Tips for the First Time Commuter

I recently blogged about my first time commuting to work via skateboard.  You can read that entry here.  I wanted to ride my skateboard to work for a long time, but always managed to talk myself out of it.  I was too nervous, afraid, and even too embarrassed to try.  Once I finally did it, I enjoyed it so much that I couldn’t wait to do it again.  I have ridden my bicycle to work many times, but that was also a bit intimidating the first time I did so.  Here are a few tips for those first timers wanting to commute via alternative methods.  Hope they help!

Don’t psych yourself out!

Every apprehension that kept me from doing this sooner was unnecessary.  The ride was safe, smooth and relaxing.  No one laughed at me or looked at me funny.  I actually got a few compliments and waves from passers by.  My only regret is that I didn’t get out there and do it sooner.

Dress appropriately (comfortably), and bring a change of clothes.

The first few times that I rode my bicycle to work I quickly learned the importance of dressing appropriately and comfortably.  In the summer, and even spring and fall, it can get warm, sweaty, and sticky.  While skating to work, I wore a loose, cool tshirt and some light soccer shorts.  It was close to 90 degrees and I was sweating, but not overheating, and most importantly I was comfortable.  I made the mistake of wearing those cute little no-show socks with my Vans, which rubbed and gave me blisters.  When riding my bike, I find jeans to be too hot and restrictive.   Jeans have a reputation for wearing out in the most unfortunate locations when cycling, and they also stained my bike’s white seat.

Bring your headphones, but don’t crank them up too loud.

During the ride I wore my headphones while listening to the new Florence + the Machine album (which is amazing, by the way).  The music drowned out the noise of the city and made the ride that much more enjoyable.  Don’t crank your music too loud, though.  You want to be aware of your surroundings for your own safety and others’.  If you are blaring your headphones you may not notice other commuters approaching you from your rear.  It also makes you a much easier target for bad guys, and may distract you from hazards such as debris or turning traffic.  I also missed a few conversations with passers by, which could be a good or a bad thing.

Bring a change of clothes.

Since my skateboard trip was on a Sunday, and I knew that the office would likely be empty, I didn’t worry about a change of clothes.  I wish I had, because I was gross.  Usually, I pack a change of clothes and some items to help me freshen up when I get to work.  When I ride my bike to work I am almost always sweaty, even on nice days.  For that reason, I keep a few toiletries in my backpack including: a small backpacking towel, moist wipes, deodorant, a hair brush, and talc powder.  When I get the office, I grab a few paper towels and wet them.  I go into the largest stall and undress, using the wet paper towels (or moist wipes) to both cool myself down and wipe off any sweat.  I then use my towel to pat myself dry before I change clothes.  I either keep a change of clothes, pre-sprayed with perfume, in my backpack or in my office.  It’s important to include new undergarments, as well.  I usually wear a light cotton sports bra during the ride, and swap it out when I change.  If you are able to, and don’t mind planning ahead a little, it is much more convenient (and less wrinkly) to keep an outfit or two hanging up at work. You can roll your clothes carefully, and somewhat loosely, to minimize wrinkles if you carry them in your backpack.  Try to leave your commuter clothes loosely stored in your unzipped backpack, or behind an office door, if you can, to allow the clothes to dry out a bit so that your backpack doesn’t forever smell like a gym bag.

Plan ahead and leave early.

I don’t think that you need to plan your exact route, as having options and changing it up a little is always nice, but I do recommend that you at least have some familiarity with the route you are taking and the neighborhoods you will be going through.  I know that my route has some cobblestones streets that I needed to avoid, and that bikes and skateboards aren’t permitted in some areas (lame).  I know where the bike paths were downtown, and which streets have curbs instead of ramps.  My commute was a very casual, leisurely pace, and I stopped several times for pictures, a drink, and to change up my music, yet somehow, it was not much longer than my commute would have been in normal weekday road traffic.  You should give yourself some extra time the first time you commute in, so that you can gauge how much time you need at a comfortable pace.  You should also add an extra 20 minutes or so in there for freshening up once you get to work.

Don’t forget the necessities.

Make sure you bring plenty of water, for both the initial and return trip.  I filled my water bottle with cold water for each leg of the trip, and drank quite a bit of water at work.  I also recommend buying or making a small first aid kit and keeping it in your commuter bag.  I bought a small first aid kit from REI that had some gauze, band-aids, moleskin, small scissors, and basic medications.  I could have easily made it myself, but it was cheap, and I liked the bright red reflective bag that it came in.  Within the first 20 minutes of my skateboard trip I realized that my shoes were giving me blisters on my heel.  I stopped for a drink and put some moleskin on.  If I didn’t have the moleskin on hand I am not sure what I would have done, as it was pretty uncomfortable to walk or skate, and I was far enough from my car AND work to not be able to limp along.   As soccer mom-ish as it sounds, I would also pack and wear some sunscreen.  My commute is almost an hour each way in the bright summer sun, which can leave you with a nasty sunburn or some wicked raccoon eyes.  If you are commuting via bicycle, make sure you have a spare tube, patch kit, bike tool, tire levers, and some form of a pump with you.  You can make sure yourself a compact kit that would fit under your bike seat for around $50, and it would be well worth it.  Nothing sucks more than walking home several miles with a flat tire.  You should also get yourself a good bike lock, if you don’t already have one.  I use a Kryptonite U Lock with an extra cable that I loop through my rear wheel and through the U Lock.

Enjoy the ride.

Most importantly, enjoy this time you have to yourself.  You’re out there, being active, enjoying the world, and helping the environment, too.  Take advantage of these few minutes that you have to yourself to empty your mind and relax.  Pat yourself on the back for getting out there and doing it.  You’re awesome!




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