When I lived in LA I biked to work many, many times and I loved it. It was a quick 5.5 mile ride, in and out of traffic and bike paths, and I could usually get to work in just a little over the amount of time it took me to drive (ah, LA traffic). After I moved to San Francisco, my daily commute changed from 5.5 miles to 14 miles one way - a feat I didn't really think would be possible to accomplish on a daily basis. Thankfully, training for a triathlon makes me rethink the possibilities of my workouts, and combining a workout with a commute has become one of my favorite things to do.
Overcoming The Fear
I have been wanting to start biking to work for the past year and a half since we've moved. However, I was afraid and I honestly don't know why. It was new - a new path, new traffic patterns, new commuting times. The change and fear of trying something new was a little overwhelming so I kept putting it off, until one day I was just done being afraid. Sheryl Sandberg's quote was in the back of my head the entire time and I couldn't push it away any more.
I used to love to bike to work, and I was done with letting the fear stop me from doing something I love. So I told my best biking partner, my husband, that I was ready to finally bike to work again. Being the avid cyclist that he is, he excitedly was ready to help me overcome my fear and to make my first trip fun so I'd want to continue (seriously, how did I get so lucky with this guy?).
Since I had been biking for a while, had a bike, had gear, had clothing, and knew how to bike with traffic, the only thing left to do was pick the route. My 14 mile drive to work involves two highways and a tunnel, something I couldn't bike through. So instead of looking at the drive, we looked at the bike options - and here came in Google Maps. I love Google Maps - I am so thankful for their camera cars, bikes, and walkers because without Google Maps, I would have had a harder time figuring out where I needed to go. My old bike to work route in LA was a few streets and a short bike path - my new bike to work in San Francisco involves several streets, and an amazing long bike path that we discovered.
We decided to try out this new ride on a Saturday when we could take our time and figure out alternate routes if necessary. Luckily, the route Google Maps took us on was awesome. When you're routing your new path using Google Maps, be sure you choose the Bike option - Google will send you down as many bike paths as possible that make sense for your route. Using these routes is usually quicker than riding directly in traffic (less stop lights and stop signs) AND is always safer.
There are only a few things I would suggest getting when deciding to bike to work.
A Rack & Panniers
I biked a few times to work with a backpack and it was incredibly uncomfortable. Carrying a change of clothes, shoes, usually a lunch, and sometimes a laptop got heavy and hot when the weather warmed up. My bike came with a rack on the back so I only had to invest in a pair of panniers, but if your bike doesn't have a rack and you're interested in getting one, take it to your local bike shop or REI and they can recommend which rack would work best for you. This rack from Planet Bike can fit most bikes, but its best to have an expert look at your bike and then recommend one.
I have a pair of panniers from 1999 and they still work GREAT! They aren't waterproof, so I have to be careful on wet days (I can usually just line them with a new garbage bag and pack my things in that), but they still work well. And I always seem to pack them to the brim! REI doesn't make my particular pair of panniers anymore, but these are a good substitute.
There are a TON of pannier choices out there so just look around and find what works best for you. Click here for a link to all of REI's panniers.
You should have lights on your bike if you commute to work or not. If you don't have lights, Planet Bike has a great selection of headlights and taillights. I use these and always set them to blinking when I ride:
While biking to work I've worked at places that do not have locker rooms, and I've worked at places that have full showers, hair dryers, etc. Luckily I now work for a company that has the latter, but when I didn't have access to a shower when arriving at work there are a few things I brought with me to help freshen up for my work day. Burt's Bees carries a full line of facial towelettes that also work for your body. Carrying an extra deodorant is also super handy. I haven't used dry shampoo yet, but I'd assume having a small container of that could help relieve helmet hair.
So don't wait for Bike To Work Week to give your commute a go on your bike. Its a great way to start the day whether you ride for 20 minutes or an hour and 20 minutes. I love being able to commute on my bike and it helps relieve some of that road stress that happens from being in the car day in and day out. Happy Riding!