Commuting on a bicycle is not only fun but it is cheaper and often faster than any other form of commuting. Many will say otherwise, so why not give it a go and see it for yourself? But before you jump on your bike, here are five important things you need to consider or think through before you get into the saddle.
- The bike. Obviously, you will need a bike. Theoretically, any bike will do but a lot depends on individual circumstances. While the majority will find a hybrid bike the best solution, a road bike would make more sense to someone, whose commute is more than, say, 20 miles one way. While most people ride on paved roads, some might be forced to or choose to ride on roads, bridleways and other trickier surfaces that might warrant for a sturdier bike. In general, a hybrid is good compromise between speed and comfort: the narrow tyres allow you to pick up speed quickly and the upright seating position allows you to ride comfortably and it allows you to oversee better the rest of the traffic.
It is also worth bearing in mind that buying a high-end bike might be an enticing target for thieves. The general consensus is that if you are planning to leave your bike locked outside stations, shop and other places frequently, you shouldn’t spend more than £800-£1000 on your commuter bike.
You might want to consider installing fenders on your bike. While many people hate mudguards, other people hate sitting in the office all day long with wet bums, so, again, it’s up to personal preference which way you want to go.
- The gear. This won’t be a long list but there are a few essential items that you need to get hold of before you can start your rides to work. First and foremost, you’ll need a lock. You should always lock your bike, no matter for how little you would leave your bike unattended – thieves can nick a bike within seconds. The more protection you have, the more hassle you create for thieves, thus your bike will be less enticing a target. But we’ll elaborate on that subject later this week. As a rule of thumb, we can say that spend at least 10% of the value of the bike on the lock.
You will also need a helmet. There is an ever growing variety of them, so finding the right one in size and colour is getting easier and easier and contrary to the popular belief, it will only ruin your hair if you ride 60 miles in it on a hot summer day. Oh yes, and it can save your life, too.
Cycling specific clothing is optional, some people prefer style, other prefer comfort, it also depends on the length of your commute, but a good waterproof jacket for the rainy days probably makes sense anyway.
Lights, lights, lights. You need lights, being visible is key. Yes, the days are getting longer and longer, so it is less and less likely that you’ll need lights in the morning or riding home after work. But you never know when you need to do a bit of overtime or an unforeseen meeting and you really don’t want to ride home in complete darkness. Keeping a small set of lights, like the Backupz won’t be taxing on your shoulders and you’ll be safe if you end up working well into the night.
You will need a bag to carry things around. That could either be a backpack or a pannier bag. Just like with mudguards and helmets, there are avid defenders of the backpacks and there are people who swear by pannier bags. We all have a spare backpack, so they don’t necessarily need to invest into something fancy, but give a thought to panniers: while they are not without flaws, using them is probably the best to prevent a sweaty back.
- The rules. So you are all set, got the bike, got the gear, now you need to make sure you know what you are doing. If you have a driving licence, you are probably already aware of what is happening and why on the roads and you will find it helpful to predict what a driver might or might not see or do.
That being said, never assume anything, always be aware of your surroundings and the traffic.
If you are not familiar with the Highway Code, this site will help you to get familiar with the basics – it can svave your life.
Oh, and one more thing: just because you’re on a bike, you still aren’t allowed to drink.
- The route. Even if you have driven to work a million times, it makes sense to at least think through your route before your first ride. The world can look different on two wheels and there are many options that open up for you if you are cycling. It might help you not only circumnavigating the roundabouts at Elephant and Castle but you might discover tiny backstreets and passages that might not be open for cars but they are perfect for cyclists. Smaller, quiet streets are don’t slow you down as much as they if you were driving and they are often much more fun to cycle through. While certain parts of parks are often off-limits to cyclists too, there are plenty of opportunities in most parks to find a shortcut and start your day with a quick roll through the common.
- The destination. Figure out where can you leave your bike during the day. A covered and secure bike park would be ideal, but if you are not lucky enough to work somewhere where that’s available, try to find something solid and shielded and lock your bike to it. Using more than one lock will make your bike exponentially less attractive to thieves.
While the elements can certainly not destroy your bike overnight, always try to find a place where bike is more or less sheltered from rain (or snow). If you can’t find anything similar, wiping dry the drivetrain everyday and applying oil on it regularly can make your bike last much longer.
If your commute is long and you arrive sweaty, pack some clean clothes and a towel – most places these days have a shower somewhere in the office – washing up before getting started at work will make you feel better and your co-workers wouldn’t complain about smelly cyclists.
After getting started, you will find that you are awake completely by the time you get to the office, you will re-discover your surroundings and see the place you live and work from a different angle, you will get healthier and it won’t cost you a thing.