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"Love Your Helmet!" - A Guest Post About Denver Commuting

Guest post by Tim McAndrew: One awesome human, cyclist and commuter! 

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"Love your helmet!"

I LOVE hearing those words as I'm commuting by bicycle from Arvada to Denver and back. God knows we cyclists usually hear a lot worse. But not only is it great affirmation that I have a badass looking helmet -- that flashes and signals turns, by the way… -- it's even better knowing that I can be seen. That's my #1 goal when commuting -- being totally visible to motorists, other cyclists and pedestrians.

One could say I look a bit like a Christmas tree when riding my bike. But for the 16 - 27 mile routes that I take, I wouldn't have it any other way. I sport flashing white and red lights attached to the frame. And then I have the lights on my helmet (I ride with them in flashing mode), plus another flashing red on my backpack (when I’m carrying it). And that’s in summer months! In darker months, I add one 1500 lumen light mounted to the handlebars plus another affixed to my helmet. And then for flair, I will sometimes run a spoke light in the front! So yeah, it’d be really hard not to see me wheeling down the street.

I used to be a summertime-only, Bike-to-Work-Day kind of commuter. This was mainly due to the fact that there are no shower facilities at my office and schlepping a backpack back and forth in 95 heat sucked. But I slowly started figuring out how to overcome these minor obstacles. For instance, I’ve become a master at the 5-minute, I’m-taking-over-the-restroom kind of clean up – it’s amazing what some hot water and tea tree oil can do to get you feeling refreshed and smelling good!

But the real key for me in transitioning to a multi-day commuter was actually even simpler: just planning ahead. I found that if I keep towel, washcloth, and toiletries in a spare filing cabinet, and used a small portion of a storage closet to serve as my private armoire and clothes line, I could commute several days in a row! So I just store a couple pairs of slacks, a few shirts, a couple pair of shoes in there, and rotate through them as needed. Then I just shuffle stuff back and forth on days when I drive to/from work. Pretty simple!

That said, in fall, winter and spring, I still usually carry a backpack. Fortunately it’s fairly empty on the way in. But on the way home I usually fill it with the extra gear (heavier gloves, jacket, tights, etc.) I needed to fight off the morning chill/cold. I also stash in there the clear sunglass lenses I use to ride when it’s dark -- I swap to darker lenses for the ride home.

Which brings me to commuting times. I’m lucky enough to have a little flexibility in my schedule so I use that to my full advantage. My normal hours are 8:00-5:00, but on commuting days I work 7:00-4:00. This means leaving the house between 5:30-6:00a, which for all but the months of June and July means I’m usually riding in the dark for at least part of the way.

For me, riding in a little darkness is a great trade off versus riding later with a lot more vehicles on the road. This is definitely more the case in the morning where traffic is almost completely negligible. But it’s true in the afternoon as well. I estimate for each 15 mins I leave after 4:00p, the volume of vehicular traffic increases by 25%. So, yeah, I’ll take the early/dark option every time and twice on Sundays.

One thing that can wreak havoc on a bike commute is the weather. This is especially true here in Colorado where the weather changes lightning fast. So my best friend for commuting is my Weather Underground app. I use WU to check current temps and wind direction/speed of my planned route, and adjust both my route and gear accordingly. For example, there was one day where the temp at the house was 52 and when I hit the low point of my ride along Clear Creek, the temp was 28. So I able to dress appropriately and even altered my route so as not to ride through that low point.

I also use WU to track storm cells and their movements. As anyone who’s lived on the front range knows, once a cell crosses the foothills there’s no telling which direction it will go. But seeing them develop on radar, seeing how they are tracking, and then just looking out the window usually gives me enough info to determine which route I’m gonna take home. There have been days when a cell was right in my planned path, so I’d just adjust my route to skirt around it. But there have also been days when I’ve had no choice and to just grin and bear it. If it’s an exceptionally bad/wide storm, I’ll hang around the office and wait it out. Then make my way home after things have settled. Worst case, I’ll call the cavalry for a ride or even uber it home and leave the bike at work.

Bike commuting can seem daunting. And it’s true there are a lot of things to factor in and consider. But with a little bit of planning and a little bit of experience, it can be easy as pie. And it sure beats the heck out of commuting by car these days. You feel great and energized when you arrive at work, and even better when you get home. So much so, that rewarding yourself with that cold beer on the deck is both refreshing and totally guiltless!

Here’s to your bike commute…cheers!!

#ridemoredriveless