Steps to Becoming a Cycle Commuter
Commuting by bike is an ideal of many, but a reality for too few. The jump between cycling in the park and riding in city traffic can seem very daunting and off putting. However, if you ease yourself into it and select your routes right, it needn’t be.
There are four main things to crack to make life as a cycle commuter easier:
Your route can make or break your commuting experience. It may seem simpler to take a route along main roads, but this can lead to a miserable experience. Similarly, a very convoluted route is hard to remember and can be a lot slower if you have a lot of junctions to cross.
To start the transition from leisure cyclist to regular commuter, get used to the route and the roads between you and work by riding them at the weekend. The traffic should be quieter and you can find some good cafes and parks on the way to make the riding more fun.
There are so many parks in London that you may well manage to get one into your route. The park can provide a nice break from the traffic and it can also help to highlight the benefits of cycling over being stuck in the underground on on a bus.
In the summer months when the evenings are nice, explore on your way home. If you see a lot of other cycle commuters heading down a side road, follow them. As long as you are carrying your phone you will be able to find your way back if you get lost, but you may well find a much better route home.
A lack of on-road confidence is usually the biggest barrier to commuting by bike. You may feel happy riding a bike, but being on the roads at rush hour is a whole different deal. The easiest way to get confidence on the road is to take some cycling lessons. Bikeability training is provided free of charge in most London boroughs and you can have it in the borough you live or work/study.
Bikeability has different levels, aimed at teaching basics, intermediate and then advanced on-road skills for urban areas. The course may just confirm that you know how to behave in traffic, or it may give you a few pointers in the right direction. Even experienced riders can benefit from some instruction and it really can go a long way to making you confident on the road.
You don’t really need anything other than a bike to start commuting – in fact, if you use a Santander hire you don’t even need a bike. However, if you get into it regularly, or are the type of person who needs new things to motivate them, then a few pieces of gear can go along way to making commuting easier.
If you do get your own bike, then you will also need a lock to keep it safe during the day. Locks have ratings, and if you are locking up in central London, or other urban area, then look for a lock with a gold standard rating.
A good set of lights is a worthwhile buy. Lights are also a legal requirement for riding in the dark so it’s best to not get caught out. You are not required to wear a helmet, but if you do decide to wear one, then one with a lot of vents is good for summer (you can always wear a hat under it in winter). Make sure it fits and feels like it will not fall off your head, but is not too tight.
In terms of clothing, you don’t have to go for anything cycling specific, but these do have some features of use – particularly the jackets. Reflective areas are great if you are intending to cycle in the dark as they help you be seen. Cycling jackets tend to be cut to fit better when you are in a riding position, which is helpful if you are riding anything other than very upright bikes.
Often the key to success is preparation. By figuring out your route in advance and trying it out a few times during the weekend, getting the training you need to feel confident on the road and having your gear in order, then starting to commute will be a lot simpler.
You can deal with the change in morning routine by preparing your bag the night before. Make sure you have everything packed or laid out when you go to bed the night before. If you commit to riding in then, it will be easier to just do it in the morning than change your mind and chicken out!
Cycling with other people, or telling other people what you are doing, makes you accountable and more likely to start cycling.
Use your normal motivation methods- do you respond well to rewards or do you need nice things to make you feel like you are starting a hobby? Whatever it is that gets you to exercise or start something new, do that for cycling too.
Do not pressure yourself out of cycling. If you don’t want to cycle in the dark or bad weather, don’t. It does not make you less of a commuter if you do not cycle every day. It can take years to become committed enough to cycle in rubbish winter weather! It does help to set yourself a goal or target though.
If you are worried about being tired by cycling, then it is actually better to cycle on a monday. If you wait until later in the week when you are already more likely to be tired, then you certainly not going to feel like cycling towards the end of the week.
Try to start cycle commuting as the weather gets better in the spring, then you are more likely to be firmly in the habit by the time the nights draw in and the weather gets cooler.
What are your best tips for new cycle commuters? Leave us a comment below!