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Heidi Dietrich Mills Headshot

Biking to the Gates Foundation

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I picked up full time bike commuting again in the absolutely worst time of year.

November in Seattle means frequent wind and rain storms, late sunrises, and early sunsets. More often than not, November rides are done in full rain gear and in the dark.

For the past couple of years, I'd shelved foul weather commuting because I had the luxury of working from home. As an online news editor for AOL's Patch local news sites, and as a freelancer both directly before and after that, I could start my day at my kitchen laptop. While others biked in the early morning cold downtown, I could smugly sip my coffee and watch raindrops hitting the window. If it was a nice day, I'd hop on my bike to do errands or attend work meetings. Drizzly out? I opted for my car, with cup holders and heated seats.

But when recently I accepted a position as a communications coordinator at the Gates Foundation, I knew my cushy biking days had ended. Gates has a beautiful new campus on Lower Queen Anne, just four miles from my house, but no free parking for employees. Their brand new parking garage is for the staff members who opt to pay for a spot, and for the super important people (like Bill and Melinda).

Since paying for daily parking always seems a waste to me, and since I despise crowded city buses, it was obvious that I would need to become a hardcore cyclist once again. I dug out my old rain pants, booties, and lights I'd acquired during the seven years I worked and commuted to a reporting job downtown.

How has it gone so far? Well, the weather hasn't made it an easy transition. One storm after another has been blowing through Seattle, meaning I've usually been riding in wind and rain. One evening last week, I felt like I'd taken a shower after hopping off my bike. Drenched completely through. My boyfriend, who also commutes by bike, and I took over the downstairs bathroom and tub with our sopping bike clothes.

But on the plus side, I've gotten to discover an extremely cool bike facility at my new company. Thankfully, the designers behind the Gates Foundation's new campus incorporated amenities for cyclists. It's by far the most bike-friendly workplace I've ever commuted to.

When I bike to Gates, I use my key card to enter the secure, employees-only garage. I then walk my bike to the bike room, which has mounted hooks for some 140 bicycles. I've been impressed by how many hooks are in use during the coldest, rainiest part of the year. I'm told that the room is even more hopping in the summer months.

2011-11-27-Gatesbikes.jpg
Photo courtesy of author

The dry, light, and secure bike room offers both ample rack space and a bike pump in case anyone needs to add air to their tires. Gates employees can access the room 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Once I leave my bike inside the garage, I can head to either the mud room or the women's shower room. The mud room contains racks and hooks for drying out wet biking clothes. Special heat and ventilation allow riders to air out their drenched outfits during the work day.

The locker and shower room also provides a number of amenities. Tons of lockers and drying hooks provide more space to stash gear. The room reminds me more of a posh gym's locker room than workplace showers, as it comes stocked with clean white towels, lotions, soaps, and feminine products, all free of charge. It's by far the swankiest office shower room I've ever been in.

I feel so lucky to have access to stellar cycling facilities at work, it makes commuting through the rain and dark a bit more tolerable. While I can't say I'm always excited to venture out into a downpour, it's a huge perk to work at a place that was built with cyclists in mind.