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The beginner’s guide to cycling to work
Taking up cycling comes with a whole host of benefits. From saving money, to boosting your fitness, to reducing stress levels.
Riding to work can seem very intimidating at first and you’ll probably have lots of questions; “is it dangerous? Won’t I get sweaty? What about a helmet? Can I handle busy roads? Where will I keep my bike?” – These are all very valid concerns and things you’ve probably never had to think about if you haven’t cycled before. But with a bit of preparation and the right tools, you will feel comfortable and confident commuting to work by bike in no time.
Here are our top ten tips to get you off to a flying start:
1. The right kit is important
Finding a reliable bike is essential. If you already own a bike, great – just be sure to get it serviced and checked before you use it for commuting. If you don’t yet own a bike, you can get a taste for cycling by using a local cycle hire scheme such as London’s Santander Cycles, or Fora’s Brompton bikes which are available for our Residents to hire from our spaces (ask your concierge team for more information).
The government’s Cycle to Work scheme also offers big savings on the price of a new bike. Via this scheme, your employer buys the bicycle which you “hire” from them and pay a salary sacrifice, then after 12 months you will have bought it outright so it’s yours to keep.
A few other things to consider with regards to equipment: You should always wear a good quality helmet. It’s worth investing a little more for a lighter model and we’d advise packing some dry shampoo and a brush to avoid heading into meetings with helmet hair. Front and back lights are also a must (USB chargeable ones avoid the hassle of changing batteries) and we would really recommend equipping yourself with a light waterproof jacket and a mud guard for when the weather inevitably changes.
2. Consider a cycling proficiency course
If fear is the main thing holding you back from commuting by bicycle then it might be worth considering a cycle proficiency course. A large number of London boroughs offer free cycle skills courses and you can see what your borough offers on the Cycle Confident website. Alternatively, British Cycling offer Bikeability courses which give you all the basics you need to feel confident on the road. They also have a great library of videos on their site covering topics such as negotiating roundabouts, hazards to look out for and where to position yourself on the road.
3. Safety check your bike
Before riding, always ensure you give your bike a safety check. Bikes built for general transport and commuting, like hybrid bikes, are generally quite robust but wear and tear over time is to be expected. If your bike is brand new, this is also a good reason to double-check everything is working as it should, especially if you bought it online and set it up yourself. You can always visit your local bike shop or Halfords branch for a free bike health check if you’d prefer an expert opinion.
4. Map out your route
Planning out your route ahead of time is essential for minimising stress. Enlist the help of a route mapping app (Komoot is our favourite) or consult good old Google Maps before you set off. Remember that the fastest route isn’t necessarily the best one; adding a KM or two to the overall distance is worth it to stay on quieter, safer roads or roads with a cycle lane. It’s also useful to know the junctions and points along your route where you’ll need to be particularly alert.
5. Do a ‘dry run’ on the weekend
If you’re nervous about your first commute by bike, consider doing a practice run on a Saturday or Sunday morning. Weekend mornings are quietest and you’ll skip the pressure of needing to get to work on time. You can ride at an easy pace, get to know the roads and get a taste for what to expect.
6. Start slowly with an achievable distance and frequency
If you only live a few miles from work then commuting the full distance on your first day is achievable. But if your commute will take you 45 to 60 minutes (or longer) then consider breaking it up initially. This could mean getting public transport to work and cycling home or cycling part-way and continuing the remainder of your journey by other means. Cycling doesn’t have to be ‘all or nothing’.
In a similar vein, if you’ve never cycled to work before it’s unrealistic to think you have to cycle every single day of the week. This is a lot of work and requires decent levels of fitness (which you will soon build up). Be easy on yourself and start with 1-2 times per week then increase your cycling from there.
7. Learn the basics of bike maintenance
Any serious issues should be left to professional mechanics, but learning how to change a flat tyre will mean that the occasional puncture during your commute will be no more than a minor inconvenience. You can practice changing tubes at home or book a basic maintenance session at your local shop.
8. Strategise your clean up time before work
Some of us want a full shower after cycling and before commencing our working day. Others just freshen up when they arrive at the office. Find a system that works for you and plan out your time accordingly. If you’re showering and changing at work then leave plenty of time and consider having a change of clothes at the office. Of course, If you’re a Fora Resident, towels, shower gel, shampoo and hair styling tools are provided so there’s no need to bring these with you.
9. Organise what you need ahead of time
The last thing you want to be doing is scrambling around looking for a stray glove or your helmet, leaving the house feeling flustered. It’s a great idea to prepare all your kit and pack your bag the night before. This gives you precious extra minutes in the morning and ensures you leave the house on time and in the right state of mind.
10. Be sensible & remain calm
Though you have as much right to the be on the road as anyone else, remember that you are more vulnerable and less visible on a bike than in a car. Therefore, it’s very important to ride defensively and assume drivers haven’t seen you.
Don’t ride right next to the curb – it is often littered with potholes, debris and can encourage drivers to attempt unsafe overtaking manoeuvres. Also, be wary of putting yourself in blind spots, especially when filtering through traffic. One good piece of advice: ‘never be on the left-hand side of a big truck’ – they just won’t see you and may turn left.
Car drivers will pull out without looking, parked car doors will swing open suddenly, other cyclists will cut you up and pedestrians will cross the road without looking. As frustrating as these things are, take a deep breath, let it go and carry on. Staying angry just isn’t worth it, the only person it’s impacting is you!
That said, all in all, cycling to work is a really positive experience. It’s a great new challenge and a fantastic way to see your city! It will be nerve wracking at first but as long as you cycle safely, there’s nothing to worry about.