Cycle commuting for beginners

Thinking  of  starting  to  cycle  commute?

Well, warmer weather is starting, and the bikes are coming out of sheds and being dusted off. Those two points are valid reasons enough for starting to cycle commute, but when you throw the massively increases in fuel prices into the mix, it’s clear that cycle commuting is a rock-solid choice to make!

Hang  on – what  do  you  mean  by  “cycle  commuting”?

In the most basic sense, cycle commuting is cycling from home to work, and cycling back again. Of course, that’s not your only option! You could, for example, drive halfway, then cycle the rest of the way. Usually, this is an excellent option if you live far from work, and you work in a city centre. You could cycle in one day, then catch the bus or train home. The following day, you could take the bus or train in, then cycle home again. Mix and match, then find something that works for you. Remember, if you usually drive to work, and can switch to cycle commuting for just one day per week, that’s roughly a 20% drop in your fuel costs!

But  my  route  to  work  is  scary!

Many roads are scary, even to the most hardened of cyclists. However, most people who don’t cycle for transport look at the roads network through a windscreen-influenced mindset. If you were to decide on a route to cycle, chances are it will mainly, or entirely be the same route as what you’d normally drive to work. When I first got back into cycling, I made that mistake often. Fortunately, we now have tools like the simply excellent CycleStreets. When you visit the CycleStreets site, you simply click on the map to set your starting point, then again to select your destination. CycleStreets’ Journey Planner will then generate three different routes for you, rated on how traffic-free they are expected to be. Chances are that you will be pleasantly surprised by the routes it suggests, so go try it now!

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Sometimes, it’s impossible to avoid a nasty or scary bit of road, but nothing prevents you from walking your bike along the pavement.

What  if  it  rains?

cycle commuterReally? For starters, it rains far less often than what you think it does. Besides, raincoats, over-trousers, and even cycling capes exist. Seriously, rain is far less of an issue than you might imagine, and there are tried and tested strategies for dealing with it.

Usually, there are two strategies: accept you’ll get wet and get changed into dry kit at your destination, or try to stay dry on the ride. Each option has its merits and drawbacks. My preference is to commute in cycling clothes, and get changes when I get to work. My reason for this is simple: my commute is 15 very hilly miles each way. By the time I get to work, I’m a sweaty mess, and I have a shower first. I do that even on dry, cold winter commutes. I understand that not everyone has a shower at work though. In a previous job, I used to clean myself using a flannel, before getting changed into work clothes.

If your commute is shorter, and less hilly, you may well be able to cycle in while wearing your work clothes. I would suggest that you cycle slower than you usually would, to avoid sweating. Increasing numbers of people cycle commute in their work clothes, and if it rains, simply wear rain coats and over-trousers.

Will  I  need  lights?

Ideally, yes. After all, even on a day when you would normally be commuting in daylight, what would happen if some emergency meant you were working late, and had to cycle home in the dark? Lights come in two varieties: lights to see with, and lights that help you be seen. In an urban environment, you should be OK with lights to be seen, but if there’s a chance of cycling along dark rural roads, then you will need better lights. This post does  deeper dive into cycling lights.

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What  about  security?

Security is a real concern, especially if you have to leave your bike locked up out on the street somewhere. After all, bicycles are stolen regularly. If you have to leave your bike outside on the street all day, then you really, really don’t want to commute on an expensive bike! This post delves deeper into security, but don’t forget digital security!

But  I need  to  carry  stuff

Millions of bicycle commuters cycle to work every day, and they manage to carry what they need. If they can do it, then so can you. Most cycle commuters start off using a backpack, but you’ll find you rapidly end up with a very sweaty back. There are better options available.

Trial  run

I rather strongly suggest you do at least one trial run of your planned route. Ride it on a Saturday or Sunday, when you can afford for it to take longer than expected. This will also give you the opportunity to see if there are very nasty stretches on your new commute, and if there are, you may want to change the route. If you can, also ride it at the time you’d expect to be commuting to work, but on a day off. That would give you experience of the route during rush hour.


Finally, you need to establish cycle commuting as a habit. If it’s a habit, it becomes simply something that you do, and you won’t have to think about it. Science tells us it takes, on average, 66 days for something to become a habit, so roughly two months after starting cycle commuting, it will be a new habit. And what a good habit it is! You’ll be saving a fortune in fuel or public transport costs, you’ll probably lose weight, and you’ll feel happier. Obviously, you’ll also be more healthy. Those are some serious wins, but there’s a final bonus: cycle commuting is a great way to prepare to go cycle touring.

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Go on. Get out there! You’ll love it.

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