The Online Voice of the Bicycle Alliance of Washington

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Tips for Newbie Women Bike Commuters

This guest blog post was written by Wendy Wheeler of Seattle.  She is a new bike commuter and a captain of a Bike to Work team for federal agency employees.

As a new commuter-cyclist, I want to share some tips that can make your ride more enjoyable, and thus more likely.
Wendy Wheeler bikes with style.

If you’re like me, you have a list of “shoulds” as long as your arm. The trick for me was to take the idea of commuting by bike and make it as fun as possible. Now, it’s something that I really enjoy and I look forward to doing, rather than something that I’m trying to squeeze into my day.

Make it easier: Metro is your friend.

The bike racks on the Metro buses are really easy to use, once you’ve done it once. Try it first on a weekend for less pressure, just load it on at one stop and take it off a couple of stops later. With the bus, you have an infinite number of ways you can slice your commute. Any part that you don’t want to ride on a particular day, you don’t have to.

Keep it easier: Have a back-up plan for rain.

My back up plan is four-fold – I could leave my bike locked in my office’s parking garage, I could stop at any point and use Metro, my top layers are water-resistant, and almost all of my clothes are machine washable anyway. So I can choose how wet I’m willing to be. When I’m warm, it doesn’t bother me. Most days in Seattle this time of year, it’s not actually raining all day, just showers that may not coincide with the ride anyway.

Make it fun: Dress it up.

I am a big fan of visibility. I have a front light and a back light on the bike and smaller ones on helmet and my backpack. I also think having a bright-colored top layer is a good idea. But I don’t feel the need to look like I’m preparing to bike the tour de France. Spandex is not my friend these days. J So I turn the “what to wear” formula on its head and go for something nicer than my normal dark work pants.

If I’m striving to be visible, why not wear a bright top and cute skirt? Skirts are among the most comfortable riding wear there is – they move with you, they tend to be lightweight, they’re already up out of the chain area, and they don’t bunch and compress in the middle. You can get tons of inexpensive skirts to try for shape/size/flow at your neighborhood Goodwill or Value Village – get something with a pattern and then even if you get drizzled-on on the way to work it will still look great. The one in my photo was originally too long, so I chopped the ruffle and some length off the bottom, reattached it, and now it’s ready to go. For spring/fall, I wear the skirt with tights. When it’s warm (here’s hoping!), I’ll wear a pair of snug yoga shorts, or boy short style underpinnings underneath, and it’ll comfortable and modest enough for unexpected cross-winds.

Likewise, on shoes, try using that pair of work shoes that are good for walking. My faves are a pair of Naots – cork insoles, adjustable strap, low heel and a bow. They have enough support to be comfortable on the pedals, but are office perfect the minute I step off the bike.

Keep it fun, don’t worry much about your hair.

I have the gift of slightly curly hair. So my office mates know that it will never look tidy anyway. This gives me freedom with how it looks post- helmet. There are websites with tips on hair and cycling, check them out if you’re going for a specific look. My tip would be to try both the wet and dry options (as long as it’s not freezing out). You may find that starting with slightly damp hair actually gives you a more controlled look after your ride (less frizz/fuzz).

Above all, enjoy your ride.

I think you’ll find that you feel better after the fresh air and workout. Enjoy that you’ve made this time to treat yourself.

The Bicycle Alliance's Go By Bike brochure also offers some good tips for getting started with biking for errands and commuting.


  1. In the past I had a lot of problems with my hair after using helmet but along these years I figure out what to do to keep our hair in the perfect shape!
    Another good point that I love to share with people, since we are talking about women and bikes, is the fact that I always carry one more bag, but this one is to fold my bike! As women we all know that sooner or later we'll have to stop and shop a little bit!! lol That's why I think it's really practical just fold my bike and walk, trying to find the place that I am really looking for, instead have to stop all the time and find a place to lock my bike.

  2. I am SO happy to have someone who commutes regularly tell me that my skirts are a-okay! So many "Dexter Dudes" tell me every day downtown that I am biking in the wrong clothes. HA! I look way cuter in neon than they do.

  3. You'll need this: (how not to get your skirt caught on your seat at a critical moment). I'm with you on the skirts (and the Goodwill source)--no worries about chain grease on a pant leg.

    I have fine straight hair (and curly-hair envy). For me the secret is not cinching the helmet down SO tightly that the inside pads crimp my hair and make it look like a 1940s 'do. In winter it's great because I have a knitted strap/ear cover a friend made for me that provides a buffer--no hair dents whatsoever. Once I stopped fighting gravity with lots of hair product and went with my hair's natural tendency to lie down and give up, I was much happier with the post-helmet look, plus I gained some time in my morning routine.

    Happy riding!