Dr. Virago – bicycle commuter?


Maybe not.

So yesterday I didn’t have to teach my Thursday 8 am class (I gave them the day off to break up the intensity) but I did have to go to campus for two meetings with departmental colleagues. So I thought, “Ah, perfect opportunity to try out riding my bike to campus from the new house” (which I’d been meaning to do since we moved in last year). Now, I occasionally rode my bike to campus from the old house, but not nearly as much as I should have. I think I gave up on making that a regular thing because it didn’t really provide *any* fitness benefit — we were only a mile and a quarter away from campus. But now we’re 6 miles away by direct route and 8 miles via the protected bike trail (which is what I took — no way am I ready to ride in traffic).

So yeah, I did a 16-mile round trip yesterday. Yay me! Physically it wasn’t that taxing (although I *really* need a gel seat cover — ouch!) and it was really pleasant to be outside (it was muggy, but in the 70s). But I found out that doing this has its drawbacks and I’m not sure I’m going to become a regular bike commuter, as much as the idea appeals to me on many levels, unless I work out some of the problems here.

First of all, even though I was riding at what I thought was a gentle, easy pace, I arrived a sweaty mess, mainly where my body was making contact with the bike or my backpack. So that means my back was sweaty — and not just a bit of a “glow,” but *dripping* *wet* — as were other areas that I’m sure you can imagine. (Luckily, nothing showed through my clothes — I had on a loose cotton blouse with a really loud print that disguised the sweat on my back, for instance.) OK, so how do bike commuters avoid this? Do they bike in one set of clothes and towel off and change at work? I know they don’t all do this — I remember seeing tons of Londoners and Parisians biking in their work clothes. (Btw, the scenes of crowds of Londoners and Parisians biking everywhere is part of what appeals to me about being a bike commuter. I’m such a Europhile that I’ll take any opportunity to pretend to be European. Shoot, I get excited because our Bosch dishwasher with its little pods of detergent make me feel European!) Anyway, unless I can solve the sweat problem, this isn’t going to happen.

The other problem is that I’m not sure this is a time-efficient way to commute and/or exercise, and I can burn equal amounts of calories with shorter runs. (Though it *is* a fossil-fuel-efficient way — another reason why it appeals to me.) According to various calculators on the intertubes, I probably burned about 340 calories on each leg, and the trip each way took me 50 minutes door to door. I burn the same amount of calories in an easy 30 minute run (so 60 minutes would give me the equivalent of the round-trip bike ride). Of course, running doesn’t get me to my destination, but it takes up less of my day than an hour and forty minutes of round-trip biking. Meanwhile, my *driving* commute is only about 20 minutes door-to-door. So it all kind of breaks even in terms of time spent in the abstract, if you combine everything: 40 minutes of driving + 60 minutes of running vs. 100 minutes of bike-commuting, both burning about 680 calories. But I don’t normally run 60 minutes on a day I’m going to campus (I usually squeeze in 30 on weekdays when I run), so in reality, by biking I’d be spending *more* time on those days.

Of course, in reality, if I’m going to do this, it will only be on Tuesdays after my 8-week class ends, because there’s no way I’m going to be out there biking to work on days I have to teach an 8 am class. So maybe I can afford the extra half hour of combined exercise and commute each week.

But that still leaves the sweaty mess issue. I can bungee-cord my backpack to the rack I have on the back of my bike, but what about the rest of me? Is carrying a change of clothes (and a towel) the only option? Is it me – am I exceptionally sweaty? Or does it get less sweaty in cooler, less muggy weather? What would a Parisian do??

8 thoughts on “Dr. Virago – bicycle commuter?

  1. A friend who teaches in Portland bikes to school a few days a week, and she showers at school. Not sure if she keeps a complete wardrobe in her office, brings clothes with, or what, though.

  2. My husband commuted by bike for years and years. He at least changed when he got to school if showering wasn’t an option. He just brought clothes with and stop into the university gym if possible.

  3. I think some of it’s the weather. When I studied in England during college, the program rented us all bikes, and that was how we got around (unless it was pouring and we took the bus). I am almost morbidly concerned with showing up places sweaty, and I don’t remember it ever being an issue there.

    Now that I’ve said that, though, it might be a combo of weather and distance. We lived a mile and a half out of college, so biking wasn’t really a fitness thing, it was purely transportation. I bet most Londoners and Parisians who commute by bike travel a similar distance, not 8 miles each way. I wonder if the issue is that if the distance is far enough to be remotely fitness-like, it’s going to involve sweat?

    Also, a lot of people I know who do this do bring changes of clothes, even if they don’t necessarily shower at work. Some pack them in and out every day, some bring in stuff on a day that they drive so it’s waiting when they get to work. (In the city I just moved from, a lot of people commuted in proper cycling gear and brought their work wear with them.)

    I’ll admit that if it requires finagling outfits and showers and so on, I think it’s a lot easier for men to pull it off than women.

  4. Hm, yes, weather and distance might have something to do with it (I didn’t sweat on those 1.25 mile rides from the old house). I will have to try again when it is cooler and see if that makes a difference. Also, the days I’m planning to do it would be days I wouldn’t be teaching — only holding office hours and going to meetings with other faculty (no admins) — so I could be more casually dressed, making shoving some jeans and a top/sweater into my backpack easier.

    Showering on campus would be a hassle for me, as a) the gym is on the other side of campus from my office and b) I am just too high maintenance, even though, to look at me, you wouldn’t think so. Culry hair, man, takes an accoutrement of products.

    Which brings me to New Kid’s point — yeah, it’s a lot easier for men and women of a certain au naturale, hippie, or J. Crew/Athleta style. And that is not me.

  5. I’ve biked to work every day for years. Granted, it’s a shorter commute (4 miles each way), but there’s a hill, and so I’m with you on the “sweaty & gross” thing (I’m one of those women who sweats like a Mediterranean man… and my face turns a lovely shade of magenta in the bargain). And there aren’t good showering facilities (and adding the prospect of showering at work is a disincentive).

    So, here is what has worked for me (YMMV)
    1. I keep my professional pants and skirts and dress shoes in my office; I pack my shirts with me.
    2. I start off *cold.* Or at least cool. Being chilly at the edge of discomfort for the first third of my ride translates into comfortable for the middle third and just beginning to edge into “too warm” for the last third.
    3. I don’t ride with wet hair. Smooshed under a helmet it actually raises my body temperature.
    4. [tip for women only, especially ones with a bit extra up top]: if it’s really warm, I wear a different bra for my commute and change that, or deploy kleenex strategically. You know what I’m talking about.
    5. I try to arrive with an extra 15 minutes so I can cool off. On days when I really overheat, a blue gel pack in the department freezer pressed against your neck for a few minutes does wonders.

    And finally: I ALWAYS wear a helmet, even though it raises my body temperature. Better to arrive sweaty than not at all.


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