Tackling the City Commute by Foot or Bike


So you want to commute on a bike or by foot, year-round in Chicago? Welcome! Admittedly, it’s a niche group interested in these routines, but one of the most common questions that I field on this topic is not a why, but a how. Other than a desire to integrate this habit into your day, the only factor missing is preparation.

Keep in mind that this becomes a norm for those that practice it over a number of years, not overnight as some gigantic shock to the system. If you’re new to cycling or running, there is no secret requirement that it’s some all-or-nothing venture. Ride or run in once a week. Figure out what fits with your schedule. Build a routine from there. Remember: These new habits ought to relieve stress and scheduling issues in your day, not create them.

How to Haul

Use a different bag for each activity. (Obviously, you can use one bag for both, but there are limitations.) On a bike, there’s more flexibility, shape and utility-wise, than if you’re pounding the pavement on foot. The only real requirements are that it holds your things and is comfortable. A number of other dimensions come into play when running; you want a pack that when fully stuffed is narrower than your torso—if it’s wider, the insides of your elbows will hit it and chafe. There’s also a lot more jostling from impact when you’re on foot, so hip and chest straps are a must. (Note: Bags with hip straps are cumbersome when pedaling…thus the multiple bags suggestion).

For either, go lightweight, synthetic, and padded. Cotton and natural fibers take eons to dry and hold their odors. Synthetics dry quicker, can be washed more often, and most have treatments that keep stench at bay (all positives if your bag is sitting under your desk or in a shared space). Some people argue to go as light as possible for the bag itself, but there’s actually a great deal of benefit in a more structured design (even if it’s heavier). If you carry a laptop with you, this extra layer of padding helps absorb impact between your computer and your spine. Second, a bag design that has molded back channels for air flow is desirable when it’s warm.

What to Pack

This is clearly dependent on personal preference, office dress norms, and advance preparation. The items alwaysin my commuter kit are a brush, smalltoiletry bag (SPF, deodorant, minimal makeup, and chapstick), and pants/shirt/undergarments. Keep shoes or bulkier, space-wasting items like sweaters or jackets at your desk. As a gauge, I run with a bag that’s roughly 9in W x 5in D x 15in H. Everything I need fits, but pairing down took some trial and error along the way. If your workspace is more formal, find a dry cleaner nearby and keep those clothes on-site at your office. No fuss, no muss…and most importantly, no wrinkling.

Where to Clean Up

If you are one of the lucky few who have access to on-site commuter and shower facilities, please know that you are envied. For everyone else, finding a place near your office to shower and assemble yourself post-commute takes a bit of advance footwork. Before you start your search, ask around at your office building. Oddly enough, there are a number of employers who do not realize that this is a service that people would use. As a result, they don’t think to advertise that they have facilities on-site. The goal here is not to find a spa-like shower, it’s to find running, warm water and a door that locks.

If that’s a no-go, look around at gyms, specialty fitness, and physical training studios within walking distance of your work. Talk to staff there—sometimes you can negotiate a discounted rate if you’re only using a shower and not the classes or equipment. Also, if you work downtown, check out McCormick Cycle Center. It’s a solid, affordable option for both bike storage and post-commute prep.

If all else fails…keep a towel and soap at your desk and do a bathroom sink clean-up job. I also store a hairdryer at work (and use on both hair and clothes), if looking “professionally” presentable is a must that day.


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