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I've been putting up some pounds and have a bike gathering dust at home =D

I normally commute by bus or carpool, but would like an opinion from some more seasoned bikers on how you'd tackle this commute http://goo.gl/maps/0ts21

My excuses are:

  • It's scary, for me at least, because the destination is at some big highway with trucks and everything racing at +80 km/h.
  • Bike lanes down here in .mx are not even a concept in most parts of the country.
  • No place to shower at the destination and the job is white collar.
  • Crazy hot weather, up to 40°C and above at times.

So the questions are:

  • Is this doable?
  • If so, how should a noob tackle it?

Thanks for reading and do share any insight you might have.

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Maybe you could take your bike to work on the bus then ride home. This will still get you on your bike but help with the weather/no shower situation. –  BillyNair Oct 11 '12 at 20:19
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Bike racks on buses is another luxury us Mexican do not have =( –  alex_mayorga Oct 11 '12 at 21:19
    
With lots of EPO... –  Rob P. Oct 12 '12 at 6:59
    
Looks like there are some residential neighborhoods south of the highway. I don't know what the terrain is like, but can you go down to Hermenegildo Galeana, head east through the neighborhoods and maybe cut through the middle of what appears to be a sports complex neat Softek? It might add a couple km to your route but could be safer/easier? If you can't go through the sports complex, it looks like there's a dirt road or path along what appears to be a riverbed that goes past the cycle track. –  Johnny Oct 29 '13 at 0:48
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7 Answers 7

I have actually commuted in a very dangerous, hilly, bike un-friendly city (Tegucigalpa, Honduras).

Here there are zero facilities for bike commuters, no racks on public transport, no bike parking anywhere and of course, no showers at workplace.

I have tackled the problem with following strategies:

  1. Leave home with plenty of extra time. When you travel to the workplace, don't race the clock, get it at a slow pace so you don't sweat as much. It also helps that the earlier the cooler the weather. It also gives you time to cool down when you get to the office, giving you time for personal cleanup. Getting there earlier also gives you the advantage of arriving before everybody else is there, so you make less of a show off. You also get a bit more privacy in the restroom.

  2. Re think your route: As others wisely say, you must think as a cyclist, not as a driver/bus rider. You can take a lot of advantages being a cyclist, for example, walk your bike across a park, instead of a possible dangerous ride around it. Also, for a car it's not trouble to go an extra mile to take a u-turn, on a bike, you can find a suitable pedestrian crossing (dismount if necessary). Cars don't get much trouble with up hills, but for a cyclist it may be better to take an alternative street, possibly a narrower one but with less traffic, etc. as long as it is closer to horizontal.

  3. Carry separate clothing (A shirt, as minimum), deodorant, hair gel (if you use) and a couple of hand towels. You don't need to take a complete shower, just clean your upper body with a damp towel, then dry up with the other. Reapply deodorant, hair gel and you'll be ready. To avoid odor in the office, carry a plastic bag to store the towels and the sweated shirt. (Depending on the kind of shirt you may be able to wash it in the sink and dry it with the hand dryer, so it will be ready for the ride back home.) Some advise to carry a suitcase with these items by motorized commute and leave it at the office, so you can avoid hauling it on your bike.

Some complementary strategies:

Before you risk messing up your schedule, plan a test ride. You can do it on a holiday or a weekend. Ride at the approximate same hour so you know about the weather. (It is not the same being out there alone than inside a car). You can try several route options, analyze every hot spot so you prove what's the best alternative.

You are riding in a city that does'n know about bike commuting, so you may be better thinking as an invisible entity. So ride in a way that you minimize chances of being hit by a car. Sometimes it's better for a cyclist to use a less crowded crossing, even if it means walking the bike for a block, or riding against the flow a few meters. You can't judge such risks from a motor vehicle, you have to bike to get it. Walking is no the same either, most of the time, walking paths are not useful for bikes due to stairs, light poles, rain grills and other "obstacles" that do not interfere with pedestrians.

An extra to point 1: When you are not in a hurry, you can turn your last 5 minutes of the ride into a low paced 10 or 15 minutes, that allow you to cool down, but, since you remain on movement, the air will dry you up before you get to the office (depending on weather of course). This helps a lot, because, most of body odor is not caused by sweat per se, but by the warm humid environment that allows for bacteria growth. If you eliminate both conditions, high temperature and high humidity in the strategic parts of your body, you can minimize odor issues.

To minimize sweating, you can also go for non obvious carrying options, i.e. avoid backpacks. Panniers and rear racks are useful, but if you don't have such, there may be alternatives. I have had success with a small messenger bag tied to my handlebars. Do not improvise too much and test before the actual commute.

Finally but most important: Safety: Do not ever ride without a helmet! You will need it the day you less expect it. Wear clothing that make you easily recognizable, use bright contrasting colors, preferable primary colors, (Yellow, red, blue) or bright secondary (Orange, violet, and some shades of green) avoid neutral tones like gray, beige, brown. (Only one piece of clothing in these colors is enough, you don't have to look like a clown ;) ). Put reflectors in front, rear of the bike, in the spokes, in the pedals, or appropriate substitutes, like reflective ankle straps, reflective tape, etc. Nevertheless, blinking lights are even better, a white one in front, a red one in the back.

Regarding another kind of safety: do not forget a suitable bike lock.

That pretty much covers what my experience has taught. Take it with patience and practice, at least here where I live, urban biking is enough of an extreme sport so do not take a lot of risk before you really measure your possibilities. Make your commute relaxed enough so it's worthy against your other options.

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It's a year later, but you haven't yet accepted an answer, so this is how I would approach it. Keep in mind that I love bicycling on the road and think bicycling on the Interstate system is a fun and exciting pastime...

After looking at your map and spending a little quality time with Street View, my first choice would be the obvious highway route, at least in part:

  • Eastbound: Avenida Manuel Ordoñez to Díaz Ordaz (Hwy 54).
  • Westbound: Carry your bike over the pedestrian bridge and take Díaz Ordaz to Avenida Manuel Ordoñez.

The highway here appears to have good pavement (sidewalk) on both sides for all or nearly all of the relevant length, so you really shouldn't be too exposed to traffic. My only big concern about it is the lack of lane markings, though that's not a big concern. I'd probably use the road, as I see parked cars on the sidewalk at some points.

Going westbound, there are two left lanes onto Av Manuel Ordoñez, take the rightmost of the two and wait for the light to change like everyone else. After you cross the light, though, try to sprint for a few hundred meters, until the point where your lanes shift back over to the right; this section has no shoulders or pavement and so you will probably find yourself a bit squeezed here. As long as you're moving, it shouldn't really be a big problem.


I also think you should try this on a non-work day, when traffic is lighter, at least for practice, so that you can become more accustomed to riding with traffic. Perhaps several such rides before you do it for real on a Monday morning when traffic will be a bit heavier.

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Parked cars on sidewalks is another showing of how crappy driver culture is in Monterrey metro area. These days I participate on this hack to try and counter it a bit. As per picking a right answer I don't really know what's the right thing to do as my manager ended up letting me telecommute so this project died down silently, not quite sure if that was for better or for worse =) –  alex_mayorga Nov 24 '13 at 20:04
    
The highway route is short and reasonably quick. The many other routes seem like they would take much more time, going far out of the way. I like the direct approach when possible. But it's up to you :) –  Michael Hampton Nov 24 '13 at 20:14
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It's scary, for me at least, because the destination is at some big highway with trucks and everything racing at +80 km/h

The destination is "Bosques del Poniente".

The approach from the north east crosses the "Monterrey-Saltillo" highway.

To avoid that, approach from the south: for example via "Robles" and "Benito Juarez".

Continuing to work backwards, south of "Robles" is "Mar Rojo" which looks residential.

I expect that residential roads have less traffic, slower and with fewer trucks, so easier for cycling.

To approach that neighborhood, staying south of Highway 40 ("Diaz Ordaz"), maybe take "Hermenegildo Galeana" as a good east-west route for cycling.

So a route like http://goo.gl/maps/uKhD8 (or, even better if there's a bike-only route that would let you start your journey heading southwest, to get onto "Bravo" or "Miguel Castilo y Costilla").

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Just very generally speaking:

First survey your route for "choke points" -- places like river crossings where you're forced to choose between a limited number of pathways. Pick an overall route that selects the best routes through the choke points.

Observe other cyclists, and observe traffic at your likely commute time, and select routes between choke points that seem capable of reasonable cycle traffic. Consider issues like left turns from a busy street, left turns onto a busy street, etc, and try to pick routes that minimize this sort of complication.

Look around near where you work for possible clean-up opportunities. There may be some sort of a gym nearby, or your building may even have a maintenance room with shower in it. Worst case you can take a "bird bath" in the lavatory.

[Lots of larger buildings have a maintenance closet with a floor drain and a faucet, intended for emptying and refilling mop buckets. You could ask if you could rig a shower curtain around the area and use a hose and spray head screwed to the faucet tap, making a crude shower.]

Finally: Cycling in Mexico??? Are you crazy????

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I've seen some seniors risking their life on 54D when I ride the bus or carpool. My utmost respect to them. What's a "bird bath"? As for Cycling in Mexico, we're trying, see bicired.org And I get the crazy tag most often than you'd think =) (i.e. asking random strangers on the "intertubes" for a bike route) –  alex_mayorga Oct 11 '12 at 22:34
    
A "bird bath" is a sponge bath -- basically take off your shirt, splash water under your arms (or, better, use a washcloth to wash), then dry off and change. –  Daniel R Hicks Oct 11 '12 at 22:49
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If 54D is the highway it looks like you can take a route like this to get around it.

I have commuted without a shower at my destination and found that as long as I shower before I leave it usually would be OK. Just kept deodorant at the office, and changed in a bathroom stall. You'll be a bit sweaty early on but it dies down. The wet wipes are a good idea.

I also like to take clothes to work by car/train early in the week to minimize what I have to carry and how disheveled my appearance is throughout the day.

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Thanks on taking a look! That route looks interesting. any estimates on how long would it take for a John Doe that doesn't bike much at all. –  alex_mayorga Oct 11 '12 at 21:22
    
Looks like roughly 5 miles. With a reasonable amount of hills, 5 miles on the road normally takes me about 20 minutes, and I'm relatively slow. I think you should be able to do it in under 45 to start for sure - but probably a lot faster if the terrain is flat. –  AlexCuse Oct 12 '12 at 11:56
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I took a pretty quick look at the map, but I'm going to make a kind of general suggestion: If this is a trip that you're only used to traveling by motor vehicle, you might fall into the trap of thinking that the route you're used to is the only route available. Bikes can go lots of places that cars can't, and lots of places that cars just as frequently don't.

If you're just starting out, I would suggest avoiding the highway; it will just be really un-fun and discouraging. What I might suggest is that you start taking your bike out in the evenings, and start looking for other possible routes. You could even do some of this on your drive home.

The heat and the lack of shower space is something that really depends on your comfort. You should be able to avoid the heat of the day, and you won't be out long enough to really worry about dehydration, but you might want to at least change your shirt when you get to the office, and have a towel or something to wipe yourself down.

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Thanks a lot for your input! Guess I'll give it a try on weekends and see how it all works out. –  alex_mayorga Oct 11 '12 at 21:28
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+1 for you might fall into the trap of thinking that the route you're used to is the only route available - so true! My commute by car is 21 km in the most jammed traffic. My commute by bike is 18 km, of which almost half is lovely forest trails :-) –  Joonas Pulakka Oct 12 '12 at 8:05
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The biggest hurdle as I see is the heat. Perhaps you can pack a change of clothes and some wet wipes and a stick of deodorant to change and freshen up.

In terms of route it looks like you can avoid the highway by heading south. The bike track near the river looks like it could have some routes through on your bike that may not be accessible to cars. Same goes for the industrial park. I think the best way to start is use your free time to start scouting out potential routes. You already know the highway won't work for you but other routes look like they have some potential. Also use these non-rush hour traffic periods to develop good road presence. Take your lane and don't be bullied by cars. This will be essential when rush hour traffic is upon you.

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Thanks on taking a look. Is there a how-to on "take your lane and don't be bullied by cars"? I'm afraid I might end up in a hospital bed or coffin by the time drivers would start caring, if at all =( –  alex_mayorga Oct 11 '12 at 21:25
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I've never been to Mexico so I don't know the driving culture. I do know that in the U.S. even in the most aggressive areas, it's a matter of simply occupying the space you need to in order to prevent jumpy drivers from trying to "squeeze by" when there isn't room. If you find the drivers are regularly and unabashedly running into each other, pedestrians and bikers then I would reconsider taking the lane. –  Glenn Oct 11 '12 at 21:54
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