So you’ve decided to change it up and start commuting to work by bike. Great! In Part I of my Bike Commuting 101 Series, I discussed how to get started on commuting by bike to work; what types of bikes to consider as well as basic gear like helmets, lights, and panniers. Here in Part II, we’ll talk about where you’re riding and what type of bike you’re riding, and a few tips and tricks for handling commuting by bike, in hot or cold weather.

Can I wear my “normal” clothes when I commute by bike?

The whole question of what to wear comes down to the type of bike you’re riding, and the kind of bike commute you have. Many of us have a short (think 4-8 miles) commute, and it’s probably on city streets, maybe some bike lanes, perhaps even some bike paths. For that kind of commute, you can ride a more upright bike with flat pedals, fenders, chain guards etc., meaning that you can certainly wear more everyday clothes when you ride to work. Then there are those of you who have a longer commute and see your daily ride as a workout. In that case, you’ll probably be riding a hybrid or road bike, you may have clipless pedals or toe-clips, and will probably be wearing something made of Lycra® spandex, and have a change of clothes in your panniers. Either style works. It just depends how you want to ride.

Bike Riding Cowboy Boots

If you’re part of the city-bike crowd, then ride in your work clothes. Some folks swap out their shoes, or save the jacket or sweater for the office in warmer weather, but still ride in the same clothes they’ll walk into the office wearing, keeping in mind some basic tips:

  • You will always sweat – some days more than others.
  • Pack some body/baby wipes for a quick touch up, and you’re good to go.
  • Allow yourself time to cool down before you run into your first morning meeting.
  • Most shoes work fine with flat pedals, but the stiffer the sole the easier it is to ride.
  • Boots and heels are fine to ride in, but you don’t always get as much control or power.
  • Tuck your tie into your shirt – it keeps it from blowing around.

For women: try bike or yoga shorts under shorter dresses or skirts, or dresses/skirts that are made of very lightweight, billowy material. I have some skirts that are great to ride in, and others that I’ll grab an old pair of bike shorts to wear underneath, then remove when I get to work.

What if there are no showers at my office?

This is a question that seems to come up often. I’m all about smelling good, but really, a little sweat never hurt anyone. Longer ride but no showers? Take a shower before you leave, don’t forget the deodorant, pack a change of clothes, pack some body wipes, allow yourself some time to cool down, and you’re good to go. Keep in mind that you don’t ‘have’ to shower just because you rode your bike to work. If you take public transportation, you probably do some walking, and if you’re walking to work, my guess is you get sweaty some days, and it’s not the end of the world. In Chicago, a lot of people ride 4-8 miles to work every morning. They may ride a slower bike, but they don’t change clothes; they just take a shower before they leave the house. They allow time to cool off, maybe wipe down a bit with body wipes, and that’s about it. And these are not all 20-somethings with “creative” jobs either. If you’ve got client meetings, or don’t want to stuff your suit into a pannier, consider riding only a few days a week, or even bringing your clothes for the week on one day, and ride on the others. In a previous job where there were no showers, but was a 12 mile commute through the city and a couple of forest preserves, I chose certain days to ride. On those days, I showered before I left, rode in bike-friendly shorts or tights, cleaned up and changed clothes in the bathroom.

Hot Weather Riding

Leather Bike Grips

I do have access to showers at the Millennium Park Bike Station which I’ve taken advantage of on a few really hot and humid summer days. Otherwise, I wipe down with some body wipes, and allow time to cool off. I don’t commute in summer sandals, so I’ll carry those and ride in something else that covers my toes. And as it gets warmer, if I’m wearing pants or a skirt, I might commute wearing a different shirt and change at the bike station. I don’t wear jackets much until it really starts getting cooler. One other tip for hot weather riding – consider gloves or good grips. I used to wear gloves on my hybrid, not only to relieve wrist pain, but also to absorb sweat in the summer time. On my upright bike, I switched out my grips with leather ones because they absorb the sweat better than the hard plastic grips my bike came with.

Cold Weather Riding

The key to cold-weather riding is layers. Whether you’re riding slow or fast, you’re going to get your core warmed up, so you don’t want to pile on a heavy outer coat that you can’t remove.

Most people swear by lightweight, thin wool layers, as wool breathes better than cotton. You want inner layers that don’t leave you soaking wet and cold so avoid cotton clothing. Most important is to always keep your toes and feet warm. I ride in whatever winter boots or shoes I have. I had a pair of non-stylish, lug-sole boots for about 5 years that kept my feet super-warm, and were easy to ride in. If you are using a bike with clips, you may want to get a bike overshoe like Pearl Izumi ELITE Barrier Road Cycling Shoe Cover. Warm boots, layers, good use of tights or leggings generally keep me very comfortable in the cold and snow of Chicago. As for my hands, I wear two layers of gloves in really cold weather; an inner layer of a lightweight glove, either bike/tech or cheapo knit glove, and an outer water-proof, wind-proof layer. This is one place to spend some money if you plan to ride all winter. I bought some split-finger ‘lobster-claw’-style gloves two years ago, and they have worked very well. For more tips, you might want to check out one of my most popular posts, which is about cold-weather biking gear.

That’s about it. There were a lot of great comments on my last post, so I’m eager to hear what you wear in warm weather and cold, when you commute by bike to work. Leave your favorite biking gear (warm weather and cold weather) in the comments below.

Samantha Arnold

– Cycling for over 20 years
– Commuting by Bike in downtown Chicago for 10 years
– Writes about city bike commuting, Dutch bikes & adaptive cycling for special needs kids