Getting Along: New Job, New Commute

For three years, I rode the same route, year-round. I knew every crack and pothole. I knew where ice would form in the shady spots. I navigated the most dangerous intersections on my route with aplomb, never startled by bad driver behavior. I collected just the right bags and lights and coats and locks, over a long process of trial and error. I cemented my reputation as a bike commuter among colleagues.

And then I switched jobs.

I traded my 7-mile round-trip zig-zag on residential streets for a 2-mile cruise on a trail that runs directly from home to work. It’s so close, I can walk – and on my first day, when I didn’t know what the bike storage options would be like, I did walk. My new coworkers made it a point to get me a parking assignment, ASAP, and I don’t think they believed me when I said I really won’t use it. I was relieved to find that my new office had all the parking I’d need, and so, on day two:

Brompton parking.

It’s not abnormal for people to show up to my new office on bikes, but when you show up with a folding bike, you’re a special kind of freak. Folding and unfolding is a spectacle you’ll perform on demand, and everyone wants to lift it. (Mine is a surprisingly hefty 27 pounds of British steel.)

The new route may be on a trail, but it has a whole new set of hazards: Is the underpass impassable? If it is, and I leave the trail, which side of the street is safer and less busy? Where are the riskiest driving behaviors taking place? When I get to the building, which door do I go in?

It’s not possible to slip into a building with a bike without eliciting comment. It’s even harder in a new workplace. You quickly learn who, if anyone, believes that a bike in a building is somehow dirtier than people’s shoes. You find those individuals who can’t believe you rode today! – it’s so [hot / cold / windy / rainy / icy]! You’ll find the doom-and-gloomers who look you up and down gravely, shake their heads, and proclaim, “You be safe.” You find fans who can’t believe your hair doesn’t look awful and want all your hair tips. You wait to see who’s the first to comment on your cycling cap or helmet lines.

No, it’s not a forehead wrinkle!

Luckily for me, my new coworkers see enough strange stuff on a daily basis that, three weeks in, the novelty has already worn off. The bike under my desk is an extremely practical office conversation piece. I know how to work the handicap-access door openers to get myself and my bike through the doors. The custodians don’t mind.* I’ve already become the go-to source for driving colleagues’ questions about “why cyclists [do this weird/obnoxious thing].” (I do my best to speak for us all.) And people already think of me when it rains.

Switching jobs helps re-acquaint me with some of the barriers people face when they think about taking up commuting – wondering where to store the bike, trying to figure out which route is best, worrying what others will think or say when you show up with a pant strap or a helmet or a freaky forehead line. The only advice I have is this: Just do it. You will figure it out, bit by bit. Even in the stuffiest of workplaces, people will be more accepting than you expect. (But just know that, like it or not, you’ll become their representative for cyclists as a whole.) If you make riding to work a routine, it will become an easy and enjoyable option. Bike-commute year-round, if you want to. Do it only on days when it’s 65 degrees and sunny. Do it only on Fridays for #fridaybike. However you do it, whenever you do it, it’s all good! Just ride.

And be sure to give yourself time to stop and enjoy the sights.

* Pro tip: Be good to the custodians. They’re doing a thankless job. Really do try not to track in mud, water, etc.! The custodians know all the best hidden nooks and crannies in your building and might even offer you a sweet spot to stash your bike.