Sunday, March 15, 2015

The New Commute is Surprisingly Tranformative

For years I treated my 22 mile round trip commute like a mini-bike tour. I wore tights or Lycra shorts, used traditional panniers, toted first aid kit, a tool bag stuffed with a variety of pertinent supplies (every tourer should lug a box of extra screws, bolts, and washers), full water bottles, reflective clothing and/or vest, plus stiff soled bike shoes. In short, had I desired to skip work altogether while en route and hit the road for a multi-day adventure—and believe me I had fantasies of doing just that—I was well equipped, right down to bicycle choice (Miyata 610 and Trek 830 were both tested touring machines). Plus, a credit card is assurance, supplementing other goodies a cyclist might need for an impromptu adventure

You get the picture.

Enter the shorter commute.
When I switched jobs in January, and once winter loosened it's deep freeze and roads cleared, I looked forward to riding the Ross, my preferred companion. I anticipated my five mile one-way ride would include discovering possible route variations. Indeed, after my first week back in a commuting routine, stitching bike paths to neighborhoods; that's proven to be true. The funny thing is, regardless of route, all are exactly 30 minutes each way.

Both routes have their advantages and disadvantages. Which way should I go? 
Riding five miles means priorities have changed.
But what I didn't expect—and thus a wonderful surprise and breakthrough—(at least for me) came later: pedaling a shorter distance has completely changed my view on what's appropriate commuting attire and gear. Or more to the point, what's possible to live with and without. I've discovered a myriad of changes that are more suited to the way I now ride. I left traditional panniers in storage, opting instead to use an upcycled floral sling bag and messenger bag. I bring less tools. I could ride in jeans if I cared to, however black tights are still my preference—sometimes double layers in chilly temperatures. I don't obsess about undergarments either; whatever works is fine in my book. I wear appropriate clothing for the weather: stylish quilted coat, hat, headband, a pretty scarf, purple windproof mittens, warm hiking shoes with thick socks—my everyday wear. but I don't worry if my hands or feet are slightly chilled, because within a half hour, I will have arrived at work or home.

Has an altered ride distance ever affected your gear choices and your outlook on commuting?

Several warm days melted most of our snow, leaving wet paths that eventually froze into treacherous surfaces.
I walked this section atop the snowbanks with one arm bracing my bike beside me upon the ice,


  1. Those icy spots are what scare me (and I do exactly the same - get off and walk - though sometimes they are just as scary walking across them).

    I don't think a different commute ever changed what I carried, but I do find over time that I tend to change out what I believe necessary for a trip. I don't like to carry more than what I need, so if I am pretty sure I don't need it, I just leave it at home.

    For me, I tend to want to switch out setups of my bikes more frequently than in the past. I may spend a season with it stripped down to almost nothing and then the next load it up with racks, bags, baskets, etc. It's kind of amusing, but I've reached a point that I realize this is just what I do and if it makes things more functional for riding, I see nothing wrong with it.

    Hope you escape the icy temps and roads soon. We've had a brief break locally (quite summer-like really - which is only spoiling me), but I know we're in for more frozen days before spring/summer really take over.

  2. My commute shortened considerably when I changed jobs. I found it short enough to wear my work pants but crumpled shirts in that workplace were not quite right. So instead I took them, carefully folded. My huge and totally waterproof Ortlieb office pannier was too big. The new job was a good excuse to buy a pretty and smaller pannier instead.

    My current job involves a 35km each way commute that is impossible by anything other than car - SIGH.

    1. Big sigh! Have you considered a multimodal commute, driving partway and riding the rest? My husband does this and it works well.

  3. My 30 mile round trip attire is guided by the weather. If its very hot or very wet or cold then I'll wear trashy clothes / cycling attire for the job. But on spring, usual summer and autumn days, I just wear what clothes I'm going to work in. However, my choice of clothing HAS changed since I started cycling - the length and style of dresses and of course the colour of clothes has changed. have certainly developed a certain look that I know works well whichever bike I ride - above knee dresses and skirts, tights & leggings and mostly knee or ankle boots is my staple. I prefer red or orange coats and jackets. Of course, if I'm riding at night, I opt for hi-viz bits & bobs.


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