Then look no further, to celebrate my fifth year of cycling to work, I have written this article to hopefully inspire others to get involved. Cycling to work is a rewarding experience, it keeps you fit, saves you money and does your bit for the environment. What’s not to like?
So surely it’s just a case of going out, buying a bike and cycling to work? Pretty much, but if you’re not already a cyclist or haven’t owned a bicycle since you were a kid, then there’s a few things to consider to ensure your cycling to work is successful and your shiny new bike doesn’t end up rusting in the shed.
My first port of call would be to check what storage facilities are available at your work. Is there a good bike shed to lock your bike? If so, is it in view or is it hidden out of view so thieves could target your bike. Ask other colleagues who happen to cycle for some advice if you’re unsure.
Secondly, where will you keep your bike when it’s not in use? Garden sheds and stairwells are common places for bike thieves to strike. So if you can’t store your bike in the house, make sure to invest in a good D-lock for your bike for at home and work. A good D-Lock will cost anywhere between £25 to £50, but it’s worth it.
So you’re happy you have somewhere safe to leave your bike at home and at work. What about changing facilities at your work? Does your building have changing rooms, showers and somewhere to dry your gear after a wet cycle to work? If not, could you cope without these?
So what will your route be, will it be the same as the bus or your drive? Perhaps there are quieter off-road cycle paths available? Do some research on Google, is there an online cycle map for your city/town? Google maps sometimes misses out good cycle paths that are available. For Edinburgh, see here. Consider doing a test ride at the weekend to see how you get on or is there a colleague who you could tag along with?
Buying a bike
So we’ve got storage, changing facilities and a route sorted. All you need now is a bicycle. Before rushing out to buy a new bike, consider getting a loan of a bike from a friend to try out your route and to make sure you enjoy cycling. You don’t want your bike to become an expensive clothes hanger. But if you’ve decided then the next thing to consider is how to buy your bike.
- Cash/credit card. Paying for your bike by cash or card may mean you can haggle over the price if you know the owner of the bike shop or you’re a regular. But if you don’t have enough money to buy out right, then don’t fear.
- Cycle to work schemes. Check if your employer has enrolled with a cycle to work scheme where you can lease a bike over a period of time and buy it out right at the end of the term. The advantage of this scheme is the money comes direct off your gross salary, saving you tax, meaning you pay less for the bike. You can spend up to £1,000 on a bike or £1,000 on a bike plus accessories such as clothing, lights and a helmet.
- Employer bicycle loan. Your employer may also offer an advance to purchase bus passes, bicycles etc and you pay it back over 12 months.
- Finance. If your employer doesn’t subscribe to a cycle to work scheme or offer an loan. Then lots of retailers offer 0% finance packages to buy a bike.
So you’ve secured the dosh to buy a bike, now what kind of bike to purchase? The market is saturated with different styles of bike that it can be a minefield. I’m not a total bike geek, so I’ll give you an easy to understand breakdown of each kind.
- Road Bike – We used to call these racers, they have skinny tyres and drop handlebars and are probably associated with the Tour de France. These bikes are fast and the positioning doesn’t suit everyone. The drop handlebars offer various positions for the hands, and you don’t always have to be in a low down position.
- Mountain bike – The trusty mountain bike, chunky tyres and loadsa gears. You sit in a more upright position than a road bike but with the chunky tyres and the way the gearing is, they don’t make as good commuter bikes.
- Cyclocross bike – Pretty much a road bike with slightly thicker tyres so you can go off the road on gravel tracks. Ideal if you want the faster bike with the luxury of going on tracks as well as tarmac.
- Hybrid bike – Hybrid bikes are between a road bike and a mountain bike and are aimed at the commuter. They have flat handle bars like a mountain bike, but the tyres are thinner than mountain bike tyres, but thicker than road bikes, so like the cyclocross bike you can come off tarmac and onto the track. Some hybrid bikes lean more towards the mountain bike positioning, others more like a road bike. The latter in my opinion is the best option for commuting, offering a best of both.
To summarise the above choices, a road bike would suit if your cycling is likely to go beyond commuting and become a hobby or you want to join a cycling club and take part in Sportives and Etapes (organised timed cycling events).
A cyclocross bike is a good option for commuting, leisurely rides at the weekend and still opt to join a club or take part events.
Mountain bikes offer diverse options for cycling on road, tracks and pathless terrain but are not ideal for the daily commute and are not as quick as the other options.
Hybrid bikes are aimed at the commuter cyclist. They’re nimble and quick around town but also make good leisure bikes if outright speed isn’t important to you.
What is important is to shop around for the best deals and for the right bike. Take them a test spin before deciding. Read some reviews on the bikes you’re considering but don’t get too hung up on reviews as you could end up confused with all the specifications.
Once you’ve bought a bike, keep it in good working order. Keep it clean, degrease and oil the chain regularly. It’s important to get your bike serviced yearly. Pump your tyres up once a week to prevent unnecessary punctures.
Look after yourself on the road, use lights when it’s dark and at dusk/dawn. Consider wearing a hi-vis jacket so you’re more noticeable to other road-users and also consider wearing a helmet just in case. Obey the highway code.
Carry some basic tools and a spare inner tube or two. Don’t let the occasional puncture spoil your bike ride.
Cycling on the roads isn’t dangerous. But you still have to be responsible for your own safety. You may occasionally come into conflict with motorists, they may cut you up or drive too close to you. Try not get involved in any confrontation. Here are some tips to keep you safe.
- Don’t ride too close to the kerb. The gutter is full of puddles, potholes and drains. If you cycle too far to the left, you also invite motorists to not let you out when you approach obstacles such as parked cars or road works.
- Similar to Mirror-Signal-Manoeuvre (MSM) for motorists. Cyclists should look, then signal with their arm then manoeuvre if safe to do so.
- Don’t wear ear/headphones. Your ears are like a second pair of eyes. They can tell you what’s behind you and the behaviour of the motorist, gauging how close they are or aggressive revving of the engine.
- Cycle passed park cars allowing enough room for a door to open. So if a motorist forgets to check their mirror and swings the door open on you, you can avoid a collision.
- Don’t be afraid to hold what is called the secondary position. This is where you cycle near the centre of the road to avoid hazards such as parked cars, busses, road works etc. Only return to the left (primary position) when it’s safe to do so. Riding in the secondary position keeps you safe as you’re in the direct line of sight of motorists. But staying in the secondary position for too long will frustrate motorists if the hazard has passed.
- Don’t cycle on pavements or through pedestrian crossings when the green man is showing or through red lights etc. Basically adhere to the highway code.
- Make yourself as visible as possible with lights, hi-vis jackets/vests and reflectors.
- Respect other road-users and acknowledge good driving.
- My driving instructor taught me to trust no one on the road but yourself, this applies to cycling too.
- When cycling on paths and you see dogs and or children. Slow down and be prepared to stop as both are unpredictable. Owners/parents do not always have their dogs or children under control.
This list isn’t exhaustive, but hopefully that give a good basis to start on.
I hope you’ve found this article useful and it encourages you to get on two wheels. I really enjoy it. I don’t like gyms, so my 6.5 mile cycle each way to and from work is enough to keep the weight off. My car sits at home, so I don’t use much petrol now and it keeps the mileage and repairs down. I can’t remember when I last had to break a tenner for bus fares. So taking all this into consideration I’ve probably saved quite a bit of money over the last 5 years. Lastly you’re doing your bit for the environment, which is always a bonus too.
Any questions or feedback? Please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you.