I didn’t want to post this. There is a ton of information out there on this subject, I’ll only add to the noise. But then, I saw the same old nonsense, over and over again.
I posted a tweet that got a lot of love. So I’ll pass on my 40+ years experience, take it if you like or do something different. There’s no science here, just my experience. These are in order.
- Choose your route. Want some safety advice? The best I can offer is ‘choose a route that removes conflict’. Honestly. If you’re riding across a mad roundabout where you’re terrified every single day, see if you can find a route that avoids it. Adding half a mile on won’t kill you. This point is number 1 for a reason, it will make your commute so much nicer and safer, if it’s pleasant you’re far more likely to keep at it. Do not go for the most direct route. You’re on a bike, not a car, that road has not been made for you. Look for the pleasurable route and enjoy it.
My winning tweet was as follows: “Choose a route that places minimal reliance upon the diligence or competency of drivers” as per the title. That’s because most drivers are useless, malicous or tossers. I’m sure most of them are lovely people normally but for some reason, they get behind the wheel and turn into horrible people.
- Mudguards. I was a slow convert, I’ll admit. Spend a bit extra, get some good, strong mudguards (cough…SKS), get to work dry, clean and without dog poo in your hair (another story). They don’t look great, they sometimes rattle, they sometimes foul other bits but by god they do their job well. Even if your bike hasn’t been made to take mudguards, mudguards that still fit are available. It may not seem like a worthwhile investment in summer but you’ll be thanking me come the end of winter.
- Dynamo lights. If you can, get some. You’ll need a new hub and the lights themselves but life-changing things. German engineering, standardised light patterns, brackets that can withstand a nuclear blast. After discovering these things after 20 years of cycle commuting I was amazed at how good they are. If they’re not for you, I would recommend two flashing LED’s, front and back.
- You are going to eat more. Yes, you’re going to weigh less and be fitter but the thing you’ll notice is how much more you need to eat. Half the weight you’ll carry into work will be food and you’ll have eaten it all by 10:30 am and be wanting more. Want some more advice? Make your first breakfast something solid and filling, porridge or yoghurt. Second breakfast can be a bacon buttie or something. If you have a third breakfast, start looking at pasta carbs. Look over your food at your work colleagues with their diet plan meals, fight them if they try to take your nutrition off you. You need it more than them.
- Forget all that nonsense about e-bikes, adventure bikes, commuting bikes. Any bike will do. Yes, some may do a slightly better job but you can ride whatever you’ve got. If I were recommending a type of bike, I’d start with a touring bike. Comfortable, ready for mudguards, lights and pannier rack, robust, generally quite cheap.
- E-bikes. Ooh, these have become a discussion point. As far as I’m concerned, they’re brilliant. They’re not cheating or doing it wrong, they’re huge enablers for people who need some extra help. They make cycling attractive for non-cyclists, give a boost of confidence to those who feel vulnerable in traffic, can make a sweaty commute sweat-free, can make a long commute shorter. If you are thinking about cycling to work but are put off by the distance, the hills, the effort or setting off from the lights, think e-bike!
- What you wear makes naff all difference. If wearing a helmet or bright clothing makes you feel better then I recommend you do it. I have for years, commuting on a bright yellow bike with a bright yellow pannier on the side (I like yellow), they are visible from the moon and yet, people ‘don’t see me’. All the time. It. Doesn’t. Work. Because people don’t look. It makes no difference how conspicuous you make yourselves, you’re not the issue. But really, wear what you feel most comfortable in. If there were a single item of clothing I would say you should always wear, it’d be a cycling cap. Keeps the sun, rain, snow and hail out of your eyes….looks cool.
- Unfortunately you’re going to become a weirdo magnet. I can’t explain it, sorry. Amongst the people asking you if you’ve lost your license or why is your car still in the garage, you’re going to be sought out by some of the oddest people in work, or even on your street. They’ll look like normal people, they may even know you well already, but underneath…..weird. I don’t know which ones will look for you but with me it’s the ones who find it necessary to complain to me about other cyclists behaviour, will want to tell me about a cyclist who was killed or will want to tell me to wear a helmet. You can try reasoning with them, you can try turning it around onto them, it rarely works.
- Learn to repair stuff. I mean simple stuff that will get you home. Punctures, rubbing brakes, clicking gears. As a confidence booster it’s hard to beat being able to get yourself moving again.
- It’s not that bad out there. Don’t believe the stuff you see in the papers. Cycling to work and back is awesome. 99% of the time you will absolutely love it. No need for the gym, no need for petrol, you arrive at work invigorated, awake, happy. Your buns will become as steel, your mind will become as mustard. After a while you won’t notice the distance, the work, the rain or the snow. Your legs will just knock out those miles and you will be riding into a headwind from hell with rain blasting your face and You. Will. Be. Smiling.
OK with all that? Cycle commuting is great, you will struggle to look back once you take the plunge. The money you save will be astounding. I first incentivised myself by putting 20 quid a week into a bank account, which was my petrol money at the time. I paid for my bike maintenance out of that but the rest was mine. By the end of the year I bought myself a lovely new bike. The second year we went on holiday with it. Cars are moneypits. They suck the life out of you in so many ways.