6 tips for bicycle commuting

I don’t just run, and one my my biggest fitness milestones was when I started riding my bike to work.  I was terrified, but I was also determined not to be terrified and to conquer the road.  I wanted a way to fit fitness into my daily life and save money – the cycle commute was an easy answer.  My commute is 9 miles each way, and involves a mixture of cycle paths, cycle lanes, shared pavements, and just pain ole road with big nasty cars.  I don’t have a shower at my office either – so just a few obstacles in my way.  Here are my top tips to get started if you are thinking about trying a cycle commute.

1. Make Eye Contact

I had read all the horror stories about how lorries just didn’t see the cyclist.  Now a lot of this might be down to sneaky cyclists weaving in and out of traffic, but some of it was simply that that you are a smaller road users and cars are looking out for cars.  So, at a stop light, I always turn, make eye contact with the bus driver, the other cars, the lorry driver, and smile.  From what I’ve seen, cyclists aren’t the most friendly bunch, so I’m this slightly manic staring, smiling women on her bike and I will definitely be remembered, and hopefully never run over.

2. Be Big

I don’t ride in the gutter, I ride to the left hand side of my lane, but never in the gutter.  You have to have a positive stance on the road.  Now is not the time to be a shrinking violet and cower away whenever a car passes you.  Hold your position, keep your posture tall, indicate big – respect your space, and cars will respect you.

3. Don’t be scared, just get off

The first time I rode my bike on my commute, it took be 1 hour and 20 minutes, now with a good tailwind it takes me 40 minutes.  So what made my commute double, well I made a promise to myself, that if it got scary, I’d just get off my bike.  If the roundabout was a bit tricky, the light a little bit too busy, or the cars a little too honky – just pull over to the side, hop off your bike and viola you are a pedestrian again.  So on that first commute I walked through quite a few junctions, until I had it all figured out.  No shame, just safe.

4. Lycra Clad Loony

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With my helmet, lycra, and backpack.

When I first started cycling I promised I’d never become a ‘lyra clad loony’, and I used to cycle in plain clothes with no helmet (gasp), at a conservative pace (to keep the sweat at bay).  But now, I’ve realised that with no showers at work, cycling in active wear and then changing into workwear, just works.  A few baby wipes in the loo at work, and a little freshen up, and I’m good to go.  Plus, cycling without a helmet is just silly – yes I did it for over a year, but in hindsight it was foolish.

5. Pack light

I use a backpack, but I try to keep it light, not wanting it to impact on posture (or give me a sweaty back).  I have a minimal make-up bag, no boots in the office – just pumps, and dresses and cardigans take up less room than jeans.  If you are going to use a front basket, make sure it has support underneath – you don’t want a saggy basket, where your stuff could spill out in front of you at any moment and cause and accident.  I’ve never used a rear basket or pannier racks, but they look like great options.

6. Enjoy

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Views like this make it all worthwhile.

I once read online that cyclists were risking their lives around the Elephant and Castle roundabout (at the time one of the most dangerous cycling intersections in London) simply to save 3 minutes versus using a different cycling route.  I read in absolute horror – I mean, for 3 minutes you’d risk your life?!?!  Maybe that’s how some people get their kicks, I’m happy to just go with the flow.  If there is a great tailwind behind me, I’m happy to fly along like a bat out of hell, and if I’ve got a wicked headwind causing me misery, I just treat it like an intense spin class and think of all the extra calories I am burning.  I also love to take pictures along my cycle, as what’s a minute here and there – but to capture the sunlight, when it was just so, or the patina on the bridge railings in the morning light, or the ducks that love to ‘swim’ in the road when the Thames overflows.  They are what make my cycle commute so special to me.

So those are just some thoughts about starting a cycle commute.  Have you ever considered it?  What’s holding you back from doing it, distance, helmet hair, fear?  I’d love to hear your story…

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