With people continuing to drive less and looking for alternative modes of transport now more than ever, there’s never been a better time to be a cycling commuter.
The weather has finally picked up and the roads are a little quieter (for now). If you fancy giving the car and public transport a break, why not give your bike a more practical use than the occasional spin through the park? (Although be sure to check out our suggested scenic cycle routes if you’re ever in London).
If you’re tempted to be a cycling commuter, there’s a few things you can do before you set out on the road to make sure you’re fully versed in all things cycling. You may see cyclists each morning looking super confident on the roads, but that’s just down to experience. You too can be that suave looking cyclist who casually smiles at pedestrians at zebra crossings. All it takes is a small bit of preparation and the tight hug of some lycra shorts (optional), then you’ll be all set to bike to work safely and get there on time.
1. Get the right gear for your new role as a cycling commuter
Reflective gear may feel silly when you put it on and catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror looking like a giant banana, but it’s vital if you’re going to be cycling on the roads. It genuinely helps other motorists to see you, day and night.
Flashing lights are a good addition to any bike, as they’ll make you stand out among the traffic. There’s no such thing as being too visible when you’re cycling, so don’t feel that anything is overkill. Reflective arm straps, leg straps and even wheel stripes all make a difference. Make sure your waterproof gear is reflective too!
Obviously a helmet is an absolute essential too – with no exceptions. Spend as much as you can on a good quality helmet that’s comfortable and fits well. Be sure to adjust the straps so they form a tight ‘V’ shape under your earlobes and the bottom strap is snug under your chin. The helmet should rest two fingers’ width above your eyebrows for maximum effectiveness (only a fool breaks the two-finger rule).
Now that you’re adopting a greener lifestyle, you need to have all the necessary tools. Make sure you’ve got a decent repair kit in your bag any time you’re cycling. Just like driving, you never know when something unexpected is going to happen, and it’s always best to be prepared. A puncture can sometimes be temporarily fixed with the right tools, at least to get you safely to work anyway. Mud guards are also a good idea for those unfortunate rainy days, and a slick pair of sunglasses for the sunny days.
2. Invest in a good bicycle lock
They say every time a ‘missing bike’ sign gets taped to a lamppost, an angel loses its wings. Don’t be the unfortunate soul who finally buys the bicycle of their dreams, only to have it stolen within a week. Get a decent bike lock and use it all the time. Even if you just nip into the corner shop for a minute, that’s all it takes for opportunists to cruelly strike.
Look out for a silver and gold Sold Secure rating on any potential bike locks. The ratings mean they can’t be broken quickly, so it’s worth spending a little more to have that reassurance. You can’t be too careful, so buy two locks if you can – one for each wheel.
If your work has some designated bike parking areas, definitely use them, it is your divine right as a cycling commuter. Chat to other cyclists in work and find out if there’s any hotspots for thieves and above all else, use common sense when locking your bike. Always attach it to a solid object and position the actual lock in a way that’s hard to reach. Of course, if there’s an entire rail of missing bike frames, maybe avoid that one as it’s clearly a hotspot for thieves.
If you’re interested in doing some hardcore investigating, the New York Times conducted some very thorough stress tests on 27 bike locks in a bid to find the most impenetrable one. (Spoiler – Kryptonite came out on top). Although a bike lock is going to guarantee your bike won’t be stolen, there’s some that are definitely more effective than others for a newfound cycling commuter.
3. Brush up on the rules of the road
The rules of the road apply to cyclists too, so it’s worth making sure that you know what’s what before you head out on your first commute by bike. The beauty (and sometimes downside) of cycling is that anyone can do it. The responsibility is on the cyclist to make sure they’re obeying the rules of the road properly and sticking to the right paths, both literally and metaphorically.
The Department for Transport provides cycle training in the UK under its ‘Bikeability’ programme (it used to be called the Cycling Proficiency Test, but underwent a bit of a rebrand in 2007). There are different levels and the test is geared towards promoting safer cycling habits, whether that’s for casual bike use or commuting through busy city areas. You can book a course using your local authority here and they do special classes for kids too.
You should also brush up on the Highway Code before you set out, as it applies to all road users. It’s worth making sure your hand signals are all in order too, as they’ll be vital. You’ll find an excellent guide from Road Cycling UK here (it turns out there’s a lot more to it than just pointing left and right!).
4. Find a route that you feel comfortable with
It’s a good idea to do a test run of your commute at the weekend before you make your maiden voyage. That way, you’ll be more comfortable with the layout of the roads when it comes to rush hour on Monday morning.
Sometimes, the fastest way isn’t necessarily the safest or easiest route to take. Don’t be afraid to explore other journey paths, even if they add an extra couple of minutes to your time spent as a commuter. You’ll most likely be stuck in a stuffy office for the day, so why not maximise your time spent outdoors on the way to and from work? Become at one with nature, maybe even pick up a muffin along the way for a mid-morning treat using the money you’ve saved by cutting down on your driving.
Once you’ve picked the best route for you, take a leisurely spin to familiarise yourself with the layout and traffic patterns. You’ll be a pro in no time.
5. Figure out your plans to freshen up when you get to work
Not every office has the capacity to offer showering and changing facilities, so figure out a way to freshen up when you arrive. Maybe there’s a gym nearby that you’re a member of, or you can make do with the office bathroom facilities as they are.
It might be handiest to leave your work clothes in work, so that you can change when you get there. A packet of baby wipes and some deodorant are an essential addition to any office drawer, so stock up on some of those to avoid being branded as ‘the smelly one’ at work.
Shoes can also be easily forgotten, so be sure to keep a pair under your desk at work that you can change into. Bonus points if they’re those cool ones that light up as you walk, although they might not be corporate-meeting appropriate! Scratch that.
6. Most importantly, enjoy it (and feel smug about your decision)
Some of the health benefits of cycling include:
- increased cardiovascular fitness
- increased muscle strength and flexibility
- improved joint mobility
- decreased stress levels
- improved posture and coordination
- strengthened bones
- decreased body fat levels
- reduced anxiety and depression
And it’s a low impact means of getting around, so you’re less likely to get injured compared with other forms of exercise.
More than that, it’s good for the environment. Cycling cuts down on greenhouse gas emissions, so you’re doing a good thing by choosing to leave the car at home. If you’ve got a By Miles policy, you’ll save money too, because when you drive less, you pay less for your car insurance.
There’s no better way to start the day than by getting out into the fresh air and waking your body and mind with some gentle exercise. Good on you for deciding to be an eco-conscious commuter! The planet (and your pocket) thanks you for it.
Always remember to be safe and be seen.
Spending more time as a commuter on two wheels than you are on four these days? If you drive under 150 miles a week, get a quick quote for a pay-by-mile car insurance policy by clicking here, and see if you could make a saving in under a minute.