Sarah, Breeze Champion from Whitehaven shares a blog on cycling to work…
“One lady who came on a Breeze ride with me remarked that she had forgotten how much fun it was to simply ride a bike! Absolutely!! I guess that pretty much sums it up – cycling is great fun, and it really does make you feel good. I consider myself very lucky to be in a position to help people rediscover the fun in cycling either through my role as a Breeze Champion or in my work at the local Halfords store.
I’m not super fast these days, and it doesn’t matter.
Cycling feels like a natural choice for me. Although I enjoy driving, it isn’t something I feel passionate about. But the feeling of the wind on my face and the warmth of travelling under your own steam – that’s something I can relate to.
I often hear people say they would like to cycle to work, but they’re not sure where to start, or they are worried they would not be able to keep it up, or any of a million other reasons for not doing it. I think we are put off starting something new because we worry that we will not know what we are doing, that we will be embarrassed by doing something wrong, or that other people will think negative things about us.
I have been cycling to work for years. We are a one car household, although we have a garage full of bikes and these days I tend to commute on an e-bike most days now. None of my bikes are particularly ‘posh’ or ‘fancy’, and I ride wearing whatever I choose. Sometimes Lycra, sometimes Jeans and t-shirt, but I do always wear a helmet and gloves. I have learnt a thing or two about commuting by bike that I hope will help you to start too.
Firstly though, let me tell you, there is no superpower required to cycle to work.
You don’t need to spend a fortune – although you might end up saving one – and here is the biggie – you don’t need to cycle every day.
Before I bought an e-bike, on average I used the bike no more than three days a week. On other days I may have had use of the family car, otherwise I used public transport. It still counts. For those starting out cycling to work, you can just start with one day a week if you want. Perhaps just do it when the weather is nice. I must admit, if there is a gale blowing (as there often is here on the West Coast) I let the train take the strain instead. As long as you can confidently ride your bike, you are pretty much ready to go.
There are, however, one or two things to think about before you jump in. I would start with thinking about what route you are going to take, and how long your journey will take you.
Now, here’s the thing. When we drive our cars, we tend to take the most direct route as we just want to get to work as quickly as possible, but when you are cycling to work, you can treat it as a little bike ride before work instead, so then you might not choose the most direct route, but perhaps a quieter, prettier route. If you are lucky enough to have a cycle path in your area, choose this instead. Ordnance Survey maps now offer an overlay showing National Cycle Routes, so take a look at this and see if you can find a nicer route. https://osmaps.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/
Once you have planned your route, test ride it on your next day off, and you can see how long it takes you to get there. It will probably take you longer than in your car, but you are getting some exercise in at the same time, it’s better for the environment and better for your pocket. I usually add in some ‘delay time’ and factor in an extra 10-15 minutes for my journey just in case I’m a bit slower or I just leave a little later than usual.
The next thing to think about is where you will leave your bike while you are at work?
Most employers encourage their staff to cycle as there have been studies that have shown people are more productive and take less sick days if they do so. If you do not have somewhere inside that you can safely leave your bike, however, you will need a good quality lock. The rule of thumb with locks is that you should spend 10% of the value of your bike on a lock. That might sound a lot, but it isn’t a bad guide. A decent D lock will set you back around £40 or more, couple it with a good cable to go through the wheels and around a fence or lamppost and you can easily spend a fair bit. Some of the more substantial locks are rather heavy and this can put people off buying them, but if you are using the lock always in the same location, just leave it secured to the lamppost or railing in question and ride your bike to it, that way you don’t have to carry the extra weight around all the time. You may have household insurance that covers your bikes away from the home, if so the insurer usually will ask for a certain standard of lock to be used. Normally, they insist on something called ‘Sold Secure Gold Standard’. This is a rating standard for locks, Gold being the best. Look for the symbol on a lock. Be careful, the Silver and Bronze labels look exactly the same, just the word at the bottom is different.
Now you have the basics sorted, the rest depends a bit on what your job is, and how far your commute will be. For some of us, we can cycle in our work clothes and don’t need to worry too much as the journey may only be a mile or two, for others it can take a little more planning. My commute is 9 miles each way, and I change into my work clothes when I arrive. This involves transporting my stuff back and forth, which you can do with a backpack, but I prefer to use a pannier. If you choose this option, you don’t need to spend a lot on a waterproof pannier, just put your clothes in a plastic bag first. You also may need to carry some toiletries, but if you can, keep some at work. It’s less to carry back and forth all the time.
Some baby wipes, deodorant, a small towel, hairbrush etc, can all be kept at work. Another thing I would leave at work is my shoes. I don’t ride in the same shoes I will wear at work, but I also don’t wear my work shoes anywhere else. So they stay in my locker, again freeing up space on the bike and keeping the weight down.
My biggest single tip for cycle commuting is to get your stuff ready the night before, getting to work by bike will probably take a little longer, so time is of the essence in the morning.
I have got my bag-packing down to a fine art and there are certain things I always leave in my pannier now – Waterproofs in winter, for instance – but you will develop your own routines too with time. The most important thing is to give it a go, but a little forward planning will make it a better experience and hopefully you can make cycling to work part of your life, even if it’s only once a week or even less.
If you are looking for friendly, sociable rides to get you started check out your local Breeze ride