Q: I’m starting a new job next month and it’s not entirely unlike my old gig except for one huge difference. For the new job, I can leave my car parked at home, in the driveway. Hallelujah! The office is a totally reasonable 20 minutes away by bicycle and is along a bus line in the event that the weather doesn’t allow me to propel myself to my cubicle.
The thing is, I’ve never done a bike commute before and don’t really bike that often in general. I’m a style-conscious guy, so of course my first concern is: What do I wear? My office has pretty laid-back dress requirements but I would like to avoid showing up in a spandex ensemble that screams “I commute by bike and proud of it!” nor do I want to have to make Clark Kent-style costume changes in the bathroom before 9 a.m. meetings. Have any thoughts on how to rock my sartorial side while commuting by bike?
James, Indianapolis, Ind.
Congrats on the new gig and the car-free commute. That’s fantastic. I’ve never commuted by bike myself — I’ve been strap-hanging most of my adult life — so I can’t speak personally to that but I do fancy myself as someone who knows a thing or two about dressing well and dressing comfortably.
To start, I’d like to step back a couple of decades to the 1990s — a time when I wore black denim, concert T-shirts and Doc Marten boots (so I shopped at Hot Topic … so what?). It was also a time when my first period European history teacher was showing up to work in full-on Lycra cycling regalia. I may have forgotten in what year that the Treaty of Vienna was signed, but I’ll never forget the alarming sight of seeing Mr. A in DayGlo spandex shorts (black tights during the colder months) and matching jersey, wandering flush-faced down the halls of my small high school at 8:30 a.m. Let’s just say he stuck out.
A lot has changed in cycling garb since the days when Mr. A terrorized my high school in his spandex short shorts (he did eventually change out of them into more appropriate high school teacher attire, but it was decidedly unmemorable compared to his commute clothing), and from the sounds of it, you’ll have room to experiment with bike-to-office fashions. At least you’re not commuting an hour each way to a corporate job that requires a suit and tie … that’s where things get tricky. So consider your office’s more casual dress code a godsend.
First off, in addition to paying careful attention to the weather, I’d explore your options for changing and storing clothing at your new office. Many (although not enough) workplaces have become cyclist-friendly. In addition to offering bike racks, some have amenities like storage lockers or cubbies, dedicated bike commuter changing rooms, etc. Just don’t expect a “cyclist lounge” with a plunge pool, sponge bath stations and laundry area. In a perfect world, office parking lots would be downsized and converted to make room for the needs of bike commuters, but we’ve got a ways to go. So before you show up on your first day with three pairs of shoes and a week’s worth of button-downs, I’d suss out what amenities, if any, are available on-site. And if your new workplace is decidedly un-cyclist-friendly, team up with a couple of other bike commuters in the office and make your presence known around the water cooler and specifically to Mr. Bossman or Ms. Bosslady. Your decision to commute by bike can only benefit the company.
If an on-site mini-wardrobe isn’t looking like an immediate possibility and you think a partial or complete costume change once you get into the office will be inevitable, I’d consider investing in a pannier. Ortlieb is a trusted name when it comes to panniers and assorted packs for bike commuting.
To lessen the need for outfit changes and hauling clothes to work, I’d look into clothing that’s both bike and office appropriate. For example, the North Face has some decent, fashion-forward clothing options for men that are bike-commuter friendly and would work in a casual office environment. I’m fond of the Hayes woven button-down with reflective 3M ScotchLite yarn embedded into the shirt for when you’re biking early in the morning or at night. Plus, the Hayes boasts UV protection and has recycled rubber buttons. Not too shabby.
Just remember, you want to be comfortable and safe while commuting, and I wouldn’t sacrifice either of those things just to look good at work. If you’re worried about looking silly in technical bike clothes, consider that you might look even sillier riding a bike at 7 in the morning through downtown Indianapolis dressed like you’ve just walked out of a Club Monaco dressing room. So if you can wear jeans to work, by all means roll ‘em up. Buy a few cotton T-shirts that you don’t mind getting dirty and pitting out. Also, consider investing in padded Andiamo! undies because nothing says “discomforting hell” more than suffering from severe chafing while confined to your cubicle.
Other than that, James, don’t forget the most important bike commute accessory (and no, it’s not an extra layer of deodorant). Although they may go against your sartorial judgment, buy a helmet and wear it. Enjoy your new car-free commute and by the way, have a very happy Bike Month.