Commuting: how to start and stick with it

Jun 17, 2020

If you don't already do it, then commuting to work by bike is becoming an increasingly encouraged alternative to public transport. In this article, one of our community explains what to consider when preparing to commute by bike and how to make sure you stick to it.

Commuting: how to start and stick with it

If you regularly travel to a city centre for work, your excuses for not doing so by bike (or on foot) are rapidly vanishing. And the focus is increasingly on the disincentives to travel any other way. Relatively few people live close enough to work to consider walking it, so we are really talking about bike vs car/bus/train. What should we be thinking about when preparing to commute by bike?

You need a plan. Sounds obvious but the demands of the journey vary from day to day, let alone from season to season. What is relatively straightforward and fun on a summer morning outside of term time can be a real test of will on a rainy winter morning surrounded by school-run traffic. A plan means you can switch to a different route if the traffic is bad and also means that you will have your waterproof jacket with you and accessible when it starts to rain.

Equipment

So equipment is important, and top of the list is the bike. It makes sense to buy the bike which will serve you best in the worst conditions. Disc brakes and mudguards which are bolted on are pretty essential. This means a frame which has been specifically designed for mudguards and therefore has the necessary clearance and mounts. Mudguards keep the spray off the rider and stop you getting cold(er) and wet(ter) in the winter and also keeps water off the bike, especially the drivetrain, and so reduces the amount of cleaning and maintenance you’ll need to do. Disc brakes give more consistent performance regardless of conditions than rim brakes. They obviously don’t wear the wheel rim away as you use them. Thankfully, these are pretty much standard issue on most bikes now.

Electronic shifting is worth considering too. It requires less maintenance than mechanical and is easier to use. The ultimate solution in terms of reliability and low maintenance is an internally-geared hub. Price and weight still put people off these, which is fair enough, but if the bike is for a year round, high mileage commute it would a good investment.

Clothing & spares

What you wear and what you carry are also crucial. Aim to carry as little as possible as often as possible. Carry clean work clothes for the week once a week and take washing back in the same bag once a week. Carry only what you need to carry out repairs you will be able to carry out at the roadside. This is a spare tube and a couple of CO2 canisters. Have a stock of both at work to replenish if you use them on the way in. Learn to remove a tyre without tyre levers and don’t bother with a chain tool multi tool or spare link, you will probably end up in an Uber if the breakdown is more serious than a puncture. Also, consider a tubeless tyre set-up, which means you can swap the inner tube for a tubeless tyre plug kit.

Clothing is always tricky and getting it right is inevitably a process of trial and error. It depends on the distance and speed of your journey too. Up to 3 or 4 miles in stop-start traffic might be possible in your work clothes with flat pedals. 15 miles with a decent stint before you get in to town is probably best done in full kit and clipped in. Remember you will get cold when you have to slow down and stop with you hit traffic so a gilet can make things much more comfortable. It is worth spending an indecent amount of money on a very good waterproof jacket. Store it on the bike in a water bottle (with the top cut off) so that you can put in on while you are stopped at the lights. 

Deciding on your route

Your route will no doubt evolve over time, but in the first instance use a Wahoo or Garmin and see how what it suggests works out. Remember that junctions are where accidents generally happen so a side road route that frequently crosses more major (busy) roads is likely to be more dangerous. Avoiding designated cycle routes might seem a bit obtuse but if you want to go faster than 25kph, it’s definitely safer. Be flexible too, and try a detour from time to time. It is easy to switch to autopilot on the same route every day, while varying your route keeps it interesting.

On a long commute (more than 15 miles each way), you will use a lot of energy. Have something to eat when you get to work and have something between lunch and leaving for home. However, no matter how well you manage your day to day nutrition, fatigue accumulates over the course of the week and can adversely affect your weekend riding so if you can work from home, do so on a Friday so that you can ride as usual at the weekend. You might also chose to get the train or drive once a week as an opportunity to transport clean clothes and also to remind you why you made the decision to commute by bike.

Be consistent

Doing the journey consistently is the key. It needs planning, commitment and investment but remember that everyone’s commute is different. If you decide that cold and wet isn’t your thing then make the decision not to ride when the temperature is in single figures or when rain is forecast the day. Riding when the weather is good and switching back to the train during the winter is still better that a full year on the train. Over time you will probably find that your parameters shift and the cold and wet will bother you less. 

The benefits on a personal, environmental and societal level are common knowledge and as time goes on and infrastructure improves, commuting by bike has to become the norm. One positive from the current situation may be an acceleration towards this as it presents an opportunity for change.


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