At the new SRAM office in Chicago, there are simply no excuses for not biking to work. And that’s by design.
In its move last year, the bicycle-components manufacturer intentionally created a workspace that pampers bike commuters with top-notch amenities. And guess what? Even a few months in, the company is proving that encouraging more than a meager 0.6 percent of the U.S. population to bike to work is as much about what’s on the inside of the office as outside on the street.
SRAM certainly isn’t alone. Across the nation, more than 1,000 companies — from Fortune 500 corporations to mom-and-pop shops — have been designated by the League of American Bicyclists as a Bicycle Friendly Business (BFB). In New York City, a handful of businesses, including Columbia University and Random House, Inc., have achieved BFB status by creating work environments that encourage more employees to commute on two wheels
But SRAM has set a high bar that has bicyclists nationwide drooling at the company’s new digs.
According to David Zimberoff, SRAM’s director of marketing, that office-envy was intentional. “In finding a new space, one of the keys was to increase some of the amenities we already had to really provide no barriers for the excuse I can’t ride to work,” he told us. “Everything came together in this new building. The space is really cool.”
“Really cool” may be an understatement. Here are six thoughtful design elements that support employee bicycling at SRAM and some suggestions for more modest shifts you might suggest to your employer, even if they’re new to the concept of a bicycle friendly business.
1) Plenty of space for your bike — or two
When you work at SRAM, you never have to worry about secure bike parking. In fact, you can count on bringing multiple rides, if you’re so inclined. “We basically have a 2-to-1 ratio [of bike parking spots to people], which means you can have multiple kinds of bikes and not worry about leaving one or not having a spot,” Zimberoff said.
Alternative: If there’s nowhere to park your bike, New York City has your back. The Bicycle Access to Office Buildings Law aims to encourage office building owners and landlords to open their doors to bikes — and all you have to do is get your employer to submit a request through the city. Unless the owner gets an exception, they’ll implement and post a Bicycle Access Plan within 30 days. That could just mean keeping your bike next to your desk or in a storage area, but it could be the visibility and viability others need to give it a try, too.
2) A spot to wash your ride
And there’s no need to worry about riding in inclement weather and leaving street salt or chemicals savoring your components while you work. “Not only do we have bike parking,” Zimberoff said, “but we also have a bike wash station in bike parking area. So if your bike is dirty or muddy or snowy, it’s a great spot to hose down and clean your bike.”
Alternative: Laying in a supply of disposable bike cleaning wipes makes quick work of removing road spray from messy weather. The best are generously sized and biodegradable.
3) Super-sized locker rooms
Locker rooms aren’t new for SRAM; they had them at their old facility. But they were small and modest and, quite frankly, Zimberoff didn’t have much company when he used them. That’s certainly not the case in their new office. “What we did was we super-sized everything to remove those barriers,” he said. “There are full-sized lockers, towel service, a washer and dryer and six showers — so there’s never a wait.”
Alternatives: If your employer wants to encourage active commuting, see if they would consider subsidizing employee membership to a nearby health club. That way you can shower near the end of your trip and just walk a couple blocks to the office. No dice? See if you can turn a storage closet into a changing space. A full-length mirror, good lighting and refreshing wipes help with a quick change.
4) A full-stocked bike repair space
You never have to worry about being stranded without a ride home if something goes awry on the ride in. “We have two sets of tools and a beautiful space to work on, fix or repair your bike,” Zimberoff said. “If you don’t know how, you just ask a friend; it’s all self service but it’s fully equipped.”
Alternative: If there’s not enough space for a dedicated repair station, see if you can store a bike stand, toolbox (with extra tubes!) and air pump in a closet. Get a mechanically inclined co-worker or friend to offer a lunch gathering or clinic on fixing a flat and other common repairs.
5) An active indoor bike track
A unique benefit of working at a bike component manufacturer, SRAM employees don’t just ride to work — they also ride in work. When product development creates a prototype in the in-house machine shop, they throw it on a bike and test it out on the indoor, one-eighth-mile bike track (that doubles as a hallway). “It’s an integral piece of the space,” Zimberoff said. “In fact, when you come into the office, you have to step across the track to get to reception.”
Alternative: Consider organizing a lunch or happy hour ride to encourage your co-workers (and managers) to travel to work on two wheels. No bikes? Check out some Citi Bikes. Too concerned about street safety? Even an indoor spinning class could give them a taste.
6) Cycling-centric cubicles
You won’t see bikes leaning on walls or windows at SRAM. Because the test track necessitated poles around its perimeter, the company held an employee design contest to crowd-source ideas for indoor bike racks. “We had a bunch of different concepts but decided on this super-simple system of rafter hooks on the steel beams to create this universal, inexpensive bike rack system,” Zimberoff said. “So every bank of cubicles — every four desks — shares one pole that holds two bikes.”
Alternative: You may not be able to celebrate bicycles in your workspace every day, but you probably can entice your employer to recognize or participate in Bike to Work Day (coming up in May). That may kickstart a wider conversation on what your workplace can do — within its unique constraints — to make bike commuting more convenient.
As for SRAM, it’s still early — and chilly in the Windy City — but the enhancements seem to be enticing employees to ride.
“I don’t have any hard data,” Zimberoff said, “but I’m a near year-round commuter and I see more people in the locker room than ever before, and it’s because of the facilities for sure. I’d say probably a 10 to 20 percent increase in bike commuters.”
Stay tuned for tips from NYC businesses on how they’re making their space inviting for bicyclists.
Carolyn Szczepanski is a writer, advocate and communications consultant focused on sustainable mobility and social justice.
Photos: ©Michelle Litvin Studio