The Style of Cycling

Walk Your Bike to Work Day, originally uploaded to Flickr by Richard Masoner / Cyclelicious.Reader S wonders if her refreshing bike ride to and from the office is harming her professional image…

I ride my bike to work and struggle to look professional and yet arrive at the office safely at the same time. I’ve started keeping my clothes at work, and so now, I frequently wear leggings and sneakers and then run to my office to change before anyone notices. Other times though, I need to go out for dinner or a client meeting after work, and it can be annoying to have to “change” into my sneakers afterwards so that I can bike home.

What do I do? Should I just start riding the subway? I love biking because it’s fast and refreshing, but I wonder if it’s unprofessional.

I’m really curious to hear what the readers have to say here. I applaud Reader S’s effort for a healthy lifestyle, and I’m kind of envious that her situation is such that she can bike to work. That said… you don’t have to do it 100% of the time to get the effects, and I think some days (such as, say, when you have a client dinner) you should plan to take other means of transportation to work, whether it be by subway or car (or if the distance is short enough, perhaps even walking).  To me, that seems to be the easiest answer — what do you do otherwise, travel by car back to the office, then change, and then bike home? Take your bike with you to the client dinner?  The latter just sounds a bit extremist — and inflexibility is usually not a good thing. (Pictured: Walk Your Bike to Work Day, originally uploaded to Flickr by Richard Masoner / Cyclelicious.)

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If there is another person at your office who bikes to work — preferably a superior — ask them how they’ve done it through the years; it’s a great way to bond and get a mentor or at least a friend in the upper echelons.

I’m curious, readers — have you biked to work?  Do you have opinions on others who bike to work?  How have you (or they) made the activity appropriate for a professional woman?


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  1. I’m not sure why you need to wear something completely different to work? Biking to work is quite common outside of the US, and whenever I’ve seen women riding their bikes to work, it was always in work clothing. If you wear pants, you can buy those metal pant clips to keep your pant legs from getting caught in the gears or your shoe, and then you can just have a few pairs of shoes at work to change into.

    • This is exactly what I was going to say. As biking is becoming more common in NYC, I see lots of people biking to work in regular business dress & shoes. You can wear flats or low heels, sneakers are not a requirement.

      In Amsterdam many people commute on bikes and almost everyone manages to look more professional than most of the people I see on the subway at rush hour.

      • I grew up in Amsterdam , but now live in the States. I brought my Dutch bike (omafiets) with me and cycle everywhere in my regular clothes. I think that because of the way Dutch bikes are made, it makes it easier to cycle around in your regular clothes, without having to pin back pants, change shoes etc.

        I have a basket in front and bicycle bags on the back so I can carry everything with me.
        The one thing I am not used to is a helmet – I know it’s a safety issue and it makes total sense, but it just feels weird to me!

        • I think the style of bike you ride makes a huge difference. I commute to work on a bike that is a lot like a Dutch bike — it has a step-through frame, a basket, a chain guard, and pedals that work with most of my shoes. After years of riding to work on my touring bike and having to strap down my pants to keep them from catching in the gears, I decided to get a bike where I could just wear normal clothes and ride.

        • This is the bike I ride (I’ve swapped out the front rack for a deeper basket, though):

        • I loved riding a “Dutch” style bike when I lived in Germany, but on returning to the states wasn’t sure that would work here. The bike I got is by Trek, but is discontinued so I won’t mention the model. The key feature to me is the rear hub; the 8 gears are inside of it, so the entire chain is pretty much enclosed. This means it doesn’t get dirty, doesn’t fall off, and your clothes can’t get caught in it. I also added a rear rack (am considering Basil bags), fenders, and a water bottle. So far, so good

          I’ve never understood the concern about biking in heels. You use the ball if your foot to push the pedals–your heel has nothing to do with it. You could wear spurs for all your bike cares!

          I’m living in Tampa now, and for the first time in my adult life, I can’t use the bike to get where I need to go, mostly because of poor infrastructure/city planning. It’s awful!

      • When I was living in Copenhagen, it was also quite common to bike to work in whatever you would be wearing. I saw several suits each day. (Biking everywhere in either regular clothes or going-out clothes was common as well). When I moved to Norway and biked to work in my regular work clothes, a coworker actually stopped me and said that it was nice to see someone biking in normal clothes.

        • I’ll 7th (or whatever this) this thought. I’ve been biking to work for years in my work cloths – including high heels. I’ve done it in Philly, NYC, DC… and work at a very conservative law office.

          I find people are really quite cool about it and always seem positively interested when they see me with the helmet in the elevator. I’ve also found out several senior partners bike and have gotten “in” with them through the connection. People always say “you bike in heels???” to which I laugh – make a joke about how it’s easier than walking in them and usually end up hearing how people want to bike and think it’s great.

          On really hot days I try to layer so I can bike in a light top and throw on a sweater or jacket when I get there – but frankly I sweat more when I walk than bike as there’s no breeze. I have a little flat rack on the back for my stuff, the pant cuff works great and I ride in skirts too. Earmuffs and gloves and I’m set in the winter. The only time I don’t ride is when it’s raining. Can’t really fix getting wet.

        • Anonymous :

          I’ve biked to law school each day for three years, and I love it. But I was photographed by some tourists last year when I stopped to pick up lunch in a skirt suit and heels (after court) and got on my bike. They thought it was hilarious.

        • I think it really depends on the length of your bike commute, though – mine is 14 miles round-trip, which is further than the typical European in-city commute.

        • Jeg har også boet i København. Taler du dansk?

      • I’m Dutch, I can cycle in 3″ heels and business dress or an LBD, I’m used to it :-) Most of the time I take the bus because of rain/cold though. You just need to mind that your shoes have some rubber on the soles and your skirt is a-line or stretchy rather than pencil. Guys do it too and they wear tight suits here.

    • It depends on your bike habits. I used to be a bike commuter, and I would bike nearly year-round in all kinds of weather — work clothing + snow = not a good combination. I would also bike…well, not fast, because I’m not a very fast rider, but fast for *me* — my commute was 6-7 miles so I had to put some effort into it to make it to work in a timely manner — sweat + work clothing is also not a good combo.

      Sadly my current lifestyle doesn’t allow for bike commuting, but I hope I can get back to it someday, even if I do look dorky in bike clothes ;).

    • I bike to work on occasion in a very hilly city. Wearing my work clothes would leave my a smelly, sweaty mess all day. I change in the locker rooms at work prior to going to my office.

      Unless your bike ride attire is really inappropriate, I don’t see a problem with changing in your office quick. As for after dinner events, I would take the subway that day.

    • One thing to remember is that the US, and by extension most US cities, are ginormous compared to most of Europe. It’s very easy to bike to work in your suit if you’re only going a mile or two, but it’s not uncommon to live anywhere up to 30 miles from your job here.

      • I used to bike 8 miles to campus. Took me 40 min bc I rode at a “professorial” pace. After a snowstorm, my bike was much more reliable than driving/parking or taking the bus. snow nearly reached the hubs, but as long as I watched for ice, I was fine. Most of my commute was on small suburban streets or a path through campus; driving was on a 6-lane road.

    • bikealways :

      I have biked to work for more than 10 years…started in college and have biked in DC, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Denver, and now Chicago. Chicago is by far the best / easiest. Drivers are bike conscious and the city is completely flat! Last time I was in Amsterdam I invested in a Dutch bicycle. My commute is 7 miles one way, but the ride remains faster than walking to the train and waiting for the CTA.

      Now I ride comfortably and sometimes in work clothes / sometimes in workout clothes. What I wear depends on (1) if I am going to office and can change right away or going to a meeting and (2) the weather, if too hot or wet, I cannot wear work clothes.

  2. I ride my bike around 80% of the time. I have a short, flat ride (and I live in SF, so no worries about humidity or other perspiration-inducing weather). I usually throw on a lightweight neon jacket for visibility, and bring a second, work appropriate jacket in my bag. I often wear my work shoes on my bike (heels and all), but I occasionally swap out at the office. I am in the lucky position of having a door from my office directly out to the porch where I keep my bike, so I can avoid traipsing through the office in my bicycling get-up.

    The two biggest difficulties for me have been hair and purses. I have bangs, which often end up smushed under a helmet. Creative pinning has solved this issue, but I do keep a comb and some mist spray in my desk to smooth them out if needed. I also use a messenger bag on my bike (particularly when carrying the aforementioned jacket + lunch + yoga clothes + work papers + things I picked up at the farmers market during lunch + etc.). The messenger bag is decidedly NOT appropriate for client meetings, so I now keep a simple tote at the office to use for lunches, etc.

    On days that I have a client dinner or anything else after work, I just walk or take public transportation. I think some flexibility, as Kat mentioned, is key.

    I love biking to work – can’t beat a 7 minute commute – and with some planning ahead, I think I’ve managed to keep it professional (fingers crossed!).

    • You should just attach a bicycle basket to your bike. That way, whatever you have to carry, can just go in the basket.

    • Anonymous :

      or saddle bags on the back.

  3. I bike to work in the summer, and my ride is long enough (7 miles each way) that I usually need to shower afterwards. Sometimes I don’t have to (the ride is mostly flat, so I don’t always get sweaty, but often I do. For me, at least, the main issue isn’t arriving at work in leggings, but how I look afterwards. That said, I’d suggest: (i) aiming to arrive at an off-hour, so you’re not in the elevator in your bike clothes with everyone and (ii) covering your hair so that your helmet doesn’t make it look awful.

    But I live in a city where everyone is super outdoorsy, so the idea that biking to the office wouldn’t be professional is actually hard for me to understand.

  4. Diana Barry :

    One of the partners here bikes 5 miles to/from work. He wears his cycling clothes and brings in his suits/work clothes once a week.

    I agree with Kat – when you have a dinner or event after work, I would not bike to work that day. Otherwise, have at it!

  5. Spelling PSA:

    Heel = noun, the back part of your foot or shoe
    Heal = verb, to get better, usually wrt physical health.

    Waist = noun, the part of the body that is between the rib cage and hips, usually the smallest circumference on a woman’s torso
    Waste = verb, to squander

  6. Katherine :

    I bike to work several times a week, either taking Bikeshare to the metro or my own bike the whole distance. It’s definitely a challenge to look professional, but here are some things I’ve started doing:
    * Don’t mix and match: When I commute, I wear cycling clothes, a helmet, carry a backpack, etc. If people see me, they know I’m in workout mode, not trying to pull a casual Wednesday.
    * Stash duplicates at work: Once a week, I don’t bike to work and carry a garment bag full of suits, as well as extra underwear, bras, etc. I even have an extra jacket and purse that I keep at work in case I have a lunch meeting outside the office or unexpectedly need to go somewhere nice after work.
    * Talk about it: Just keeping my helmet visible at my desk was enough to spark conversations among colleagues, so they all know that I bike to work and they are supportive. It has been helpful for networking too, as I’ve met other cyclists in the building and people remember me–I’m the person who bikes 15 miles into suburbia each morning!
    * First Aid: stash makeup remover at your desk, since it takes bike grease off skin better than anything else.
    * Be Flexible: life doesn’t revolve around your choice of commute. You might need to keep the bike at work overnight and wear work clothes to an after-hours function. It’s not ideal, but better than never biking at all.

    Hope this helps and happy trails!

  7. anonx1000 :

    I also live in SF and it is quite common here to bike to work in one’s professional clothes. That said, when I do it, I prefer to wear separate clothing and carry work-appropriate clothing and shoes in my bag. I keep unscented baby wipes in my desk and after I stash my bike in my office, I grab the wipes, stick them in my bag, and traipse off to the bathroom to freshen up and get ready for the day. Creative pinning is required for my layered, wavy-prone hair, but other than that, nobody bats an eye.

    Just don’t be like one of the partners in my office – who does not bring/stash a change of clothes on his cycle days. Not even loose shorts to go over the bike shorts. Seriously.

  8. Formerly Preggo Angie :

    Very inspiring, ladies. I need to try to get on this, the tough part is dropping the kids off at daycare in the morning.

    • Something to keep in mind when your kiddies are a bit older – my dad used to have a seat for me on the front of his bike and would drop me at school on the bike in good weather. It was awesome. One of my favorite childhood memories.

    • If your path to work is safe enough, you could use a bike trailer and see if daycare will let you leave it there during the day. My hubby has done this a few times with our kids, and they love it!

    • My son had a seat on the back of my bike 6 mos-4 yrs, then a “half bike” that hooked onto my seatpost. He could pedal & had handle bars to hold onto bit couldn’t steer or fall over (unless I fell). He never needed training wheels.

  9. Do you by any chance belong to a gym near your office? I have sometimes biked in, paused at the gym to shower change, and then walked my bike the last two blocks to my office building.

    I also like the commenter who suggested making it fairly public knowledge that you bike in, I think her thoughts on that make sense. I know for me, carrying my helmet into the office has given me something to talk about with a senior management person who previously had nothing to say to me ever, despite the fact that we work together frequently. It’s helped shape the beginnings of a rapport with him and made working with them more enjoyable. Less awkward.

  10. Praxidike :

    I bike to work in the spring/summer/fall, and I just shower after biking (it is hilly, and I sweat) and dress. I bring a change of clothes with me on the bike, and then change back into my bike clothes when I bike home.

    I’m in a city where a lot of people are very fitness-minded, so no one thinks my biking to work is odd or unprofessional. One guy in my office building bikes to work EVERY DAY and he is a partner at a big law firm here in my city. Another guy I know cross-country skis/kayaks to work (depending on the weather) because his house and office are on opposite sides of the same lake.

    FWIW, I don’t think it’s unprofessional. If you’ve got a client meeting or something, then just drive or take public transportation. Missing a day or two isn’t going to mess up your fitness regimen.

  11. Second City Lover :

    You don’t have to be in Chicago to appreciate her resources, style, and wit, but it sure helps.

  12. Anonymous :

    Two partners at my firm bike to work whenever they can (even in the rain, as long as they don’t have client dinner plans). I think they’d like it if they saw me bike to work. However, I live too far from the office for that to be convenient or safe.

  13. LA New Associate :

    My coworker (a fellow junior associate, but male) bikes to work regularly. I’ve seen him after he’s changed into his bike gear on the way out of the office at night, but I don’t think he always bikes in bike gear, and sometimes is just in his business casual wear. I definitely get the sense that folks are impressed that he bikes to work. I know he takes the metro (yes, people do indeed take PT in LA!) occasionally, usually on days he has client dinners or other obligations that preclude biking home in the evenings.

  14. I am a sweaty biker, so there is no way I can wear work clothes on my way. Luckily, there is an affordable gym with a bike rack a couple of blocks from my office. I ride my bike there and have a chance to shower, change clothes and generally get ready for work. Same thing for heading home. Added bonus is that I typically engage in a short workout either before or after work because I am already at the gym

    • Me to. I would LOVE to be able to ride my bicycle to work.

      I live only about 50 blocks from work, but the Manageing partner does NOT want to let anyone bring in anything like bicycles or roller blade’s into work. He said we do NOT have liabilities policies for bicycle use, so if we got hurt, the firm would have to PAY for us. The same for roller blade’s.

      I want to remain healthy, so I go to the gym. The manageing partner always wants to know what I wear there, but I will NOT show him what I wear. He is stareing at me right now! What a strange person he is!

      I would NOT ride except on the west side, so I could not get hurt.

      • Why would you take it in to work? Seriously, do your commute, lock your vehicle, and walk into the office. At that distance you’re not going to have the Bo issues other ppl are talking about, unless you decide to be a Lycra biker racing thru traffic.

        The only way his argument makes sense is if the firm carries car I surname for everyone who drives.

  15. Woods-comma-Elle :

    I love the idea of biking to work, but it’s just. too. dangerous. The traffic is far to mental and there are no bike lanes anywhere, so I would probably get knocked over/break my bike/break my arm within the first five minutes.

    Well done all you Corporettes who do it!

  16. How do people manage to not destroy their work clothes if they bike in them? I no longer bike to work, but when I biked during the summers in shorts my legs would often end up smeared with grease or dirt or with cuts from the bike gears. It seems like I’d go through a lot of pants that way.

    • Or maybe I’m just a clumsy biker?

    • Anonymous :

      Be sure to roll of your right pant leg, otherwise it can get caught in the gears. I’ve had longer skirts get caught too.

    • You’re not clumsy – this is really common. The rolling up the pants leg thing totally works, but you can also always find a vintage three speeder that’s pretty cheap (don’t pay more than $100 or so, depending on where you are) that comes with at least a partial chain case. A full chain case basically encloses the entire chain and prevents the annoying grease smears. These days, it’s a pretty common feature on nicer commuting bikes.

    • It all depends on the kind of bike you ride. My bicycles (a Breezer Uptown 8 and a Dahon Eco) are both equipped with fenders to prevent water and dirt from ending up on my back. My Breezer has a full chainguard, preventing grease from the chain from getting on my legs. Most bikes can also accept those accessories after purchase so you don’t have to go out an buy a whole new bike.

  17. anon for this :

    I know we had a post about chatty co-workers recently but I don’t know how to deal with this.

    I started a new job about six weeks ago that I already hate but really needed to get back into the work force. Part of my dislike for the job is the fact that the woman I work with tells me about s*x life and/or her v*gina (and it’s current events) every. single. day.

    As a whole, the office is very casual and touchy feely (my female boss hugs me daily when I leave), which I’m not used to/don’t care for, but being so new and not wanting to step on any toes, I don’t know how to politely tell them that they’re crossing my personal and professional boundaries.

    Please, please help.

    • You need to nip this in the bud.

      “You know, it makes me a little uncomfortable to talk about that stuff at work.” And then cover your mouth like you’re a huge prude, and walk away. If they think you’re too modest for them, who cares.

      If she does it again, interrupt, and say, “You know, I think that’s your personal business and it weirds me out that you’re telling me about it. Shouldn’t this be just between you, your partner, and your doctor? I don’t really want to know about it.”

      • Ugh – I’m so sorry. On the second point, I used to have a boss who said she believed in using the same approach for handling kids, pets and employees – “lots of hugs.” Yeah, I’m just like your cat and your 12-year-old – thanks.

    • You should have put a stop to this on day 2. I would simply turn to her with a straight face and say “oh I’m not a “talk about vaginas person” thats to tmi for me” and just make sure to be friendly about other topics. You must be responding back, I cant imagine she is giving monologues with you just staring blankly at her back. Just stop encouraging her by doing “oh really, mmhmm” or whatever you are doing to contribute.

      To avoid hugs, you can say you are not a hugger, but I’ve always been able to avoid hugs by positioning my body language the right way. I would say almost everytime I go out for drinks with a group someone wants to end the night with hugs, but i just give a friendly great seeing you! and a wave, or just stand back. I’ve never found that a person will cross 3 feet of space just to hug me.

  18. Americans apparently have fewer friends:

    “Female participants and those who were educated were the least likely to report no names on their confidante list” – I’ve noticed this anecdotally. All I can say is that I’m grateful for Corporette.

    • Me too!

      I was thinking about who I might like to be Maid of Honor if I were to get married any time soon… and I have no close friends from high school/college/law school. I have pretty good friends from each of those, but no one I consider my “best friend.”

      But I think we have relationships in different ways now. Corporette is great, and other online communities/blogs can serve as support systems too. And facebook – I probably know more about the daily lives of my extended family than anyone in earlier generations ever did.

    • If that study is right, I’m either super popular or unable to distinguish between confidantes and people to whom I should not be talking about my vajay (see above).

    • i definitely identify with this… thanks for the link, Ru!

  19. I bike to work nearly every day. In my experience very often you do need to change (at least partially) when you get in because: 1) one cannot cycle in a tailored pencil skirt, 2) many heels (depending on style) would be unsafe to cycle in IMHO, and you risk scuffing the shoe; 3) one can rarely cycle in a suit jacket without getting sweaty, which means more dry cleaning, plus wearing sweaty clothes at work is not professional; 4) being wet or mud-specked at work is not professional, which necessitates wearing head to toe waterproofs in bad weather.

    My personal strategy is:
    – Bike in wearing trainers (or similar) and keep smart girl shoes in the office.
    – Have a smart, waterproof bike pannier and a tote that fits inside it. My pannier is a briefcase shape made by Ortlieb so I just slide my tote (with laptop & work inside) into it to ride to work, then leave the pannier in my office and carry the tote.
    – Always tuck pants carefully into your socks to avoid getting grease on them.
    – If you cycle to work in a skirt then make sure it’s decent on the bike (they tend to ride up), and if you’re wearing hose then take spares, because it’s easy to snag while riding.
    – For rain, wear good breathable waterproof jacket & pants, with the hood up (to protect hair) and change into work clothes at the office (I carry the clothes in my second pannier).

  20. I will run home from work a couple days a week. At first I felt weird leaving in my running clothes (which are form fitting this time of year, in the summer, involve shorts/running skirts) but I’m over it. I think anyone who judges me for it probably could be judged themselves for their sedentary habits. Anyone who is active, appreciates what I’m doing.

    • I like the assumption that anyone who judges you negatively must be a fat slob sitting on their couch gobbling Doritos. STOP JUDGING, YOU FATS.

      • Herbie! You made me spit out my Cheetos. Now I have to go to WalMart. Again. Today.