A Girly Girl’s Guide to Bike Commuting

People are often a bit surprised when I tell them that I’ve taken up the habit of commuting nearly everywhere by bicycle. Their confusion is understandable – I have no history of practicality, athleticism, or being aware of my surroundings. In fact, the reasons that I waited so long to take a stab at cycling in the first place can be boiled down to a.) my reluctance to get whacked by a vehicle, and b.) my aversion to spandex performance wear. If I can manage to make a two-wheel commute work for me, anyone can. Given the fact that I refuse to tweak the rest of my lifestyle and remain slightly spastic and higher maintenance than average, I present to you a few essential tips I’ve pocketed about effective bicycle riding.

Note: This is not me. But I do have brown hair, and a pair of very similar shoes.

Ascribe an irresponsible weight to aesthetics when selecting your bicycle
As I have divulged, my bike is a vintage fixed-gear Schwinn. It is somewhat inconvenient. It will never recognize itself in an energy bar commercial. It is slow and heavy. On the other hand, though, it is bright yellow and has original handle bars and pretty pedals. There is a dainty slope in the metal where the frame meets the wheel. The front is so wide set that it easily accommodates my woven wicker basket. It makes me happy. I am fairly certain that its verifiable prettiness incentivizes me to ride it more.

Do not live in Columbia Heights
I am gravely serious about this one. I recently relocated to Bloomingdale from Columbia Heights, and it was the wisest commuting decision I have made since I actually got the bike. Pedaling up that hill north of Florida Avenue is like taking shots of cheapo vodka sold in plastic bottles – yeah, you can do it. But you never quite get used to it. And each time you go for it, you’re a bit taken aback by how much it sucks. Except that hill is there every day, and I assume that you don’t take shots of that kind of vodka on a daily basis. Hopefully, you’ve graduated to a glass bottle for everyday use. I mean, have some class.

Wear a helmet
I know this is obvious, and I won’t sugarcoat this. You look like a major dork in a bike helmet. So do I. So do all of your friends. Buying one of the pastel printed helmets or one with a sleeker design won’t help much, either. But, there is also no valid reason that I should have survived as many months as I have as a bike commuter. I am clumsy, have a slow reaction time, and the only person on the road more oblivious than I am at any given time is whatever driver happens to be on my left. I have to assume that the universe has been watching my back and letting all of this slide. I am not about to embarrass it and make it look like a fool riding around with my head unprotected. I’ve got to meet it halfway, here.

Have the right accessories
This might be controversial, but it is perfectly acceptable to bike in heels – The pedal locks safely into the slope beneath the arch of your foot, and as long as you are comfortable maneuvering in heels they may well be safer than slippery flats or sandals. This logic does not apply to wedges, so take those off. That said, I often bike in ballet flats and carry my real shoes in my bag with me. Be sure to procure a tote bag with straps long enough to wrap around your whole body, like a messenger bag. Do not buy a real messenger bag. They are stupid-looking. You’re already wearing a helmet – let’s not make things worse.

Don’t bother wearing bike shorts
I only wear pants when I am hungover, lounging at home, or about to embark on some sort of outdoor adventure activity. This leads to a lot of cycling in skirts and dresses. Conventional wisdom states that I ought to wear bike shorts underneath them, in the interest of modesty. SCREW THAT. For one thing, I somewhat resent the implication that it is a lady’s vocation to defend herself against the cloying gaze of perverts. For another, have those disseminating this advice ever considered the actual physical contours involved in cycling? When I’m perched my bike seat, my legs are pointed downward at a fairly steep angle, and my skirt drapes comfortably above them. The eyes of most would-be crotch-gazers are fairly fair off to my side, on either the sidewalk or inside their cars. All they see is the side of my thigh. For a vantage point that would afford even half a chance of snatching an eyeful (pun intended, obviously,) they’d have to be facing me head-on in a crouching position so as to be eye-level with my sensitive parts. This is both farcical and woefully dangerous, which is probably why I have never seen a person actually doing this. Furthermore, wouldn’t the worst case scenario in this instance just be someone seeing my underpants? And aren’t those made of fabric? And aren’t shorts also made of fabric? I fail to see why one provides an advantage over the other. And in the event that it ever does happen, won’t a desperately-won glimpse of my undergarmets last for merely a fraction of a second? Can the human brain even discern between bike shorts and underoos based on such a limited visual intake? Is it my job to care?

These tips ought to prime you for your commute. From there, well, it’s a lot like riding a bike. Happy riding, ladies.

– Natalie

About Natalie Shure

literature, life and latte lady

12 Responses to “A Girly Girl’s Guide to Bike Commuting”

  1. Tsk, Tsk on #2. I thought you served in Peace Corps Eastern Europe.

  2. Why to female crotch grazers get all weirded out when I wear my bike shorts?

  3. I love this.

    I actually thoroughly enjoy biking in heels and a dress/skirt, and you’re right – sometimes the heels work better than the flats.

  4. Fantastic advice!

    And if I could add: Don’t listen to your iPod while biking! You need all your senses to pay attention on DC streets.

  5. I love this post. I just started bike commuting to DC from Alexandria (unenthusiastically at first), and this is super helpful. I highly recommend my Townie – it’s the most comfortable bike I’ve ever tried! I wear skirts all the time too, but mine always seem to blow up above my hips at the first gust of wind, no matter how well I try to tuck them around my legs.

  6. I’m extremely happy to see this post. I live in Nassau, Bahamas. I’m quite sure that I’m the only woman to ever ATTEMPT to cycle to and from work, let alone use a bicycle as my main mode of transportation. And I LOVE it. I wish more people would do it. Do I look like a crazy person to most people (on our horrible, narrow roads)? Why, yes, of course. Do I care? No, not really. I’m not sitting in unmoving traffic or spending $1kabazillion on gas. I’m winning. Those people trapped in their big SUVs? No. All the DVD players in their backseats won’t make them happy in the bumper-to-bumper traffic as the sun bores holes into their flesh. MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!

  7. “I was about half in love with her by the time we sat down. That’s the thing about girls. Every time they do something pretty… you fall half in love with them, and then you never know where the hell you are.” ~ J. D. Salinger

  8. It looks like you are just aiming to cause a traffic accident by not wearing any pants. I’m glad you’re wearing a helmet.

    Side note, why wouldn’t you just throw the shoes in the basket?

  9. I think the most important thing about a bike is whether you like it – if you don’t like it, you won’t ride it. I needed a bike that would fit my lifestyle, and while it’s not quite as aesthetically colourful as yours, it works for me. I have a folding bike, and the flexibility it allows me is a big part of what got me into bike commuting.

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