If you haven’t ridden a bike since you were a kid, getting back on your bike and cycling generally can seem intimidating, let alone cycling in London traffic.
However, it is doable and there are many programmes out there to help and support you. Ben Jones from BicycleVolt https://bicyclevolt.com/ takes a look at the details.
Once you’re confident and have the right kit you can then take your cycling to the next level. Fun family adventures with the kids, or even commuting to work, the possibilities are endless!
Every borough in London provides free cycle training to residents. Adults can have 1-2-1 sessions which are tailored to your needs and are suitable for all levels of cyclist – whether you are a complete beginner, a bit rusty, or wanting to brush up on your rush hour skills.
We run training for residents of Hammersmith and Fulham, and there are several other providers for other boroughs. Information can be found on the TfL page here.
All Ability sessions
If you want to start cycling in a safe space such as a park, or only cycle in an off-road location, then our All Ability cycling clubs are a great resource. We have all the equipment you need and are based in some great park locations. The clubs offer the chance for a short ride, and we have regular 2 wheel bikes as well as a full range of adapted bikes such as tricycles.
In East London we are in Victoria Park and the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. These are great parks to explore and have wide, open paths. In West London we are in Little Wormwood Scrubs park, which has a 1km loop around the park so is a great opportunity to build stamina as well as skills.
Knowledge is power. If you can keep your bike in good shape in between rides, and be able to fix a puncture should you be unfortunate enough to get one, then you are more likely to feel comfortable riding further.
We run beginners, intermediate and commuter courses in our Lee Valley VeloPark training centre. These courses provide the skills you need to check your bike over, perform any basic adjustments necessary and replace inner tubes / repair punctures.
Next Step: Cycling To Work In London
Compare your average bike commuter with your average car, bus or train commuter and you’ll quickly notice one big difference – the smile.
Being stuck on a crowded train or bus, or going nowhere in a grid-locked car, is virtually guaranteed to send your blood pressure soaring and leave you with anything but a smile on your face. In contrast, cycling to work gives you some major benefits such as improving your fitness, waking you up with a blast of early morning fresh air, and cutting your spending by dramatically reducing your travel costs.
It’s also a fantastic way of including exercise in your daily schedule when you might not otherwise have the time. Or the spare cash to spend on expensive gym memberships.
Remember also that it’s not an all-or-nothing thing. Ease yourself in gradually by starting to cycle to work one day a week. See how you get on. Does it feel okay? Do that for a couple of weeks then start adding in extra days as your confidence and stamina build. Before you know it you’ll be desperate to cycle every day and get more frustrated by the delays and crowds on public transport on your non-cycling days.
Isn’t it time to start smiling on your daily commute?
Plan your route
The first step in becoming a bike commuter is to plan out the route or routes that you can take.
If you’ve always commuted by Tube then you may be unfamiliar with the network of streets and cycle paths that you can use above ground. So, get out your trusty A-Z, or open up the maps app on your phone, and start looking for the best way to get from your home to your workplace.
Bear in mind that on a bike you have lots more options than you would if you were travelling by car or bus. Some roads will likely be quite intimidating (even for experienced cyclists) but there are lots of Cycleways, quiet back streets, and parks which are either traffic-free or very quiet. On a bike you are likely to find that you can travel in a much more direct route and keep away from the hustle and bustle of rush hour. You can find a map of the Cycleways in London here: https://tfl.gov.uk/maps/cycle?intcmp=40402&intcmp=58492&intcmp=60683
It’s a great opportunity to explore new unfamiliar areas of London. Those places that you’ve always wanted to check out, but never quite found the excuse. Well, now’s your chance!
As you’re planning your routes it’s worthwhile making a note of where the local bike shops are along the way. These can be a great supplement to your bike maintenance skills and their staff will be able to provide additional advice, tools, and spare parts if you get stuck. They can also be really useful in giving you local knowledge about great routes for cycling as they’re usually all bike commuters as well.
It’s also a good idea to plan a few different routes both to and from your workplace. Having these up your sleeve can be useful if your normal route is blocked. Or if you just fancy a change of scenery.
Get the right kit
Many people are put off commuting by bike because they think they need lots of fancy kit…and that they’ll have to get dressed up in tight lycra shorts. The truth is that, whilst the right kit is important, you don’t need that much to get going and feel the benefit of a daily cycle. As you get more into cycling you can then add to your gear. But there’s no rush.
The most important thing you need is obviously a bike. However, you don’t need to have an expensive model and actually there are advantages in having a cheaper bike.
A bike that is reliable and that you feel comfortable riding on will be perfect. Pricey bikes might get you to work a little faster, but they can be more of a target for thieves and you will spend your workday worrying about your pride and joy rather than concentrating on your work!
It’s very important that you have a bike that you are comfortable on and know how to operate. If you’re looking down at your gears and trying to work out which way to push the lever, then you won’t be looking up at the traffic and pedestrians around you. So, make sure you familiarise yourself with brakes, gears, etc beforehand and ask experts if you don’t know (the teams at our All Ability cycling clubs are always happy to show you how to operate the different bits of your bike).
You will need some safety equipment as well but this also doesn’t have to be top-of-the-range. Look for a good quality bicycle helmet that fits your head snugly. Front and rear lights, plus reflective clothing can be very useful (day or night) in letting other road users know you’re there. Also useful for this is a bell or horn.
Other things that are very useful are a puncture repair kit or spare inner tube, and a small bike pump. If you can leave your bike in a secure storage area for the day that’s generally the best option. If not, you will also need a sturdy bike lock. A ‘U’ bike lock with a bracket that attaches it your bike, so it’s ready for use when you need it, is very handy.
If your cycle route is shortish and flattish then you should be fine to commute wearing your normal workday clothes. Just make sure to tuck your right trouser leg into your sock (or use a bicycle clip) to avoid having the material catch in your oily chain. It’s worth keeping a spare set of clothes in the office though in case you get caught in a sudden downpour. If you’re likely to get a little sweatier on your commute then it’s a good idea to have a set of cycling clothes and a different set of work clothes. You can carry these work clothes in a backpack or panniers if you have them. If you have access to shower or washing facilities at work, that’s fantastic for freshening up. Alternatively, take in a wet flannel and some deodorant. Plus dry shampoo if you have longer hair.
Staying safe on the roads
This is where your route planning and Bikeability training really come into their own.
Thinking in advance about your cycling route will help you to avoid as much of the traffic as possible. Having alternative routes will allow you to take quieter detours if your planned route happens to be busier than normal.
When you’re on roads with cars, buses, taxis, and pedestrians you need to stay calm, focused, and alert. Keep looking all around you and along your route to check for any possible dangers or obstructions. There might be people looking at their phones as they’re about to step onto the road, car drivers about to open their door without looking, or buses that might not be able to see you.
It’s good to be as predictable as possible when you’re cycling on roads round traffic. Other road users can’t ask you what you’re about to do, so make sure that you make it very obvious just by looking at you. Use big and obvious arm movements to indicate when you’re turning left or right. It might be a little embarrassing to begin with, but car and bus drivers will be very grateful to know clearly what you’re going to do. If you can, also try and make eye contact with drivers and pedestrians. It sounds silly, but they’re more likely to pay attention to you and where you are if they’ve had that brief shared moment!
Unfortunately, there are too many cyclists that break the rules and don’t follow the Highway Code. This gives bike riders a bad reputation and makes drivers less tolerant. Make sure you go above and beyond to stick to the rules: don’t cycle on pavements or in pedestrian-only areas, don’t cycle through red lights, and don’t weave through traffic. Do your bit to give cyclists a great reputation instead.
The key thing about getting started is to stop thinking about it and take action. Get the training you need and the right gear and before you know it you’ll be cruising along with the kids, or smiling your way into the office.
Have fun and stay safe.