The Logistics Of Bike Commuting

I got an email from a fellow named Eduardo who’s recently and awesomely gotten back on the bike saddle for his work commutes and… well here, let me let him tell you:

I’ve been reading your blog and other entries on group blogs and have enjoyed your take on various aspect of cycling in Los Angeles. I recently resumed bicycle commuting to work, the last time I did this regularly was during the MTA bus strike since I typically use the Red Line to get to work. I was wondering if sometime you could blog about your set-up for bicycle commuting since you have been at it for quite a while now. How do you carry stuff between work and home, do you have to change clothes at work, etc? That may be boring to write about but I just thought I would ask since I have been getting tired of having a sweaty back and heavy backback on my daily commute (I bring my lunch and water) and my rear is getting used to being a bit saddle sore. The MTA strike lasted long enough that I did finally get the legs and butt adjusted to the daily roundtrip ride. Anyhow, I’m interested in the details of your daily trek and if you wouldn’t mind sharing that sometime it would be appreciated.

Absolutely Eduardo! Even as a regular commuter It’s easy to for me to forget all the planning that goes into a bike commute. For example, few people realize that office-bound bike commuters change clothes at least four times a day: At the beginning of the day into their bike clothes, then into their work clothes, and at the end of the day out of their work clothes and back into their bike clothes. That alone can be a bit of a logistical dilemma for those of us on two wheels but without the keys to any executive washrooms.

Certainly there’s a fair percentage of cyclists who don’t get too concerned with all the minutae involved, but I’m one who operates as over-prepared as possible. So let’s take a look at what I keep at work, what I carry in my backpack, and what I carry on my bike.

At work: Basically all that I keep at the office is a pair of black work shoes, a towel and some toiletries. Since the dress code where I work is “business casual,” my commutes don’t have to get loaded down with jackets and ties. Slacks and a button-up shirt are all I need to worry about bringing with me and I don’t fret if any wrinkles develop in transit. If my office had a stricter lean toward business attire I’d leave a sportcoat that could be worn with black or khaki slacks and bring a tie in with me. The black belt I wear on the bike I transfer to my work pants when I change after cooling off later that morning.

On my back: I’ve yet to convert to a messenger bag, or even something more dedicated like a rack and panniers, but I have to admit I’ve been considering one or both options. My commutes to date have been with a good old daypack and while I’m not so bothered by how sweaty I get on the ride home, there are times I roll into work with a soaked back and shoulders from the pack and its straps and it’s a tad embarrassing. But the fact is it’s just unavoidable with a 15-mile commute done in about an hour. But it could be alleviated with another cargo choice that could leave me not creating a sauna between my back and the pack.

But until I go in a different luggage direction, in the largest section of my pack goes:

  • slacks and button-up shirt
  • maybe a spare pair of socks
  • newspaper
  • book or magazines (occasionally)
  • food for breakfast and lunch (a yogurt, diet soft drink, Luna bar, banana, and frozen entree)
  • windbreaker (in case there’s any chance of inclement weather

In the remaining various outer pockets of my backpack I carry:

  • wallet
  • cellphone
  • cable lock
  • bike multi-tool
  • regular sunglasses
  • outgoing personal mail/documents
  • first aid pouch with various bandages antiseptic wipes and antibiotic ointment
  • packet of wet-wipes
  • keys
  • pen
  • business cards
  • 5/16″ hex wrench (in case the crank bolts need tightening)
  • spare spokes
  • MTA bus/rail tokens
  • spare camera batteries
  • spare camera memory card
  • mini camera tripod
  • lip balm
  • equipment chargers (occasionally)

In my saddle pack you’ll find:

  • two spare innertubes
  • patch kit
  • spoke wrench
  • pedal wrench
  • adjustable wrench
  • spare chain masterlink
  • spare crankbolt
  • spare chainring bolt
  • 15mm wrench for wheel bolts
  • tire levers
  • electrical tape
  • Swiss Army knife
  • $5

On my person I bear:

  • helmet
  • camera in case on belt
  • gloves
  • headband
  • biking glasses
  • iPod and earphones (occasionally)
  • bandana

Mounted on the bike is:

  • Water bottle
  • tire pump
  • pepper spray
  • headlights
  • tail light
  • bell
  • GPS device (occasionally)
  • my good luck mojo (in this case a plastic skull mounted above the front brake; every bike should have a mojo)

That list may be considered excessively over-preprared to some (spare spokes?) but I’m the type of rider that takes comfort in operating from a “better to have it and not need it” approach. I hope this info is helpful Eduardo and thanks for reading and writing!