Tips For Riding A Bike To Work

1. Think about your route. This applies if you’re a complete novice, or a rider with tens of thousands of road miles on your pedals. I regularly ride into the centre of Newcastle, and part of the route is on a fast, three lane road with the national speed limit of 60mph. Yet just yards from it is a shared-use path. It took me years to realise it was there. Google Maps is doing a better job of cycle-specific routing, but it’s not as good as the alternatives – Sustrans‘, CycleStreets‘, or Bikehub’s (iPhone & Android) planners – they’re all free.

2. Invest in good tyres. Cheap tyres are cheap for a reason – they’re rubbish. Good tyres have more grip in a variety of conditions, and don’t puncture as much. Sure, a pair of Schwalbe Marathon Pluses will set you back fifty quid, but your chances of turning up to work late & covered in brake grime because you’ve had to fix a flat will drop to virtually zero.

3. Have a rack fitted to your bike… and get luggage. The good stuff is waterproof, and looks stylish off the bike too. That sweaty back look you get with a rucksack is SO last year, and you’ll also gain space to carry shopping on the way home. A basket on the front is a stylish alternative, and probably a lot cheaper. Unless you get it from Brooks (though they are very stylish):

4. Figure out where your bike will stay during the day. Ideally you want it indoors, or in a secure compound. If you have to leave your bike outside, vary where you leave it, and consider uglifying it to make it look less attractive to thieves. This level of uglification is probably a bit extreme, but you get the idea:

5. Get a GOOD lock. In fact, get TWO and learn how to use them – you need to lock the frame and the back wheel and the front wheel to something sturdy.

6. Wear appropriate clothing. No, this doesn’t mean you have to wear Lycra. Think about layers, so that you’re warm enough on that early morning ride in, but can still get home without ending up a sweaty mess. In cooler months, that can mean wearing a vest if you’re a chap or if you’re a lady, a camisole under your regular clothes. In the summer, take a jumper / cardigan you can pull on if it gets chilly. Oh, and I always carry a pair of gloves!

7. Pay attention to the weather forecast. Despite our national obsession of talking about the weather, it hardly ever rains… during those two half-hour periods of the five days a week that you could be riding to or from work. If you rode every day, the chances are that you’d only be in the rain about once a month. Here’s a secret for you though – the weather forecast is pretty accurate, and you can decide not to cycle on that one day a month.

8. Get some good waterproofs. If you’re not going to leave the bike at home on rainy days, you WILL need these! I’d recommend actual cycling waterproofs, which will have a longer back to keep your bum dry, and longer legs in the trousers too.

Despite what you might think, a day-glo yellow anorak isn’t compulsory – waxed cotton is good, and there are other alternative styles available:

9. On the subject of the rain… do have mudguards fitted to your bike too. Without them, just riding on a wet road will soak you with a dirty, grimy mess.

And you wouldn’t want that, would you?

Some “sport” bikes don’t have the fixing points for mudguards or a rack, and as a wise man pointed out while I was writing this, “if it can’t take guards and a rack, it’s not worth jack”!

9. Ride at an appropriate speed. If you ride hard and fast, you WILL get hot and sweaty. If you treat your ride like a brisk stroll, you’ll arrive at work with rosy cheeks and pleasantly glowing, but not in need of a shower / hosing down by the stable hands.

10. If you’ve already got a bike, it’ll probably do the job for the first couple of months. Get it out of the shed, give it a dusting over, pump the tyres up, make sure the brakes work, and get going. Alternatively, take it to your local bike shop and ask them to give it a quick check-up for you.

11. If you haven’t got a bike, then DON’T spend £80 at ASDA (other supermarkets selling equally low-rent goods are available) on a bike.

Get a good second-hand one instead. Remember to buy from a reputable source, like the cycle recycling charities that are all over the country, rather than a bloke down the pub or market trader! If you buy from Ebay, never pay cash (you want PayPal’s buyer protection), always try to collect from the vendor’s home address, check their ID and get a receipt.

12. Second breakfast: it’s allowed. ‘Nuff said.

13. Leave enough time. No – not when you’re riding, but for when you have to take the car. Every time I have to drive I end up being late, because in my head, “cars are a really quick way to get around”. They’re not, and the dream of the open road is just that – a dream that we’re relentlessly sold by advertisers for years:

If you are worried about riding a bike being slow, remember that you can legally jump to the front of queues at junctions, and there are shortcuts you can use on a bike that people in a car can’t. If your journey to work is less than five miles (and statistically you’ve got a better than evens chance of that), then riding a bike is usually the quickest way to get there.

14. Enjoy it. Take time to look at the view, stop and smell the roses, and chat to people you find yourself alongside.

So far, so good. But what would you add to this list?

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Posted in Bike Culture
4 comments on “Tips For Riding A Bike To Work
  1. Make sure your bike and bike keys are easy to get to, and your car keys are less accesible so you don’t get tempted to ‘jump in the car’ on the first few weeks.

    After thay you’ll probably be addicted to cycling anyway.

  2. Lars says:

    Store some clothes @work. I always have 2-3 shirts in my office, so I can be in proper business attire even if caught by rain or after riding to a meeting in summer. Or wear a T-Shirt to work in summer and change into a shirt after arriving.

  3. KarlOnSea says:

    Andy – smart. I once heard of someone who froze their car keys in an ice cube for just such a reason. Probably wouldn’t work with one of these modern electronic key doodads though.

    Lars – sound advice. I’ve even heard of people who drive in one day a week with clothes for the other four days. An 80% by bike week is a whole lot better than a 100% car week!

  4. Ross W says:

    Hope you don’t mind the plug, but I did a series on this a while back – still some of the most popular posts on my blog! You’ve probably read them, but they seemed relevant. http://blog.wintle.me.uk/make-and-do/controversial-cycle-commute-tips/

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