What you Need to Cycle to Work
Ever since the weather improved in March (wet, breezy and cold as opposed to soaking, blustery and freezing) I have been cycling the three miles to and from work each day. For someone who does not always have time for long rides, this is valuable bum in seat time that will help me prepare for my Pedal for Scotland 2017 Challenge (I hope).
Over these past five months of cycling to work I have learned a few valuable lessons that might help to encourage you to get back on your bike and cycling to your place of work or education.
The most important thing that I have learned is that I genuinely enjoy my cycle to work. More often than not, it puts a smile on my face.
Not only is it often faster than the bus, but it is both energising and calming. It is the perfect start and end to the working day for me. Cycling to work brings an array of benefits (you do not need to be a Tour de France rider to enjoy cycling) and you can read about them in this Pedal for Scotland feature in the Daily Record.
Now that I kinda know what I am doing, I would never go back to getting the bus or train. However, there are a few things that you might need before joining me in a cycle to work.
Firstly, you need to understand that not all drivers hate cyclists (no, really, they do not). Yes, I have had some obscenities hurled at me for daring to hold up traffic and yes, I have been victim to some drivers cutting me up, driving too closely and even tailgating me with their engine revving, but in the main, most drivers are courteous, understanding, forgiving and even respectful, especially if we show mutual respect. They have given way to me, waited patiently behind me and the vast majority overtake me in a safe manner, maintaining at least 1.5 metres between myself and them.
Drivers are not the enemy and they should not be the reason for not getting out on your bike and joining the increasing number of commuters that now cycle to work.
You also need to be seen. Orange (or luminescent yellow) is the new black while lights are a must, even in the summer months. You can spend a small fortune on lights and I do like my Garmin Varia Smart lights that respond to my speed and to light conditions, but for city cycling I have found that my super bright and long lasting Infini Sword set is ideal and more cheaply replaced when they are unfortunately stolen (we will come to that later).
Four Seasons in One Cycle to Work Day
With Glasgow being one of the wettest cities in the UK, I also seem to take the wet weather with me everywhere I go. Even when I am feeling warm, the temperature could drop away, so I made sure to invest in a bright waterproof jacket.
Again, you can spend huge sums on weatherproof hardshell cycling jackets, but if like me, you are a) short of cash and b) larger than the average Tour de France rider you might want to opt for a simple but still highly effective barrier running jacket (get one in the sales!). Not only are they relatively light on the wallet, but they are also extremely light to wear and carry, very breathable (I once made the mistake of wearing a hiking jacket. There was more moisture in the inside than the outside) and a little roomier than your average cycling jacket. My current fav is the Pearl Izumi one below (not just saying that as Champion Team member…honest).
Most importantly, they keep you dry
In the picture above, you will also see that I am wearing gloves….in summer!!
I have always had cold hands and as an office worker, I find that wearing gloves prevents blisters and protects me from biting cold winds and driving rain, even in summer! I have every level of glove protection, from fingerless to fully thermal, but a light pair of trail gloves will provide enough comfort and protection this summer without making your hands sweat.
While on the subject of keeping you dry, I highly recommend fitting mudguards to your bike. While they might not help you win that Strava segment, there is little worse than a jet of surface water being propelled from your wheels onto your thighs and groin (yes, I have been there). Most shops such as Evans Cycles sell and even fit them (yes, I am that hopeless).
As I am cycling to work, I have my work clothing and lunch etc in my bag, so a decent rucksack is invaluable, especially for my valuables likes wallet, keys and phone. As is a waterproof rain cover (you may have guessed that I have a thing about the rain). You can splash out for a waterproof rucksack or one with its own cover, but I love the Double Hump cover on top of my existing rucksacks. It also adds added visability and a couple of handy storage pockets.
You might also want to invest in waterproof socks, but I find them quite bulky. I have yet to master the use of cleats, so I tend to wear Gore Tex trail running shoes and pack a spare pair of socks in my bag
From protection from the rain, we next move onto protection from the slippery hands of bicycle thieves. I find myself now cycling everywhere. To work, to the shops and even to my GP. Despite living in CCTV obsessed Britain, I have heard, with increasing frequency, of too many bikes being stolen by opportunistic and sometimes skilled and equipped thieves. If a big thief wants your bike, the right tools will disable most locks and break any chains, but you can make it difficult and hopefully deter them from attempting to steal your bike.
For too long, I put portability and storage over security and opted for a simple chain that gave me relative peace of mind in my underground bike garage at my work. However, I recently received the Kryptonite Keeper 810 from my friends at Madison Cycles . With its flexible hardened steel links and one metre length, I can chain it to almost anything and while at 1.11kg it is heavy, it also relieves me of the weight of worrying if my bike will still be there when I come out of the shops or GP.
Whatever lock you get, please get one which will deter a thief from stealing your bike and look for locks and chains with a Silver or Gold standard (it will also help with insurance). You might also want to register your bike and have it security marked. You can find out where you can get this done for free HERE.
Thieves don’t just steal bikes. They will steal your lights, wheels and anything else that is not secured. It is a hassle but having lost one set of lights, I now also remove my lights, tool bag and bell from my bike whenever I park it while I also secure my wheels with additional chains.
Yes, you did just read that I remove my bell. For my bell is no ordinary bell. I have found that rather than cars, it is pedestrians that I need to be more cautious of when cycling in the city. Compared to a car, I am relatively silent and frequently I have had pedestrians step out on front of me. Or I used to!!
Now, thanks to the wonders of the Timber Bell I need to worry no more. Whenever I am in populated areas on cycling on shared use paths, I switch on my bell and watch as people instinctively step out of my way and out of danger. No more panicked reaching for the bell seconds before impact. It is like magic. Then, when I am on the open road, I switch it off. I would recommend this bell for anyone riding on trails or cycling in a city.
Now for some controversy.
The one thing that you really need to have is a helmet. There, I said it! I really do not care what others think about my anecdotal experiences in comparison to public health data. If I had not worn a cycling helmet, I would have on at least two occasions suffered some level of head trauma as I have fallen from my bike after losing balance. A helmet will possibly not help you if you are hit by a truck at 50 mph but it will protect your head against minor accidents and the wearing of a helmet has been shown to reduce your chances of suffering a serious head injury by 69% .
For me, putting on a helmet every time I get on a bike is second nature. It does not make me cycle more aggressively or feel invincible, but it is similar to putting on a seatbelt in a car.
You do it because you know that it reduces the risk of injury.
And for the fashionistas amongst us, a helmet does not have to spoil your look. I love my Lazer Genesis lid and you can get helmets in every style and colour.
Unfortunately, our roads and cycling networks are not comparable to many of our European neighbours and we should not be comparing how they cycle sans helmets.
Use your head and use a helmet to cycle to work.
The last item or items you need is a repair kit. Yes, you can chance your luck (and I did for three months), but eventually you will get a puncture or a chain will snap, so I now always carry the following:
- A spare inner tube (only one as how unlucky would I be to lose two tyres).
- Tyre levers for levering tyres when replacing above tube.
- A gas canister for quickly inflating above tube.
- A pump for slowly inflating tube.
- A multi-tool that does a multitude of tasks.
- A chain tool that does one task. Removing/adding chain links.
- A set of Allen keys for adjusting everything else.
I store these in a wee triangle bag that sits snugly in my bike frame. I am sure that I could find another 20 tools and gadgets to add, but these provide me with a semblance of confidence as I cycle to work and are about all I know how to use.
On top of the above, you need a bike (next blog will give you some ideas) and a will to cycle to work. For me, it started as a replacement for running, but now it is my favourite mode of transport and even my favourite activity.
What do you need to get you cycling to work? What is stopping you and what barriers are getting in the way? Let me know and one of my next posts will try to address your responses and give you some ideas.
It is not officially Cycle to Work Day until September 13th but let’s get you started now.