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Commuting Bicycle commuting is easier than you think, before you know it, you'll be hooked. Learn the tips, hints, equipment, safety requirements for safely riding your bike to work.

Commute Curious

Old 09-26-16, 02:20 PM
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Pugs
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Commute Curious

Hi all,

I'm seriously considering commuting via bicycle. I have to drive about an hour every day, and I recently noticed that there is a 15 mile bike trail that runs right from my house to my work. I always knew the trail was there, but I never thought it would be bikeable. I think I could definitely do 30 miles a day, at least two or three days a week.

I'm pretty excited about the idea of riding my bike to work on some beautiful trails. I'm more excited to beat the traffic. I know biking will take quite a bit longer, but I would much rather be doing something I enjoy than something that brings me stress all the time.

There are two things giving me pause. The first is sweat! I sweat a lot, even when I'm not doing anything. And I know after biking for 15 miles, I'll be a sweaty mess. How do you deal with the sweat when you bike? Do you just take a towel and a change of clothes? Do you take a shower when you get to work? Do you just not care?

On the other hand, my second concern is cold. I live in the Chicago area, and the snow will start to fall soon. I know there are people that still commute via bike during the winter, but I don't think I'm quite ready for that. Do you commute during the winter? Do you only bike to work half the year?
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Old 09-26-16, 02:38 PM
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Baby wipes are nice to freshen up after a ride. On my morning commute I leave early and ride slow so I don't break a sweat unless it's unusually warm in the morning. After work I ride fast because I will need a shower anyway.

Winter riding? Not for me. I ride if it's above freezing and no snow on the ground. Riding in winter would be your decision.

Try your commute on a day off to check out the route and get a feel for the ride. Good luck!
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Old 09-26-16, 02:47 PM
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Go for it. One or two days a week at first and learn as you go. Just do a test run on your day off so you'll know what to expect the first time.

Wipe down or towel and change shirts when you get there, or shower if you have one. Keep a spare set of clothes at work, just in case.

For winter in your climate, you'll have to work out your own methods and preferences. There are several different approaches.
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Old 09-26-16, 02:52 PM
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Excellent idea. That's great about a path the whole way. I commute about a third of that distance, but do it nearly every day. I'm about 300 miles to the south/south-west of you in STL, so our winters are not quite the same as yours, but I do commute year-round as long as there is no significant snow on the main roads. There are definitely those who commute with studded tires, I'm just not one of them. Best advice is to start now, and keep going as it gets colder. That way, every day you just add one piece of clothing for warmth as you go along. I use a wicking base layer, then sweatshirt/pants, and nylon outer layer. Double socks on the coldest days. Balaclava and stocking cap. Insulated leather work gloves and knit wool gloves. I think you get the idea that layering is good. That has me down to well into single digits F raw temp, or neg single digits wind chill.

As far as what to do when you get to work, we have a shower and locker room on site at my work, so really I have that solved for me. However, I agree with Johnny that as long as you ride at a reasonable pace and cool down for 10-15 minutes before getting dressed in work clothes, you should be fine.
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Old 09-26-16, 02:54 PM
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Originally Posted by Johnny Mullet View Post
ride slow
I second that, although I would say "ride pleasant". Same for winter commuting. The hardest part in winter is not to overheat/sweat while riding.

Winter riding is a lot of fun and not hard at all. Rain is the stuff that causes me to wimp out.


Best way to figure out the commuting thing is by doing it. Just take a second set of clothing along for your first ride, so you can change if needed. If tomorrow isn't raining then it's the perfect day to give it a start. Later you can try a riding in a rainy or winter day if you want to.
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Old 09-26-16, 02:55 PM
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Originally Posted by Pugs View Post
Hi all,

I'm seriously considering commuting via bicycle. I have to drive about an hour every day, and I recently noticed that there is a 15 mile bike trail that runs right from my house to my work. I always knew the trail was there, but I never thought it would be bikeable. I think I could definitely do 30 miles a day, at least two or three days a week.

I'm pretty excited about the idea of riding my bike to work on some beautiful trails. I'm more excited to beat the traffic. I know biking will take quite a bit longer, but I would much rather be doing something I enjoy than something that brings me stress all the time.

There are two things giving me pause. The first is sweat! I sweat a lot, even when I'm not doing anything. And I know after biking for 15 miles, I'll be a sweaty mess. How do you deal with the sweat when you bike? Do you just take a towel and a change of clothes? Do you take a shower when you get to work? Do you just not care?

On the other hand, my second concern is cold. I live in the Chicago area, and the snow will start to fall soon. I know there are people that still commute via bike during the winter, but I don't think I'm quite ready for that. Do you commute during the winter? Do you only bike to work half the year?
Also a heavy sweat-er. I commute about 13mi each way 4-5x a week. Echo everything that's been said. Big stash of wet wipes and paper towels can replace a shower if needed. Take it easy and cool off for the last 15 minutes or so of the ride.

Here in Sacramento winter just means rain so I can't speak to that part. Grew up in MI (west side) so I know what winter near the lake can be like.
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Old 09-26-16, 03:00 PM
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my old commute in chicago was 30 miles round-trip (i've since moved much closer to work) and i would always hit it hard to save time and would sweat like a MoFo.

i had no shower at work so i used the "towel off and change into new clothes" method. it worked fine for the 6 years of daily commuting i did that route.

as for winter commuting in our meteorologically-challenegd city, don't try to bite off too much at first. just get a handle on what it's like to bike to work this fall (the best time of year to bike commute in my opinion), and when the weather turns too nasty, maybe hang up your wheels and start up again next spring, and then after a full season of spring/summer/fall bike commuting you'll be ready to think about tackling a chicago winter on a bicycle next year. i've never found the cold to be that big of a deal (except those blessedly rare sub-zero windchill mornings), it's more just about having proper clothing and studded tires to safely stay upright on ice. winter around here also tends to be extremely messy, so i HIGHLY recommend fenders as well for winter riding on chicago's salt-laden streets.

my first year of bike commuting, i didn't tackle winter. i went back to riding the train to work. but by my second year i decided to give winter bike commuting a try. i wasn't yet hip to studded tires and took some nasty spills on ice. by my third year of bike commuting, i got myself a set of studded winter tires and i've been bike commuting all 4 seasons ever since.

i would also add that winter can be an extremely variable creature in chicago. some years are really no big deal at all, and other years winter can be quite a beast. if we're blessed with a gentler version this upcoming winter, you might be able to ride further into the season than you think.



all that said, GO FOR IT!

bike commuting literally changed my life; one of the best decisions i have ever made.

Last edited by Steely Dan; 09-26-16 at 03:07 PM.
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Old 09-26-16, 03:00 PM
  #8  
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Originally Posted by Pugs View Post
Hi all,

I'm seriously considering commuting via bicycle. I have to drive about an hour every day, and I recently noticed that there is a 15 mile bike trail that runs right from my house to my work. I always knew the trail was there, but I never thought it would be bikeable. I think I could definitely do 30 miles a day, at least two or three days a week.

I'm pretty excited about the idea of riding my bike to work on some beautiful trails. I'm more excited to beat the traffic. I know biking will take quite a bit longer, but I would much rather be doing something I enjoy than something that brings me stress all the time.

There are two things giving me pause. The first is sweat! I sweat a lot, even when I'm not doing anything. And I know after biking for 15 miles, I'll be a sweaty mess. How do you deal with the sweat when you bike? Do you just take a towel and a change of clothes? Do you take a shower when you get to work? Do you just not care?

On the other hand, my second concern is cold. I live in the Chicago area, and the snow will start to fall soon. I know there are people that still commute via bike during the winter, but I don't think I'm quite ready for that. Do you commute during the winter? Do you only bike to work half the year?
I commute all year, but it's a lot easier to do that in Seattle than Chicago.

I'd recommend checking to see if your workplace has corporate membership discounts at a gym nearby to use their showers.

Chicago is pretty doggone flat and if you don't have to climb hills and if you take your time going to work (you can push it on the way home to maximize your workout) then you shouldn't really be sweaty after 15 miles.

Be careful on multiuse paths though, there is a perception among beginning cyclists that those are safer than riding on the street, but depending on the design of the path and how many other people (especially people walking dogs on long leashes) are using it, it isn't necessarily any safer at all.

Be aware that most bicycle vs car accidents are not a car slamming into a bike going the same direction along a street, they are a car hitting a bike in an intersection, and multiuse paths are arguable less safe at intersections than riding on the road would be... sidewalks are definitely less safe for cyclists unless you walk your bike across, because drivers are not looking for fast movers on the sidewalks as they are turning.
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Old 09-26-16, 03:03 PM
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I ride in cycle clothing which I can take off and hang to dry and air out during the day. I bring a wash cloth, towel & body wash to freshen up after my ride and change into my work clothes.
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Old 09-26-16, 03:14 PM
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Originally Posted by Pugs View Post
...there is a 15 mile bike trail that runs right from my house to my work. I always knew the trail was there, but I never thought it would be bikeable...On the other hand, my second concern is cold. I live in the Chicago area, and the snow will start to fall soon. I know there are people that still commute via bike during the winter, but I don't think I'm quite ready for that. Do you commute during the winter? Do you only bike to work half the year?
Do you know if they clear the bike trail in the winter? Some of the trails by me in the north suburbs are cleared. Most years they are very icy all winter and passable only with studded tires. Some of the trails by me are not cleared at all and are only passable on a fatbike after more than a few inches of snow have accumulated.
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Old 09-26-16, 03:22 PM
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Originally Posted by kingston View Post
... and are only passable on a fatbike after more than a few inches of snow have accumulated.
I'm sure if you need a fat bike because of snow your commute will be significantly longer and definitely will need a shower. For now just enjoy the fall commute and don't worry about winter.
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Old 09-26-16, 03:23 PM
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Sometimes bike path speeds drop a bit, although it depends a bit on whether the path is uninterrupted. But, you might be able to do 15 MPH (1 hour or so each way).

The Fuji Newest 4.0 sounds like a nice drop bar bike. Not extremely expensive, but not bad. Do you have secure parking on both ends? At least covered and protected from the rain?

In the past, most of my commutes were shorter than 10 miles, and I don't think I ever showered after riding, but I would after running. However, if you are in a fancy office environment, perhaps look to see if there is a shower or athletic facility.

I now ride rain or shine, but avoid the snow (which we don't have a lot of here). When I was in St. Louis, there'd be the occasional snow shower, but they'd pile on the salt and get rid of the snow on the roads after a couple of days, so it might be freezing cold, but good roads. Unfortunately, bike paths (and road shoulders) may be different, and may not be plowed/salted. Or, cities may plow the snow onto the shoulders.
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Old 09-26-16, 03:30 PM
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Do it! Have fun. It's a bike ride. Don't overthink it, don't talk yourself out of it. September-October are a great time to be riding your bike in most of the country. Get some lights.
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Old 09-26-16, 04:14 PM
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For the least sweat ride a proper upright city bike (any leaning forward makes you sweat more), about 11-13 mph, and no gloves or helmet. This is what you'll see in The Netherlands and elsewhere outside of the US.

Do a trial run or two. If you're not currently very physically active then take it slow and easy until you build up some conditioning.

In St Paul MN I put studded tires (Schwalbe Marathon Winters) on for about Dec - Feb. City and county do a decent job of clearing our bikeways but there's still usually enough ice that I don't want to risk it. In The Netherlands I no longer use studs in winter as bikeways are kept clear enough now. If it's too cold or snowy then don't ride. As the weather cools dress in layers and always start out slightly cool (you'll warm up fairly quickly) and have a layer you can unzip or remove to keep yourself from overheating.

Check out JC Lind bike shop in Chicago: https://jclindbikes.com
City Bikes: City Bikes | LocalMile
A fellow Chicago commuter: https://letsgorideabike.com

Most of all, enjoy your riding.

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Old 09-26-16, 06:01 PM
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Originally Posted by ShortLegCyclist View Post

Be aware that most bicycle vs car accidents are not a car slamming into a bike going the same direction along a street, they are a car hitting a bike in an intersection, and multiuse paths are arguable less safe at intersections than riding on the road would be... sidewalks are definitely less safe for cyclists unless you walk your bike across, because drivers are not looking for fast movers on the sidewalks as they are turning.
I wanted to second this. Be extra careful at intersections. Slow way down and be prepared to stop completely and even walk your bike.

I haven't biked Chicago, but I know around here they got really lazy at most of the multiuse paths and we have had recent serious and critical injuries at intersections.
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Old 09-26-16, 08:21 PM
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Thanks everyone, this was inspiring and encouraging! I got some great advice here. I can't wait to put it into action!
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Old 09-26-16, 08:22 PM
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I commute 11mi each way in the SW burbs at an average speed of 16-19mph and yeah, in the mornings during the warm and humid summer months, I'm a sweaty mess when I arrive at work.
I change every stitch of clothing, including underpants and socks, in the locker room after I arrive, and use paper towels to dry off as much as possible before putting on my office clothes. I have multiple fans in my office, and run them as long as needed until I am no longer sweating.

I draw the line for cold at about freezing temperatures. Below that, there is no longer a comfortable compromise for me between freezing extremities and steaming core, at the pace I ride, and slowing down the pace is not an option I will consider.
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Old 09-26-16, 08:23 PM
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15 miles is a pretty great (edit: I mean ideal, not big) distance. Maybe a bit long, you'll probably want to do one day a week at first.

I'm in the same weather zone as Chicago over here in the Detroit area. I ride all year long, but it may not be something you want to get into the first year. I wouldn't do it without studded tires and proper gear. Even if you have a suitable bike to convert, I would want to put at least $300 into basic gear and tires, probably more like $500 if you really want to get hardcore and ride in any condition (where you'll need bar mits, neoprene face mask, etc. My feet were never happy in the dead of winter until last year when I finally gave up and spent $250 on a pair of Lake winter shoes. So probably more expense than you want, but you can probably stretch the season if you're careful, if you have a route that you can be sure is free of snow and ice (my route has no ice on it for many days in the winter) and it's close to freezing you might get away with light gear and no studded tires a few days. Be really careful though, black ice can surprise you.

You'll also need extra good lighting in winter.
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Old 09-27-16, 03:37 AM
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Originally Posted by CrankyOne View Post
For the least sweat ride a proper upright city bike (any leaning forward makes you sweat more), about 11-13 mph, and no gloves or helmet. This is what you'll see in The Netherlands and elsewhere outside of the US.

Do a trial run or two. If you're not currently very physically active then take it slow and easy until you build up some conditioning.
True, the trick of not sweating is not to heat up, if you think about cooling down it's too late. You have to learn to recognize the point that if you go on from there you'll start to sweat. Adjustable clothing helps to get thet point at a higher speed, I take a scarf from autumn till spring so I can open my coat without my throat getting cold. You loose a lot of body heat through your head and hands, so taking a cap or gloves off for a while might help (my gloves are against the cold). So I do manage my body heat during the ride. That includes the aftersweat, when you come in from the cold in to the heated workplace, the sweat might come after the cycling, so you'll have to take the last part of the journey easy.

If you're in good shape you sweat a lot less during light exercise, and if you sweat a lot in other exercise and rehydrate properly, a little sweat won't make you as smelly and then a quick wipe with a tissue will do. I prefer to use a deodorant stick after that, because I believe old deodorant that has been 'worked' and gets in your clothes smells worse than old sweat, but that could be just the brand I prefer.

Winter riding is nice, when it's not raining hard, make sure your coat fits well in the riding position of your choice, you dont want your wrists exposed when it's freezing and the coat gaping between the buttons because it's folding at your shoulders. If you choose to ride upright you don't have things like that to consider, anything that will do walking will do riding, but gloves and ear covering will proof useful at lower temperatures than when walking.

But 15 miles is quite a distance. You might consider organizing a shower or at least a wash up and a change of clothes, and ride like a racer. Or you might consider a recumbant, they are a lot faster for the same energy input.
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Old 09-27-16, 05:54 AM
  #20  
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My commute is 20 miles in Atlanta. I'm soaked with sweat when I arrive. The coarse is hilly and I couldn't manage my day if I went slow enough not to sweat. That's a silly concept at least where I live.
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Old 09-27-16, 06:17 AM
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Fifteen miles is way outside that sweet spot where you can ride comfortably (10-12 mph) to get to work in a reasonable amount of time (under 60 min) and not break much of a sweat.

Outside of this it's ideal if you have access to a shower and a bike that allows you to go faster and not have to worry about sweating.
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Old 09-27-16, 07:39 AM
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If you have showers at work, I'd recommend using them. I commute 10miles and I'm a sweaty mess when I get to work.
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Old 09-27-16, 07:44 AM
  #23  
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OP, you never mentioned anything about your work situation: showers available, place to dry out riding clothes, dress code at work, and place to situate your bike safely? Stuff that you'll need to carry daily? Stuff that you can leave at work permanently?


These are important, too. The riding part is simple. You ride a bike. The temperature part is simple, as well. You add layers as you find that you need them, and you won't need as much as you think. Sweat at mild exertion? Then, you'll sweat on the bike. Even in winter. Even in rain. You'll need to figure out what can be worn to permit ventilation and good heat management. There is plenty of internally-generated heat for you to dissipate by your clothing choices.
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Old 09-27-16, 08:07 AM
  #24  
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Don't jump in with an idea like, "Starting Monday I'm going to ride my bike to work every day no matter what." That's a recipe for failure.

Try it once. Did you enjoy it? Great. Tweak some things you think might make it easier and try it again. Did those things work? Keep doing them. Did they not? Try something different. Find what works for you.

Maybe set a goal of riding one or two days a week, and give yourself the freedom to choose which days. Not feeling it physically? Inclement weather? Tight schedule? No problem, drive with no guilt and pick another day to ride.

Once you're doing it occasionally, add a day here and there. At some point you'll find a point at which you're satisfied with the amount you're riding. That may be one or two days a week, or maybe five. Don't worry about what others are doing, find what works for you.

I wouldn't try and tackle winter commuting until you have a handle on fair weather commuting. It isn't impossible, but it does add a layer of complexity and effort to be successful. Worry about the winter once you're consistently riding in non-winter conditions. Winter riding isn't for everyone, and that's OK.
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Old 09-27-16, 09:37 AM
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cyccommute 
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Originally Posted by Pugs View Post
Hi all,

I'm seriously considering commuting via bicycle. I have to drive about an hour every day, and I recently noticed that there is a 15 mile bike trail that runs right from my house to my work. I always knew the trail was there, but I never thought it would be bikeable. I think I could definitely do 30 miles a day, at least two or three days a week.
Good idea but bad timing. I don't want to discourage you from commuting to work but starting in the fall is almost the worst time to do it. You need a whole bunch more equipment to deal with the cold and with riding at night. Right now, you just need lights for the morning but in another 4 weeks or so, you'll need them for the night ride and, soon, for the whole ride. It won't be too long before you'll need enough power to run lights both morning and night.

Riding in the dark isn't something you should take lightly, however. More cyclists are killed and injured during night riding than during daylight hours and there are far fewer cyclist that ride at night.

Personally, I find the early morning commute in the dark to be a bit mellow and relaxed. When the time changes and the days get shorter and I have to ride after work in the dark, the opposite is true. People are kind of nuts when they leave work. I find I have to be more careful and ride more defensively at night than in the morning.



Originally Posted by Pugs View Post
I'm pretty excited about the idea of riding my bike to work on some beautiful trails. I'm more excited to beat the traffic. I know biking will take quite a bit longer, but I would much rather be doing something I enjoy than something that brings me stress all the time.

There are two things giving me pause. The first is sweat! I sweat a lot, even when I'm not doing anything. And I know after biking for 15 miles, I'll be a sweaty mess. How do you deal with the sweat when you bike? Do you just take a towel and a change of clothes? Do you take a shower when you get to work? Do you just not care?

On the other hand, my second concern is cold. I live in the Chicago area, and the snow will start to fall soon. I know there are people that still commute via bike during the winter, but I don't think I'm quite ready for that. Do you commute during the winter? Do you only bike to work half the year?
Personally, I'm drenched with sweat in the first mile (or less) in any season. Even when the temperature is well below freezing, I'm sweating...probably more because pushing tires through snow and ice isn't that easy. Some people can get away with "riding slower" but I've never found that to be an option. If I rode slow enough to not sweat, it would take me 2 hours to cover the 10 miles to work and that's 2 hours more in the cold during the winter.

But I'm lucky in that I have showers at work. I leave a towel at work...probably longer than I should...as well as a pair of shoes and all my toiletries. I don't need to drag them with me all the time. If I happen to drive during the week, I'll take lunch with me. Otherwise I just pack it along with my clothes for the day. I've been doing this for 30+ years so it's just routine.

I would suggest that you put off starting to commute until the spring. That way you can get more experience under your belt and amass the lights, clothes and equipment you need during the summer. Then you'll be ready to plunge into the night.
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