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Knowledge level: Beginner

Commuting

Article posted: 18/10/2013

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With participation in cycling on the increase, cycling to work is an great way to get fit and stay healthy, whilst also saving money. In this article we tackle some of the common barriers preventing people cycling to work, including improving your confidence riding on the road, what kit to wear, planning your route and arriving at work looking refreshed.

Many of these barriers have an easy solution though and you will also see the additional benefits of getting fit and saving money at the same time. Here we will look at how to overcome the potential barriers of riding to work and with these hints and tips you will be pedalling past those queues of traffic in no time.

I’m not confident riding in traffic

For many people, riding in traffic is one of the main reasons they don't cycle. It can seem daunting as a beginner, but following the basic rules of the road will ensure you ride in a safe, responsible and respectful manner every time you get on your bike, helping to reduce the chance of an accident happening.

Another way to help you to gain confidence riding in traffic is to attend one of the many local rides that British Cycling organise through the Sky Ride Local programmes. Here you can join a beginner ride and enjoy riding whilst gaining confidence with people of a similar ability to yourself.  There are also many free Cycle Training courses which offer instruction in basic bike skills and riding safely on the road.

Find out if there is anyone else from your work who rides a similar route to you. You could ask to ride in with them to help you gain confidence. Although not always possible, you could also try to adapt your route to work so it includes cycle lanes or traffic free routes, such as canal tow paths.   

Here are further tips about the fundamentals of riding safely in traffic,and once you have mastered the basics, advice on how to effectively ride in rush-hour traffic.

It’s going to be dark when I’m riding

Riding in the dark can initially seem intimidating but with some planning, suitable clothing and equipment, it will become no more of an issue than riding in daylight.

It is important to plan your route sensibly. Choose roads that are well lit and with a lower volume of traffic where possible. Traffic free routes that can be good in daylight though can often be unlit at night and are best avoided. When riding in the dark you need to be more vigilant for hazards such as pot holes as these will be harder to spot.

Finally and most importantly, make yourself as visible as possible.  When riding in the dark, the law states you must have lights and reflectors fitted to your bike but it is also advisable to wear reflective or bright coloured clothing to help improve your visibility to vehicles and pedestrians. Go with the motto that more is more – you can never be too visible.  

Consider attaching lights to your rucksack or panniers, as well as your bike, and set the rear light to flashing to add to your visibility. Make sure you charge and test your lights prior to a night ride to ensure you are riding safely. Look here for advice on what to look for when buying bike lights. 

I’m not fit enough to ride the full journey

The typical travel time for a cycle commute is said to be 22 minutes, however if your journey is much longer than this or you feel you are not yet ready to do the journey all in one go, don’t be put off.

Why not begin with shorter rides at home to build up your fitness first or have you thought about driving or taking the train part of the way to work then cycle the rest of the journey until you are confident in your fitness to ride the full distance. Once you start to feel your fitness increasing, you could try getting off the train a stop earlier each week or parking an extra mile away to gradually build up the distance. 

I don’t know how long it will take 

If you are unsure of how long the journey will take you, plan the route and try a ‘dummy run’ on a non-work day to get a better idea of what time you should be setting off. Make sure you factor in enough time to lock your bike away and freshen up. It is also worth giving yourself some extra time in case of a mechanical.

The more often you ride to work, the better idea you will get of how much time you need to give yourself. Overestimate how much time will be needed to begin with so you are able to get a routine sorted without worrying about being late for work. You can then gradually reduce this time once you are comfortable with your routine and as you get faster on the bike.   

My work doesn’t have showers or changing facilities

Unfortunately not every workplace has the luxury of a warm shower and changing facilities. So, for those of you that have to go without, you might wonder how you can ride into work and still manage to feel fresh.

An essential item and without a doubt the next best thing to having a shower is baby wipes. They not only clean you off but many are scented as well. Micro fibre towels are also handy to wipe yourself down as they fold up small so are easy to carry and they also dry out quickly. Also, do not forget deodorant.

For women, a big hassle can be sorting out your hair. If you are worrying about turning up with sweaty helmet hair, an essential item to have is dry shampoo. A quick spray refreshes your hair and absorbs the sweat.

Having a spare set of toiletteries and if needed, hair appliances at work means you won’t have to carry them in everyday, adding unnecessary weight to your rucksack. Also if you aren’t planning on riding in everyday, it is a good idea on non-riding days to take a few days of clean clothes to work. This stops the hassle of strategically packing your rucksack or panniers every day.

What if I get a puncture or have a mechanical issue?

Unfortunately, suffering a puncture every now and again is an unavoidable part of cycling. However there are precautions that can be taken to reduce the likelihood of this happening. Being prepared is key. Give your bike some TLC at home with regular cleaning and tyre, brakes and gear checks. Also make sure you have got the basic tools, spares and of course sufficient knowledge to deal with basic roadside repairs. Your toolkit should at least include a pump, tyre levers, a multi-tool and a spare inner tube.

Choice of tyres can also go some way to help prevent punctures. Get some advice on the type of tyre you should be looking for. For commuting, many people opt for a simple bike, due to their reliability, as there is less to go wrong.

If you do get a puncture while you're out, it is generally easier to replace the inner tube with a new one, rather than fiddling with a puncture repair kit which is a time consuming repair. If you wouldn’t know how to do this, gain confidence by practising at home using our step-by-step guide for fixing a puncture. To improve your basic mechanic skills, check out your local bike shop or council website as many of them run free bike maintenance courses. Also for added ‘piece of mind’, British Cycling members have the benefit of discounted cycle rescue – just in case. 

Do I have to wear lycra?

Riding to work doesn’t necessarily mean you have to kit yourself out in full lycra or spend a fortune on all the gear. For commuter clothing, anything goes really.

If your commute is short enough, you might be able to get away with wearing your work clothes providing they are comfortable enough. It is advisable though to invest in a waterproof jacket for keeping the rain off. Get advice here on choosing a waterproof jacket

For the longer commutes there is cycling clothing to fit every budget. Layering is the key and the base layer is the most important. Try to avoid cotton, as when you sweat in cotton it cools fast, making you feel cold and clammy. Polyester is better but Merino wool is the ideal as it regulates your temperature, keeping you warm even if you get wet and it won’t smell. If you sort your base layer, it doesn’t matter too much what you choose to wear over it. Padded shorts or leggings should definitely be considered depending on the distance you are riding, as they will add significant comfort to your commute.

Once you get started you will find that the more you ride to work, the more it will become a normal routine that requires less planning than when you first started. Try gradually building up from starting out riding once every few weeks to once a week and then possibly even 3 times a week or more. Allow yourself some flexibility depending how it fits around your schedule.    

So now what’s stopping you from getting out and reaping the benefits of cycling to work?

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