More and more New Yorkers are using their bicycles as their main form of transportation, commuting back and forth to work and running their errands by bike. With service cuts to subway and bus lines as well as intensive repairs that knock entire corridors of the subway out at night or on weekends, bikes make a reliable (and often quicker!) alternative to public transit. But cycling to work can require some adjustment. We’ll be answering some frequently asked questions and sharing some of our favorite tips and products through the week to help ease the way for those making the transition.

Mechanic Joe with his commuter bicycle, crescent-fresh and modeling his favorite commuting wear. You can wear your everyday clothes on your everyday rides without showing up looking like you’ve ridden a century on your way to work.

I’d like to start commuting by bicycle to work, but I’ve never ridden in Manhattan before. I’m a little nervous about what to expect.

Traffic in Manhattan is no joke! There are tens of thousands of motor vehicles on the streets on any given day, especially during the morning and evening rush hours when bicycle commuters are likely to be on the streets. New Yorkers are not exactly known for being patient, and perhaps they’re at their crankiest in the constant stop-and-go of city driving. It can understandably be intimidating, especially for a new rider.

If you don’t really have much experience with urban riding, it’s OK to take it slowly. Make sure you know the rules of the road and how to properly use hand signals. Plot a bicycle-friendly route to work in advance using Ride the City or Google Maps’ bike directions option. Before your first bike commuting day, you may want to take a couple of weekend or evening trips along the route to get a sense of how long your commute will take you. It’s always good to give yourself an extra 10 or 15 minute cushion to make sure that any road closures or traffic don’t make you late for work.

The New York City Bike Map is an invaluable resource for commuters, as it’s highly portable, shows a complete map of the 5 boroughs, and has all bike lanes mapped. Keep an extra one in your backpack or pocket, and even if you have to change up your route, you’ll still get to your destination safely.

Where should I park my bicycle?

Check with your building’s management to see if they have secure bicycle parking. Some buildings close their garages and freight entrances early, so you may have to adjust your schedule or park outside if you’re working late to avoid having your bike locked up for the night.

If your building does not have safe bicycle parking, you’ll want to invest in a heavy-duty, New-York worthy lock. Bicycle Roots recommends any Kryptonite U-Lock (in various sizes from $59.99) or the Abus Bordo Granite X-Plus lock ($169.99) for compact, easy-to-carry, nearly-impossible-to-destroy bike protection.

The Abus Bordo Granit X-Plus doing what it does best…. keeping your bike exactly where you left it.

In general, if you have to park your bike on the street, you’ll want to make sure it’s highly visible (a high density of foot traffic will discourage a thief from messing with your bicycle). If possible, park it on a rack or a secure pole (no construction scaffolding or fences!), and make sure that your wheels are safely secured either with pinhead skewers or a heavy-duty cable. We have a few more tips on safely locking your bike and other security measures you might want to consider if you keep your bike outside on a regular basis.

What should I wear to commute by bicycle?

If you work in a bike shop, it may be socially acceptable to wear your sweat-drenched padded-chamois cycling shorts, jersey, and cycling shoes everyday. For everyone else, there are a few things to keep in mind: Justas everybody has their own personal style, everyone has their own biking style. It really depends on what you feel comfortable wearing, how you ride, and the dress code at your job.

If you’ve got a short and easy commute and your job is fairly casual, your regular clothes should suffice. In general, clothes that are cut closer to the body are better for riding. Wearing a long, flowing skirt or wide-legged pants increases the chances that your clothing will get caught in the wheels or drivetrain or that you’ll show up at work with chain grease on your work clothes. You may want to pack a change of clothes when it rains, to ensure you’re dry and presentable on the job even in inclement weather.

If you have a longer commute, or your work environment is a little more conservative, you may want to consider changing at work. Wear whatever is comfortable to ride in on the way in, but try and get to work a bit early to change out of your riding clothes. Keep an extra blazer or sweater and a professional pair of shoes in the office to minimize what you have to carry each morning. You’ll be able to throw the blazer on top of what you’re wearing, change your shoes, and look instantly polished.

It might be an investment, but if you work in a very conservative office, you might want to consider buying a portable clothing steamer, which can be found for $30 and up in department and home-goods stores. Even if you get a little wrinkled on the way in, the steamer will get you looking crisp and professional in a matter of minutes.

Can I ride in a skirt?

Sure! In general, skirts that are knee-length or shorter and cut fairly close to the body are better for riding. Long or flowy skirts may get dirty more easily or caught on your bike as you ride. If you want to wear a long skirt, you may consider tying a knot at your knees to safely gather excess fabric.

Some women prefer to wear bicycle shorts underneath their skirts for practical reasons. It’s not necessary, but it does minimize the chance of wardrobe malfunctions. That being said, there are no specific “do’s” and “don’ts” when it comes to bike style. Just make sure you’re comfortable and safe, and everything else is secondary.

There are a few clothing designers who have started to produce fashionable cycling clothing for women. Often, they’re made from fabrics that will wick sweat to keep you dry and cool and stand up to frequent washings but are still fashion-forward. Nona Varnado  designs and manufactures one of our favorite lines of cute clothes that are as comfy and fashionable on the bike as they are off. We’re also a big fan of Vespertine’s cool reflective safety gear (in stock now at Bicycle Roots!)—you won’t look like an MTA track worker or other construction personnel when wearing one of their flatteringly-cut reflective vests.

I ride to work, but I arrive all sweaty and gross.

Commuting isn’t a race—unless you’re already running late. Riding for transit is different than riding for athleticism. You may prefer to keep an easy pace (10mph or less) to avoid getting too disheveled or sweaty on your way in to work. Wear layers, especially on cooler days, so you can remove outer layers as your body begins to warm up.

Over the years, we’ve found that baby wipes soaked in astringent work wonders. The editor recommends taking a handful of wipes, putting them in a plastic bag, and dousing them with a few squirts of a gentle facial astringent. When you get to your destination on a hot and sweaty day, you can easily wipe away the residue of sweat and grime, and the alcohol in the astringent will kill the bacteria in your sweat and skin that can be a little, shall we say, fragrant. You’ll also probably want to keep extra deodorant, face wipes or face wash, and perhaps a comb at work to help you freshen up.

That’s all for our first installment of the Bicycle Roots commuter survival guide! Part two is scheduled for Wednesday, and it’s all about surviving the mean streets of New York. You’ll learn how to avoid common accidents, what to do if you are involved in an incident, as well as the 5 things every commuter needs to have on them at all times.

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