Why you should ride to work – and how to get started
Readers talk back
I've been a bona fide pedal pusher for the better part of a decade now, across different cities and countries, and I now couldn't imagine ever being a public transport commuter again.
Some of my bike commutes have been delightful – in cycle-friendly towns with small lanes, bike paths and minimal traffic. Others have been terrifying, with cars and buses zooming around in three-lane traffic across major roundabouts.
But no matter what the conditions, I firmly believe almost anyone (who lives within a reasonable distance) can and should cycle to work. You just need to get started.
Firstly, why would you ride your bike to work?
- It's cheap. Adieu bus and train expenses.
- It's healthy. Cycling to work provides incidental exercise that you don't have to find much additional time for.
- It can actually be much faster than public transport or driving, which means extra time in bed!
- It helps you get to know your town, and all its back road cafes, a whole lot better.
- It's genuinely enjoyable.
And secondly, how can you get started?
- Commuters don't have to be pro cyclists
There is absolutely no need to go buying all the latest equipment and an expensive road bike/fixed gear bike to start with. Let's face it, you may splash out all that cash and then decide biking isn't for you. When I first started, I went on Gumtree and picked up a decent second hand hybrid bike. It certainly wasn't the latest, hipster trend but it had gears to help me get up those hills, it was straight and stable and it wouldn't slip at the slightest hint of rain. There are a lot of former commuters out there who sell their great quality bikes as they upgrade or move further away from a city.
Your beginner bike is unlikely to be the prettiest, but you can upgrade once you feel comfortable. To begin with, you need to focus on getting used to being back on your bike (possibly for the first time since that Raleigh Apple you had as a child) in the least scary way possible. If you're not yet comfortable on a bike, owning all the latest gear won't help.
- Don't Tour de France before you can Peddle in the Park
If you have a 7/8km commute like I do, there's no need to go from not having cycled in years to immediately using a bike to get to work. Start at the weekend in the local park. Take a two minute cycle to the local supermarket and back. Peddle around your backyard!
If you can drive to a larger park and take your bike for a good 20 min cycle on safe, paved paths, then that is a great way to get the feel of your bike.
- Plot your route in Google Maps
Google Maps has a setting that allows you to request directions from point A to B from the viewpoint of a cyclist.
This method of avoiding busy roads and scary roundabouts wherever possible is crucial for any new cyclist. I'll give you a great example from when I moved to Sydney. I started cycling to work within a week of beginning my new job (yes I prefer it that much!). I had absolutely no understanding of the city layout. I plotted my route into Google maps and it gave me the suggestion to cycle along Darling Harbour and up past Barangaroo (I work in the Rocks). It's peaceful, easy and traffic-free. I would never have known to do this if I hadn't followed its suggestion. I still do it to this day.
NB. You'll usually find that Google maps takes you a longer route in an effort to avoid bigger roads. As you get more used to your commute, you can adjust to suit your preferences, before finally mastering the optimum route!
- Have a trial run outside of rush hour
When you're trying to follow a mapped out route by referring to your phone every few minutes, the trip can be very daunting. Even if you're cycling in a well-known city you'll find yourself taking back roads you may never have used before. Try to make sure you do a trial run at the weekend, when you're free from rush hour traffic and have time to pull up onto the pavement and double check where you are.
- Prepare a second wardrobe
For ladies especially, the trauma of dealing with what to wear while cycling, followed by the what to wear in the office, can be off-putting. There are a number of ways to deal with this.
- Find out if there're showers (and hairdryers!) at work. Leave home earlier but with no preparation and get it all done at work before anybody else is in.
- If your commute isn't too long – a pair of leggings or shorts and a t-shirt generally suffice as cycling clothes. Then just change quickly when you get in.
- Keep a small selection of emergency spare clothes and shoes at work. This has saved me innumerable times when I've been half asleep and left home without something crucial.
- Keep a light jacket at work at all times. Cycling means you're usually very warm when you get to work then when you pop out for lunch, you realise you have nothing practical for the autumn weather.
- Prepared for a sore bum!
Many people don't expect this and get put off cycling due to the discomfort they suffer after the first couple of days commuting. Saddles aren't always the softest of materials and bums that aren't used to sitting on them regularly will often feel slightly sore and bruised.
It usually goes away within three to four days, but you can always experiment with adding a pad to your saddle.
- Stay visible, safe and secure
The basics like bike lights, and a helmet, are crucial. Accidents can and do happen so your best to minimise them. I've had only two accidents since I've been riding, (I've had plenty more off my bike than on it!) but the risk does remain.
Be aware of the traffic around you. Develop a thick skin and go right ahead and stay in the middle of the road, even if that means holding up the cars behind you as you need. Cars may honk their horn or complain, but a slightly irate driver is always better than an injured cyclist. Don't assume people can see you, make yourself as visible as possible within the space of the road (and especially at night).
Meanwhile, bikes do get stolen so invest in a decent lock. Always lock your wheels AND frame to a solid mooring, preferably via the back wheel to the frame and then a solid post. The back wheel holds your gears and derailleur and would be far more expensive to replace than the front.
- Don't be ashamed to ditch the bike too
Finally, don't feel like you have to cycle to work every day. If it's raining, catch the bus – you don't have be that cyclist suffering in the wet.
Personally, I choose to not cycle on Fridays. I enjoy taking a little more time to get ready at home. I also like to know I can go out with friends after work without wondering what to do with my bike.