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Published: Sunday, 7/20/2008

Biking to work brings wardrobe considerations

BY TAHREE LANE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Sarah Abts rides from work with her briefcase in her basket. Sarah Abts rides from work with her briefcase in her basket.
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The eight miles Lukas Kummer rides his bicycle to work are as good, if not better, for the mind as for body.

I find my attitude is a heck of a lot better when I get to work, said Mr. Kummer. And at the end of the day, I find my attitude is a heck of a lot better when I get home.

He makes the 20-to-30-minute commute from his home a mile east of Toledo Express Airport to Central Avenue and McCord Road at least four days a week in the warm months and an average of three days a week when it s cold.

Clothing and weather are special considerations for cycling commuters. Mr. Kummer, 35, wears a brightly colored jersey that wicks away the sweat, and padded bicycle shorts. And in a nod to workplace modesty, over his bike shorts he wears knickers pants he s cut down and hemmed to below the knee.

Arriving at work, he hangs up the khakis and shirt he brought from home, checks his e-mail for five minutes while cooling down, and then heads for the restroom to change clothes. A computer programmer at Technology Group International, Ltd., he keeps a pair of shoes and flip-flops at work.

There are signs that more Americans are getting to work via bikes, a trend fueled by mild days, environmental concerns, and the rising cost of gasoline.

It s unbelievable to me the change that has gone on over the past two or three years, said Brad Quartuccio, editor of Urban Velo, a cycling magazine.

Mr. Quartuccio has biked to work for more than a decade currently a 15-mile trip and has noticed more and fuller bike racks at sites ranging from office buildings to grocery stores.

Whether rolling along special trails, designated lanes, or crowded streets, for cyclists heading to work there s the added question of how to dress.

Most people who bike to work don t do so every day because of inclement weather or schedules. But when they do, it can take a bit of planning.

For 15 years, Howard Abts, has been pedaling to his pastoral assignments, all of which have been within six miles of his South Toledo home near Highland Park. He began biking year-round about six years ago, and 14 months ago, sold the family car.

I can talk about environmental responsibility and economy and health and being less of a threat to one s neighbor, but I do it because it s fun, said Abts, 58. His only change is into a pair of shoes left at work.

Terry Plowman can get from his West Mifflin home to his downtown Pittsburgh job in about 45 minutes, when the weather is favorable. Mr. Plowman, 54, takes a change of clothes with him each day.

Others, like John Burgess at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, keep a mini wardrobe at the office to avoid added weight on the bike. In nearly five years of biking, the professor has discovered that it s best not to wear your work trousers on the 15-minute trip.

You ll get grease on your pants, even when you re being careful, he said. And on a hot day, you get sweaty.

There s an added dimension for professional women, who may find it more difficult to manage cycling in a skirt or dress and a helmet that squashes hair.

Sarah Abts, married to Howard Abts, traverses rough old city streets, and crosses the High Level Bridge in her 50-minute, seven mile ride to Owens Community College where she tutors in the writing center. On other days, even in the heart of the winter, she rides 10 minutes to the Scott Park campus of the University of Toledo, where she teaches English composition.

In terms of cold, I can stand anything for 10 minutes, Ms. Abts said. Walking there takes 30 minutes, and the bus is a 75-minute trip. Once at Scott Park, she can hop a shuttle to the main campus.

She finds the cyclist s necessary awareness and response to the weather a healthy exercise. It puts me in touch with nature. It helps me keep things in perspective, Mrs. Abts, 56, said.

Mr. Kummer changes into cycling clothes to bike home, usually an eight-mile trip, depending on the route he chooses. Mr. Kummer changes into cycling clothes to bike home, usually an eight-mile trip, depending on the route he chooses.
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Diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes six years ago, intense exercise helps keep her blood sugar low. I need to move, said the petite woman who stands 4 feet, 11 inches tall nd weighs 100 pounds.

She sports a short, simple cut for her naturally curly hair, which rules out helmet hair. Without an office at which to leave clothes at either job, she rides in what she wears at work; usually slacks or culottes. In the summer, she tucks a sweater in her briefcase to keep her comfortable in air- conditioned buildings.

I try to look presentable, she said. One hot day last week, she wore zip-off pants, zipping them down to shorts for the ride home from OCC. In winter she usually wears a turtleneck, suit jacket, and slacks. Her coat is a hooded windbreaker style under which she ll wear a couple of extra layers.

Footwear requires special attention, because she bikes in work shoes and they have to fit into her pedals toe straps. That means flat, closed-toe T-straps, or tied shoes, and appropriate boots.

Barbara Brewton of Pittsburgh wears shorts or capris and a T-shirt and carries a change of business casual work clothes on her bike. Kim O Dell, her coworker at the Heinz Family Foundation, keeps business suits and heels at the office to change into.

Both began biking to work this summer a couple of days a week and are fortunate that their office has the convenience of showers, an iron, and an ironing board.

Mrs. O Dell, 47, who commuted by bike in Washington before moving to Pittsburgh in 1993, said her family of four sat down in January and decided we were going to reduce our energy usage and waste.

Mr. Brady, the Venture Outdoors vice president who bikes from his home to his downtown office several times a week year-round, said comfort and being visible are the two key factors for bike commuting.

[Biking to work] is a nationwide trend, and you re seeing increases all across the country, said Eric Boerer with Bike Pittsburgh, a nonprofit that promotes bike safety and public awareness.

As a society, added Mr. Quartuccio at Urban Velo, I don t think we re going to have any choice but to rethink our total reliance on cars for short trips.

LaMont Jones, fashion editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, contributed to this story. The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Contact Tahree Lane at: tlane@theblade.com or 419-724-6075.



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