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Biker Chic

What with three other urbanMamas going low-car, I've been giving thought to switching to a bike commute, maybe once a week or so.  But it's one thing to commute from close-in to downtown and quite another to go from close-in to Gresham, so it's taking me a while to work out the kinks (especially with carrying a baby in a trailer!).  One thing that I don't have to consider too much is how to dress once I get there.  Luckily at work we have individual bathrooms with sink and mirror, so freshening up isn't too hard to do.  Along with spare clothes, I would pack a washrag, some soap, and a small hand towel.  To be honest at my workplace they probably wouldn't notice if I dressed in pajamas, so I don't have that much appearance to keep up.  In a pinch, after a run, I might use one of those instant facial soapy rags to wash up.  Suzame is about to jump back into the working mama pool and asks this question of other bike-commuting mamas:

After nearly a year off I'm returning to work full time (Yay! and Boo-hoo! all at the same time). My patience during the search resulted in me landing a job downtown, just slightly two miles from my house in NE. I'm excited (and nervous) about joining the ranks of Portland's bike commuters, and plan on finding a workshop to get tips on how to make the ride safe. (I'm a bit nervous about riding in traffic down Broadway and back, but it's the quickest route for me.)
But what I REALLY want to know is -- how you show up for work looking good? I already got my hair chopped off so that it'll always look stylishly mussed (at least, I hope so). It's a short ride (maybe 10 minutes) and most of it is flat, so I don't anticipate working up too much of a sweat. But I'm definitely showering at home and doing make-up before I leave, and hopefully either arriving at work with a quick change of clothes or wearing my work clothes during the ride. But that depends on me finding decent business casual clothes that I don't mind biking in. I'd love to hear from other mamas who ride their bikes to work -- how do you do it and manage to look pulled together all day?

Do you have any fashion tips for the biking working mama?


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I have no help on the style front, but as for safe commuting - I recommend getting a copy of the Portland Bike maps to find safe biking routes. (http://www.portlandonline.com/transportation/index.cfm?a=haccb&c=deiaj )
My husband often commutes by bike and he's found them very useful to identify lower traffic street alternates (i.e. Tillamook St is marked as a lower traffic route and runs parallel to Broadway), off-street bike paths and intersections to avoid.
The maps can be downloaded (PDF file) or you can order a free map(s) from the city.

although I don't bike to work much, I'm frequently biking to go 'out' or to meetings and wishing to look good when I get there! I'm a big believer in the supportive camisole (i.e. one of those one with a shelf bra) and I'll wear that with a long-sleeved button-down, cardigan, or slim jacket (when I'm not pregnant or newly post-partum and they fit around my upper arms that is). if it's hot, I can throw the outer shirt in my basket and count on the camisole to soak up the sweat. if it's cold or breezy, I can button up and then discard the jacket once I arrive. It's a good idea to always tote around a pretty tee that you can pull over the camisole if you feel too exposed.

I also LOVE my capri-length pants for the bike and wear them religiously. and in Portland, you can *always* get away with a nice bouncy longer-than-knee-length skirt on a bike (with bike shorts underneath if you're modest, although I figure if someone's going to work *that* hard to get a peek of your thighs, well, they deserve it). dresses with tight bodices are great as well and make for a really cute look (though babydolls and a-line dresses are a big no-no).

One thing I've learned though: low-rise pants are awful for biking unless you don't mind showing off a portion of your underthings and buttocks. if you're trying to decide if something would work on the bike, try squatting in it, first!

Sarah, great comment on the low-rise pants. Even regular pants become low-rise on the bike. The girls, with a great view of my arse from their trail-a-bikes, will say, "Mama! I see your panties!"

I used to have a shower in my office, so I could do a quick rinse when needed. The best thing I could advise is finding some low-wrinkle items - skirts, slacks, and tops. These items are usually some poly-blends - they are cool, breathable, easy to pack in the pannier/backpack.

I like over-the-knee flouncy skirts, though I don't have any. But, they ride well. Capris are great bottoms as well. If I'm wearing pants, I roll/strap them up, as bike grease on slacks is not fun. (If you get bike grease on the clothes, dishwasher detergent works well). If you can keep shoes at the office, you can bike in whatever is comfy. I love biking in my Dansko clogs, and they can take me off the bike straight into the office.

Keeping an office stash of stuff is another thing I liked to do - shoes, accessories (beads, bangles, etc), scarves, a blazer, a sweater. Those are things you wouldn't need to worry about packing every morning.

Biking in the AM is so different from biking in the PM. Suz, I think your ride will be generally downhill and cool in the morning, so you'll be comfy and not too sweaty at all. The evening ride may be more effort and may be under a hot summer sun, which works out well.

It's great to hear that you're going to try bike commuting! Experiment with routes, and allow double time during your first few rides. You'll find a route that you'll like. When I lived in NE 2 miles from downtown, I liked NE Knott, across MLK to N Russell, left/South on N Flint to Broadway and over the Broadway Bridge.

Here are some Bike Commuting Workshops: http://www.bta4bikes.org/resources/commute101.php -- some are next week -- and also: http://www.portlandonline.com/transportation/index.cfm?a=beejef&c=deibg

Looking forward to seeing you at the lunch next week and hearing all about your new gig!

I would love to bike to work but coming home at midnight on a bike never sounds good. But, I will often take a run on my dinner break. We have a shower in the office so that part is fine. But, and this may be more info than you want and quite possibly something that may not come up for you, I do have one tidbit of advice. Sweaty undergarments are not fun. Either bike underwear/bra free and/or take fresh! The camisole idea has potential if you really aren't going to get sweaty, but you may be surprised. Good luck to you!

Even though my bike commute is short, I end up showing up at work sweaty. Nothing that a swipe with a towel can't cure. I carry and change into work clothes when I arrive. If I wear makeup, I wait to do it at work. It takes only a couple of minutes. I've left some dress shoes at work and am contemplating getting a coat rack for the closet so I can leave some essentials in the case I forget it at home. The best thing I've noticed about biking to work is that I've slimmed down since I started. It's great to see some of the post-baby weight disappear even if it's over 2 years later.

i have been a frequent (often exclusive) bike commuter. i always pedal at a blistering pace - it's more fun that way! i never seem sweaty when i'm on my bike or when i'm locking it up, but the minute i'm inside and sitting down the sweat pours out like crazy AND my nose starts running. so if you have an early morning meeting or need to be particularly presentable, i recommend you arrive early to stop sweating! i don't do makeup often and i don't need to look perfectly put together, so i just wear whatever i would want to wear if i were driving and get it sweaty and/or wrinkly. i've worn all types of skirts....if they're narrow, i just put bike shorts on underneath and hike the skirts up until i can pedal easily. then i ditch the bike shorts when i get off the bike. i've tried heels when going out and have found that the heel hits the ground. commuting by bike has always been fun for me! hope you enjoy it!

I just started commuting by bike a few days a week (Milwaukie to South Waterfront area). My tips:
*If you're planning to wear your work clothes while you bike, invest in a rack and paniers rather than trying to carry stuff in a backpack, which will make your shirt get all sweaty.
*I wear bike shorts and a t-shirt on my way in, and change at work. Though we do have showers at work, I don't take one...I do the quick facial wipe cloth thing and then call it good.
*I shower the evening before, but bring a small makeup bag to work and put my makeup on at work after I stop sweating. The nice thing is I always have that healthy, after-workout glow to my skin when I commute by bike, so a little make-up goes a long way.
Finally, allow yourself enough time to get to work, lock your bike, and get settled a little before you have to start the day.
Happy biking!

I forgot to mention earlier: a great biking pant is the gaucho. Made in stretchy materials and found for cheap in the junior's section (mine were $5-10 each), they dress up nicely and easily. They're fine in the fall with tights and perfect in the summer.

Take care to wear a long shirt or watch the low-rise situation!

Mamas, thanks for all the great advice... low-rise pants, having dry underwear and the backpack making me sweaty -- those are a few points I hadn't thought of. I think I'll probably wear bike clothes to work because the ride home is uphill and therefore incompatible with my work wardrobe. Since reading these comments I've been shopping and found some nice stretchy, packable skirts and pants. At some point I'll probably stock up on accessories at work (great excuse to go shopping at lunch).

Olivia -- thanks for the alternate way to get on Broadway -- I hadn't thought of doing that. Good running into you and your family at dinner tonight. You've got the cutest daughters EVER... it doesn't hurt that their mama is always so effortlessly gorgeous.

A follow up question for all you mamas. I have to wear a back pack because I've been picking up and/or dropping off the kids with the trail-a-bike & trailer set up. The problem is, if I hook up the trail-a-bike, it leaves no room for a rack and panniers since my bike is so small. Any ideas for how to haul gear for smaller framed bikes?

Suz - you're too much! I'm e-blushing. Fun bumping into you and seeing the mussed biker hair in person.

Hau - my bike is small too (we have the same bike, but I think mine is the next size up) and they do make smaller rear racks. Your bike shop could hook you up. The tricky thing with those is that then you'll want to get petite panniers that securely fasten on the racks. My heels are sometimes whacking into the panniers, and they'll fly off if they don't fasten down well. I think a visit to your local bike shop will result with a happy biker situation. My local shop helped resolve my rear rack on small bike + tag along problem.

or maybe a front rack + panniers, or a nice basket on the front?

I have a basket on the handlebars of my bike, and I love it.

The city of portland has bike brown bags and the next one is abouut clothes and gear.


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