May 13th through May 17th is National Bike to Work Week, an opportunity to celebrate the power of the bicycle and the many benefits it provides. Bike commuting saves money, preserves our health and the health of the environment. Best of all, it allows me to fund my passion: shoes*
Bicycling Magazine ranked Minneapolis as the #2 bike city in the country. The US Census Bureau ranked us as the #4 bicycling city in the nation. Minneapolis has 92 miles (and counting) of on-street bikeways and 85 miles (and counting) of off-street bikeways. The city has also been awarded with the League of American Bicyclists’ Bicycle Friendly Community Award. We’re home to Nice Ride Minnesota, the Bike Walk Ambassadors, and the Midtown Bike Center.
If that alone doesn’t peak your curiousity, maybe the gear below will help you determine which vehicle gets to collect dust in the garage: the bike or the car.
I can’t even say the word “spandex”. I can only type it. Even then, I break out in a rash. Cycling skirts, knickers, capris, long shorts and Merino wool is the new Lycra. They breathe, they wick moisture, they keep you cool — and you won’t get ribbed about your Tour de France race time.
That’s why I love the SkirtSports Cruiser Bike Girl skirt (MSRP $85), Cruisin’ Tights (MSRP $120) and the Vogue Knickers (MSRP $110).
If you like the look of something radical, funky and unique, check out anything from Colorado-based Shredly (MSRP $80 – $95). Though designed for mountain biking, I like them for commuting (too) because the inseam length (10.5 inches) provides great coverage and looks cool. They’re the perfect short and they’re Made in the U.S.A.
For chilly mornings, the Icebreaker Gust (MSRP $249), a 3-in-1 jacket (cold/wind/rain) soft-shell jacket, is designed for elements of spring and fall: Cold, wind, rain.
The Dakine Women’s Shield jacket (MSRP $125) is the jacket to wear when Minnesota spring weather surprises you (and not in a good way). The Shield jacket has a helmet-compatible cinch hood, vented back panel and pit zips for ventilation and articulated sleeves. If it rains, the 2.5-layer nylon dobby, 5,000mm waterproof / 5,000mm breathable membrane will keep you warm and dry.
When it’s just not warm enough to bare your arms on the afternoon commutes home, the Dakine Static jersey (MSRP $45) is a classy jersey for those in-between days of spring. The 220g 100 percent quick-dry polyester with Microban® antimicrobial technology construction will keep you warm, cool and dry.
However, bike clothing can be pretty pricey. If you’re on a budget, investing in one good padded chamois, However, bike clothing can be pretty pricey. If you’re on a budget, investing in one good padded chamois (such as the Novara Padded Cycle Boxers MSRP $26.50) that you can wear under any pair of shorts, and a synthetic top that wicks moisture, will be just as effective.
You have to carry your clothes and grooming essentials so the pack you choose has to be comfortable, it has to be functional and it has to be big enough to hold your clothes and grooming essentials without bogging you down.
For packs, I love and recommend the Osprey Momentum (MSRP $129 – $149). This is an Osprey product so there’s no question on its comfort or functionality. It has an integrated rain jacket (for the pack, not you), a helmet clip and soft zippered pocket on the shoulder strap to make reaching for your Smartphone while riding super easy.
KEEN also debuted a nice daypack this year, the KEEN Ellwood (MSRP $125): This new 35-liter daypack from KEEN has five internal organizer pockets and a dedicated iPad sleeve. Wishbone strap technology distributes load weight across the shoulders and the KEEN TopoFoam features multi-directional perforated channels to increase air flow and ventilation.
If your bike has a rack, I like the Timbuk2 Tandem Panniers (MSRP $129). I use these on my Civia Hyland for both commuting to work and shopping runs. Super durable, waterproof and they have a handy carry strap.
If you’re the messenger-bag carrying type, the Especial Messenger (MSRP $199) from Timbuk2 has a customizable, ambidextrous shoulder strap that lets you switch carrying sides and angles. The Especial Medio (MSRP $179) is a midsize pack that’s perfect for daily use or bike commuting. A waterproof laptop pocket holds laptops up to 15 inches and a large expandable pocket holds a helmet, jacket or other awkward items.
If you’re the messenger-bag carrying type who takes ethical souring seriously, the Ethnotek Acaat Messenger (MSRP $149 printed; $159 woven; $189 embroidered) has a padded laptop compartment to fit a 13-15 inch MacBook Pro and most 13-15-inch PCs. If you’re the backpack-carrying type who takes ethical sourcing seriously, check out the Raja (MSRP $149 nylon; $169 printed; $189 woven; $229 embroidered/limited edition).
KEEN Presidio pedal shoes (MSRP $120) will take you through all the seasons in just about all weather conditions. In the summer, I like the KEEN Commuter II’s (MSRP $110). What’s nice about these is that they look like the popular H2 sandal, but that’s where the similarity ends. They’re stiff and sturdy and comfortable and airy.
But if you have flat pedals, any sneaker or urban sandal works, too.
Jim Throneburg, the inventor of Thorlos socks says, “The foot is on its own journey. It’s in a constant state of evolution affected by the natural aging process and the miles accumulated on the adventure known as life.” Your sock is the sole barrier between your foot and shoe and it’s the quality of the sock that largely determines if your day is going to suck or be sensational.
Your feet have 60 joints, 200 ligaments and 35 muscles. It makes sense to protect them with a quality sock.
Darn Tough Vermont makes the best socks I’ve ever worn and they make them right here in the U.S.A. They have a sock for any type of riding you do and any season. Likewise, Fits Socks, also U.S.-made, makes a very high-quality, great-fitting cycling sock with a cushioned bottom and vented upper for reduced bulk. Price-wise, Fits is more friendly; but Darn Tough Vermont has a lifetime warranty.
Lights & Visibility
Lights are a must because car drivers are blind. Throw in some darkness, a rainstorm, a sunrise or sunset and the chances of a newspaper headline increase. I like the Light & Motion Taz 800 (MSRP $249). It has five settings. At its highest, it shines at the full 800 lumens. At its lowest, it flashes at 200 lumens.
Considering that a car’s light is about 700 lumens (give or take a few lumens), I can detach a driver’s retina if I set the Taz at the full 800 lumens. For the record, I don’t do this. When commuting to work, I use the flashing 200 lumens setting out of courtesy to cars and to give myself extra visibility.
Another way to really make your bike visible to cars is by sticking a few packs of RydeSafe (MSRP $9.50 – $16.00) reflective decals on your bike on your bike. When car lights hit it, your bike illuminates like a Tron bike. It also looks way cool.
Brains are relatively hard to regenerate or replace so protect yours with a good helmet. If you scrimp or cut corners on any piect of gear, fine, but don’t scrimp or cut corners on the helmet. This is not to say you need a $200 helmet–you don’t–but if you get one in the $80-$120 range, you’re sure to have good protection to the back of the head as well. I wear a Giro Hex because I can ratchet it to get the best fit for my head and it gives me good coverage in back.
*If I drove my Subaru Outback (at 21 mpg) every day, it would cost me $55/week in gas. Since I ride everyday, and use the Subie only when I need to drive longer distances or haul kitty litter and laundry detergent, I only have to fill it once/month. Bike commuting nets me $215/month for the shoe fund.