office hours

The Working Woman’s Guide to Commuting by Bike in the Swampy Heat of Summer

Photo: Getty Images

Biking to work comes with many built-in benefits: you are inaccessible by phone at least for the length of your commute, you are entitled to bragging rights for exercising before most people have even woken up, you never have to withstand another “Ladies and gentleman, we are delayed because of train traffic ahead of us” announcement ever again. And as you ride, you are blissfully left in peace to enjoy the life-affirming sound of your own labored panting.

Though summer is the season of joy and stone fruits and hooking up with an English dude visiting the States on sabbatical, the best season does take its toll on our city’s bike commuters. From the oppressive, swampy heat to the extra athletic effort to the decisions to be made over outfit transitions from bike to desk, summer can make biking feel like a marginally worse alternative to the subway. (Oh, you don’t sweat on your bike commute? First of all, brag. Second of all, ya lying!) What woman wants to arrive to work looking like she’s been swimming in a toxic fountain?

Take it from me, the sweatiest and least organized woman to ever embrace the daily bike commute, you can do it. And you can do it every day. You just need to be prepared.

Before you leave the house: pack a bag

One thing that biking to work requires — both in summer and in winter — is a little forethought, probably more than anyone is used to when they’re on the way to the office. The night before or the morning of, pack your chosen non-corny biking bag with a change of clothes for work, deodorant, dry shampoo, and whatever other tools of the feminine industrial complex you are imprisoned by on a daily basis (hairbrush, lipstick, high heels, etc). I wear athletic gear when I ride — sports bras, leggings, old T-shirts that I refuse to throw away — to avoid carrying a bog of sweat in the wire cups of my bras, which are expensive and deserve some respect. I frequently see men bike-commuting in suits, which is just one of those dumb men-things that is not worth anyone’s energy to dissect.

The most important tool in your summer-biking arsenal, however, will be — believe it or not — a plastic bag. I learned the hard way that biking in the middle of a heat wave with a backpack on almost always guarantees a punishing sheet of back sweat will gather on your T-shirt and leak through to your backpack. This didn’t happen to me, but your back sweat could dampen your stuff, including your work shirt for the day, which didn’t happen to me, but to someone else. I have since adapted my behavior by putting my change of clothes into a plastic bag, then putting that bag into my backpack. Like waterproof protection from your own disgusting perspiration.

Also, drink some water and put on a helmet. Don’t be a dumbass.

On your way in: slow down

Almost no person is so laid-back about their commute to work that they actually don’t mind how long it takes, or else MTA would stand for Most Treasured Association. The same applies to biking: When you are in control of your own destiny, the desire to mow down tourists taking glamour shots in the middle of the bridge bike lane in order to shorten your commute by two minutes is a strong one. In the summer, though, you have to force yourself to think slow.

The reason for this is obvious: The harder you push yourself, the more you’re going to sweat and the longer it’ll take you to cool down once you’ve made it into the office. Also, the harder and faster you bike, the more stressful the journey will be. Why do that to yourself? Taking the train to work is stressful enough — you’re the smart one on a leisurely, luxurious bike ride. You’re embracing phone-and-email-free calm, remember? Repeat after me: I’m a tortoise. I’m a tortoise. I’m a tortoise. Chances are, you’ll still beat your subway-riding colleagues to work.

For workers who don’t have to get to their offices by 9 a.m., I recommend leaving early in the morning anyway. Ever ride a bike under the noon sun in July? No thanks!

At the office: a cool-down regimen

So you made it to the office — now, onto the grossest part. Over the course of my biking career, I’ve adopted a detailed regimen to cool myself down post-commute and feel fresh as a wilting daisy.

In a bathroom stall when I arrive at work, I strip off all of my gym clothes and hang them on the back of the stall door, and then I give myself a “birdbath” with baby wipes. I know. I told you this was the grossest part. But! It is much, much better than the alternative: smelling bad. After I momentarily air-dry, I dress myself in the clothes I brought with me in my backpack. I exit the stall and on most occasions, colleagues side-eye me suspiciously, no doubt thinking that I have started living at the office. Don’t mind those people. They’re just jealous you don’t have to pay rent.

Then, I dry-shampoo my hair. I know, I know. It is no substitute for actually washing your hair, but in a pinch, when your helmet (which you better be wearing, I swear to god) heats your head up like a furnace, dry shampoo comes in handy. Plus, it makes your hair smell good, which is better than how you probably smell: bad. I wash my hands a few times to shed any rogue bike grease, and participate in the ritual of putting on makeup, in service of The Man. I am clean, refreshed, and awake.

The final thing to do before starting your day is to eat every single thing in your vicinity while loudly announcing that you biked to work this morning.

Repeat tomorrow and pray for fall.

The Working Woman’s Guide to Biking to Work in the Summer