If one good thing comes out of the coronavirus crisis, then it's the huge number of people either taking up or reconnecting with cycling. Sport England have reported that the numbers of people cycling during lockdown have doubled. Sigma Sport have seen a 600% increase from last year on entry level bikes, and Halfords are even reporting that women's bike sales are outstripping men's. This is all great news, and provides a great opportunity for cycling to again become a popular, normal and in no way marginalised mode of transport.
However buying a new bike, or digging the old one out of the shed, is the easy bit. There are sadly many barriers to cycling which, when you start riding to work (or even thinking about it), anxiety levels can spike and it's very easy to forget the whole thing! But there are so many good reasons to start commuting by bike, not just during the post lockdown, that we would urge you to give it a go.
Read our top tips for how to start commuting by bike. These have been honed over years of interaction with new cyclists who have started cycling to work, learning from the obstacles they've had to overcome. 'How' to cycle safely in the city needs its own blog post altogether, so please check back shortly for a how to commute safely blog.
Get Yourself a Bike
This is the fun bit! Buying a bike (new or second hand) is great fun, but it can be pretty daunting if you don't know what you're looking for. We've created some bike blogs for you to help. Click here to read about the different types of bike out there, and also top tips on buying a second hand bike. A great tool is the cycle to work scheme, which we would urge you to use. See the link above for more details.
You'll hear loads of different information about what type of bike you need for commuting, but the truth is you just need a bike. Any bike! As long as it's got two wheels and working breaks then you're all set. If you're digging out an old bike then we'd recommend taking it somewhere for a service. Yes it might be expensive, but you can't put a price on your safety. Not only that but if you skip a service you'll likely break down half way home, which isn't fun.
If you don't want to shell out for a new bike before you know you like cycling to work, then make use of what's available to you. Can you borrow a bike from a friend or family member to get started? Or use one the many city/hire bike schemes available to you. Whether it's Santander (Boris Bikes) or something else, they're really easy to use and totally hassle free. Once you're hooked, you can start bike shopping!
Don't Worry About all the Gear
Looking at other cyclists (or worse, talking to one), it's easy to think you'll need loads of very expensive kit to start cycling to work. Cyclists love to regale you at length with tales of the kit they've bought, and give you advice on what you 'need' to buy. Well the truth is you don't 'need' much to get started, so don't let that side of things weigh you down. Certainly don't listen to Charles from accounts who is adamant you need to spend £200 on a GPS device to cycle to work!
It's very easy to heap completely unnecessary pressure on yourself if you worry too much about your kit. Give yourself a break, you're just starting out. Also, the kit will come, in time. Before long you'll have amassed a ton of stuff, most of which you won't even use, so for now don't worry about it. Be a beginner, and don't sweat about all the gear everyone keeps telling you you really need!
To get started you only need a working bike, a helmet (not legally required but we'd recommend it) a bag/backpack for your clothes, working lights and a good lock. That's it - the rest is just details. You can cycle in gym kit and trainers, with your old hiking waterproof in case of rain. You really don't need to overthink it. As you ride more, you'll start figuring out what/if you need anything else, and can pick it up as you go.
True of so many things, but planning is your friend when starting to commute by bike. This includes the hyper uncool but very necessary process of packing your bag and getting your bike ready the night before. Much like going to the gym before work, it's much easier to talk yourself out of cycling to work if you're not ready to go. Fail to prepare and all that!
Keeping spare clothes and shoes at work is a great idea, so if you forget something you're covered. And if the weather turns on your mid commute, which it is wont to do, you've always got dry clothes to change into. It's also a good idea to keep some spare sports kit at the office too, in case you get drenched on your morning commute. The thought of putting on damp kit after a day in the office is more than enough to put you off riding home again!
On that note, are you planning to ride home that night? Or do you have work drinks. Can you leave the bike securely at work and get the train the next morning? You don't have to cycle every leg of your commute, but it helps to plan out when you are going to ride in/home, so you can prepare yourself. No matter what anyone says, planning is cool.
Prepare and practise your route
Often one of the most off-putting aspects of starting cycling to work is exactly how to get there. If you take the tube or bus then it will seem like there are cars everywhere, and the thought of cycling the same route is very scary. This is generally because train stations are purposefully put in busy areas, and buses often take the biggest and busiest routes. There are nicer ways to cycle, it just takes a little research.
There are a few different ways to plan your route so it's as peaceful and fun as possible. Check out Cycling UK's journey planner to plot a nice route from door to door, or look at TFL's cycleways to find your local bike paths and cycling friendly streets. You can also use apps like Komoot to help plot a good route to work. If using Komoot you can also navigate said route on your phone, so you won't get lost (as much)*.
Lastly, practise your route on the weekend, when traffic will be more calm and you don't have to deal with the usual stresses of getting to work. The last thing you want to do is take on your first bike commute on a busy Monday morning. Instead build up to it with weekend practise. If you're a runner, why not jog the route a few times to check the details? It'll help to mentally get you ready for the ride.
* Seriously, don't worry about getting lost. It happens to everyone (all the time), and is not a big deal. You're not stupid, or inept, it's just part of the fun!
Build up your bike time and eat lots!
It's important that you build up your commuting fitness by gradually increasing the number of times you cycle per week. If you are already very fit and just starting to cycle this may not apply to you, but many will benefit from a steady build. If your commute is 5 miles each way and you cycle both legs of your commute every day of the week, then that adds up to 50 miles per week. It's not an insignificant mileage, especially when starting out.
Plan which days you're going to ride to/from work and start easy. You might decide to cycle two times in a week on separate days (i.e. cycle into work on Wednesday morning, and then home again on Thursday night). See how that goes and then build up frequency from there. Bear in mind things like the weather, impromptu team drinks may throw off your plans. This is totally fine as long as you've got secure bike storage at work, just rearrange your riding days
Another fun thing about taking up cycling; the more you ride, the more you'll need to eat and sleep! If you don't want to fall asleep during the afternoon team meeting, then you'll need a good breakfast and lunch to keep your energy up. Eating more also increases the likelihood of cycling home that night. Fuel is food - you wouldn't try and drive your car with no petrol, so make sure to fill your own tank during the work day to ensure you don't conk out. It's the best bit about being a cyclist!
Make some cycling friends
Whilst we are of course massive believers in the benefits of joining a cycling club or group, you might not be quite ready for that yet. However there are other ways to make cycling friends, and it makes a massive difference having some support. Firstly, ask your current friendship group - does anyone cycle to work? Does anyone's partner, dad, cousin or cleaner? Would they be able to give you some tips or help you out. If possible, get a friend to accompany you on your weekend route recce to give you tips and provide moral support.
Ask at work. Is there a staff notice board, or ideally a group/person who is in charge of cycling for the office? If not, try and get this set up. Loads of others will probably benefit from it too, and you'll be able to create your very own little bike club at work. Or find others in your office who also cycle in, and put them to good use. Find someone who lives near you and commute together to start with. Having a friend for company will reduce your anxiety greatly, and help you to get more comfortable with cycle commuting.
Give yourself a break
And the final *Golden Rule* about starting commuting: be kind to yourself. You're starting a pretty difficult activity, all things considered, so give yourself a break and take your time. There's no rush, so start off small and build yourself up. In no time you'll be commuting everyday (yes, even in bad weather) because it's so much faster, cheaper and more fun than public transport. Trust us, we've seen it happen countless times!
If you have any questions about learning to commute to work, or anything else beginner cycling related, then please get in touch. You can email, comment on this blog or get in touch on Instagram. We'd love to hear from you and will help in any way we can.