I haven’t posted in quite a while and I’m sorry about that. Some personal issues have been occupying my mind and as you’ll read in this post, my workday routine has undergone complete change.
I’ve been a full time bike commuter (sometimes run commuter) for almost six years now to and from my job at a medium sized software company here in North Alabama. Now, our company has had a very large campus with many buildings because a) we used to employee 2-3 times more people here and b) the building are all single-story. But we recently (last October) moved into a shiny, new building just across the street and that has forced quite a bit of change into my daily routine.
For the past 15 years, I’ve worked in a building that was a mixed bag: it was old and oppressive, but it was very efficient for my daily routine. And by saying “old”, you really have to take that as relative since this building has only been around since about 1989. At one point, a lot of the interior began to look run down, but the company went through and renovated the bays one-by-one. The interior wasn’t horrible; it was simple, industrial. But I also used the word “oppressive”, didn’t I? By that I mean primarily the lighting and the layout. The lighting was almost completely industrial florescent ceiling panels, which had been reduced down to half the number of intended bulbs about 10 years ago in a cost-saving move, with almost no natural light whatsoever. Offices on the exterior walls did have a window, but it was very high and thin. To see out, you had to stand up and, for the shorter of us, get up on your toes. If that weren’t bad enough, drop it into a building strictly subdivided into low-ceilinged bays that keep you from seeing no more than the 10-15 other people in your bay.
The flipside of this environment is that it served my daily commuting routine very well. There were entrances on all sides of the building so I was able to ride to the back of the building and enter via a door very close to the bay in which I worked. Since I had an office, all I had to do was shut the door and change from Superman to Clark Kent or vice versa and hang my sweaty cycling clothes on the back of the door to dry. Done.
Now, our new building couldn’t be more different. There are five floors instead of one. Almost the entire exterior is glass and there are high ceilings and very few walls in the interior of the building. My team works in what we call a scrum environment, which means that we share a space with another team segregated only by some whiteboards and cabinets and our workstations (not desks) are all pushed together, which brings us elbow-to-elbow. I really love this environment, but the downside is that it has no provision for bike commuters.
Had I designed the building to accommodate a bike commuter, I would have placed a bike rack in the back (bottom or terrace level of the building) near one of the few entrances and built some storage lockers somewhere in proximity to the bottom floor restrooms. Even better would have been a shower or two in that bottom floor restroom. Instead, the only provision for bike commuting is a portable bike rack about 100 yards from the front entrance in the middle of the parking lot. Either they just didn’t care at all about cyclists (strange since accommodation for electric cars was built in) or decided that cyclists would be served fully by the facilities at the gym.
The company did build us a beautiful gym about 10 years ago; absolutely no complaints there. This facility has a large weight room with more machines and free weights than I know how to use, an aerobic room with treadmills, stationary bikes, and steppers, a basketball court, a group classroom, and large locker rooms with plenty of showers. So, when we moved into the new building last October, I rented a locker at the gym and changed my routine to begin and end the day at the gym. I tried that for three months, but I’m now over it.
The problem is that the gym is a quarter mile from the building. You may be thinking, “big deal” since the walk is only five minutes and even less by bike, but there are two problems with this routine from my perspective. First, it adds 15 mins to the start and end of my day to ride to the gym and change clothes. Yes, part of that time will be incurred no matter where I change, but it definitely adds time to ride to a gym, which is in the opposite direction of my home, go inside where I have to check in electronically each time, open my locker, and change clothing. The second and more important problem that I have with this routine only showed up with our first warm days (although I was concerned about this all along).
Alabama is a hot and humid place. I read about bike commuters here and there and they say things like, “If you ride slowly and don’t exert yourself, you won’t sweat.” That’s really hilarious to me since simply looking at a bike in Alabama in the summer will cause you to sweat. So, I bike into the gym and change into business dress for work, but by the time I’ve walked or ridden to the main building, my clothes are soaked through with sweat. Even if I were to invest 10-15 mins in a cold shower to get my core body temperature down, I’m still going to be sweating by the time I get to the main building. That’s just not going to work for me.
So, last week I changed my routine again. I’ve decided to enter this beautiful, heavily populated, and very open building of ours in my lyrca spandex alien attire. (Of course, I know there are clothing options that look more like street clothes, but just keep remembering one word: “sweat”. If I’m going to sweat, I really prefer to be in road cycling clothing.) There is a door just to the side of the front entrance leading to a stairwell, which means I can avoid having to walk through the front lobby to the elevators. The stairwell entrance to the fourth floor is near the coffee break area and restrooms so I just have to cross that and past one other scrum area to reach my area.
I’ve commandeered a drawer in a cabinet where I keep a small duffel bag, which was an employee gift to all of us at the company picnic a few summers ago. In that bag, I keep dress shoes and belt, a package of Wet Ones Big Ones, a towel that the company gave all employees during the move pants and shirt hangers, and the usual toiletries. My mornings always start off with international web meetings so I stay in my cycling clothing and use this as an opportunity to cool down before I try to squeeze my sweaty body into street clothing. I carry my clothing to and from work every day in an Eagle Creek packing folder in my Chrome Citizen Messenger bag. So, when I’m ready to change, I just need to walk about 30 yards to change in the handicap stall of the men’s restroom. There is a hanger on the door so as I put my shorts/tights and jersey on the hangers, I can keep them off the floor. The handicap stall has plenty of room so I’m not fumbling around and bumping into the walls to change. When I get back to my bay, I can hang my cycling clothing into a coat cabinet provided for us and put my small bag back in the drawer. And, at the end of the day, I simply reverse the process.
This new routine, while not exactly as efficient as and much more public than what I had at the old building, is not bad. I think it removes the worst of my dislikes about going to and from the gym to change clothes.