits, ties flapping behind them as they pedaled, looked so debonair . . . .

electric bikes said...

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