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Starting to Commute by Bike? 10 Tips for new Cyclists

by Nicola Heaney

With the weather becoming warmer and the evenings growing lighter, it’s the perfect time to think about taking the plunge and commuting to work. We all know the benefits: it’s great for cardio-vascular fitness, it can improve our mental wellbeing, it’s much better for the environment – which begs the question: why aren’t we all cycling to work?

As brand-new converts to the cycling commute, we’ve done some troubleshooting on the reasons many give to avoid hopping on the bike.

1. I can’t cycle to work: there are too many dangerous roads/ steep hills

This is a simple one – plan your route ahead of time. The fastest route isn’t nevessarily the best – and don’t forget that adding a km or so when on a bike is worth it to stay on quieter, safer roads or roads with a cycle lane.  There are lots of different websites that can help you plan your route: Cycling UK journey planner, CycleStreets and Komoot all come recommended.

2. I can’t cycle to work: I’m not confident enough

Yes, cycling to work can be scary if you’ve not done it before. However, the Bikeability scheme can help develop the skills and awareness needed to ride on our roads. Check out the Bikeability course finder to see if there are any courses near you. If not, why not ease into it – take your bike out for some shorter, less time-pressured rides near your home and build up to it. Or, why not cycle to work with a friend at the beginning?

3. I can’t cycle to work: I find mornings stressful enough as it is!

Actually, if done right, cycling can make your morning feel more relaxed – exercise can lift spirits and boost mood, so this one really isn’t a good excuse! However, it is important to take it easy. It’s not a race – try to cycle slowly enough that you don’t need a shower or to change clothes when you arrive at work. That said, it’s always a good idea to have a spare set of clothes at work in case of unexpected rain.

We’d also recommend starting out on days where there’s less pressure to arrive at work on time – not a morning where there’s a big meeting at 9am (just in case you take a little longer than you’d expected).

bike traffic

4. I can’t cycle to work: what if I get lost and turn up late?

Some of us aren’t blessed with an inbuilt satnav, but this shouldn’t stop us from cycling to work. If you’re nervous, why not do a practice run on a weekend morning when the roads are quieter? You’ll have a chance to get acquainted with the routes and junctions without the pressure of the commuter traffic. You’ll also get a better idea of exactly how long the journey is likely to take.

5. I can’t cycle to work: I’m not fit enough!

Cycling doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Build up to it – there’s no reason you can’t cycle in one day and get public transport home – or cycle part-way and getting public transport the rest of the way. You also don’t have to cycle every day initially – why not one day to start with and then add more as your fitness improves?

6. I can’t cycle to work: I don’t have the right equipment

If you’ve ever seen the squads of lycra-clad enthusiasts heading out on a sunny weekend morning, you could be forgiven for thinking cycling requires a full new wardrobe. It doesn’t! However, there are a couple of things you should consider.

It is a legal requirement to have lights (front and rear) on your bike during specific times. It’s always a good idea to keep a spare cheap set of lights at work in case you stay in the office longer than you’d intended (these can be pocket-sized!)

Obviously you’ll also need a helmet – plus a bell for the handlebars is also a good idea. We’d also recommend mudguards to keep your clothes clean/dry – and waterproof clothing.

Many cyclists also recommend carrying a multi-tool and at least one spare inner tube – but this will depend on the length of your commute. Plus, as Bristol is a cycling city, there are a number of bike maintenance spots around the city.

bike helmet

7. I can’t cycle to work: I’m worried about safety!

Getting a service is very straightforward. If you’ve had a bike gathering dust somewhere (or even if it’s new), it’s important to give it a safety check before using. It’s quick and easy to do – especially if you follow Bikeradar’s guide to safety checking your bike.

If you’re uncertain or want an expert opinion, you can always visit your local bike shop or Halfords branch for a free bike health check.

8. I can’t cycle to work: the roads are far too dangerous

Most cities have segregated cycle lanes which makes things a lot easier, but it’s inevitable you’ll have to share the roads with car drivers at some point. Communication is key. Clear hand signals and lots of eye contact with drivers will go a long way to making sure you’re safe on the road. If you’ve not made eye contact, assume they haven’t seen you and act accordingly.

Other things to remember are

  • Assume care doors will open and keep a good distance from parked cars,

  • You have as much right to use the road as anyone else – don’t feel you need to hug the curb. The surface usually isn’t as good for tyres and it can encourage unsafe overtaking.

  • Make sure you’re safe when filtering through traffic – be aware of drivers’ blindspots (particularly lorries, trucks, buses and vans) as they could turn across you without warning. Try to only overtake on the driver’s side –and always be aware of side roads and turns.

  • Don’t forget to say thanks and give a wave to other road users that give way to you or other good behaviour.

bike lane

9. I can’t cycle to work: what happens if I get a puncture?

With a bit of practice, you’ll be able to change a flat tyre quickly and easily. All you need to do is watch a couple of videos. Halfords has a whole series of basic bike maintenance tutorials on their website.

bike spoke

10. I can’t cycle to work – it’ll make me late!

Like every good scout knows, it’s important to “be prepared.” Just pack your bag the night before with all your kit. That way you won’t be rushing around in the morning and can leave the house on time.