Top tips for improving your commuter confidence

Be prepared and practice, and commuting can bring you plenty of benefits

This is a sponsored article in association with Red Bull

Commuting by bike is a great way to start the day, and travelling by two wheels brings with it a whole load of benefits: exercise, fresh air, a mood boost, and of course the fact that it’s one of the cheapest ways to travel.

But if you’re new to commuting, or looking to step it up, it can seem a little daunting. While it may seem like there’s a lot to think about, a little preparation and practice will go a long way to giving you all the confidence you need.

“Commuting is mostly a pleasant experience. You get to ride past all the cars stuck in queues, hit up those endorphins, and earn a chocolate biscuit with your cuppa,” smiles Jennifer Purcell, a regular commuter who also does the school run by bike.

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Get some coaching

Navigating roads and signalling to other vehicles can seem like a lot to think about, especially on top of cycling and remembering your route.

If you haven’t cycled in a while, or if you feel like a refresher would be useful, signing up for a skills coaching course is a great idea.

“I hadn’t cycled for something like 10 years and was a bit rusty, then I spotted that my local council was running free bike coaching sessions,” says Clem Dawkins, who lives in London. “The people running it were lovely, really reassuring”.

“We went through how to use hand signals, what to do at junctions and all that. I left feeling much better, more confident, about my riding.”

A quick search online will show you skills coaching near where you live, and many councils offer free coaching to encourage more people to get back into cycling.

Learn to anticipate problems before they arise
Learn to anticipate problems before they arise

Read up on the highway code

It’s a good idea to have a read of the highway code section on cycling, as it’ll let you know what you can and can’t do when cycling. This also means you’ll know what you’re entitled to.

For example, you have a right to ‘take the lane’ as bicycles are regarded as vehicles, so if the road is too narrow to allow a bicycle and a car to ride safely side-by-side, it's both safer and legal for you to ride in the middle of the lane.

Knowing that you have a legal entitlement to be there will help you feel more confident that what you are doing is right.

Plan ahead and practice the route

Enjoy your commute and don't be afraid to get off your bike to cross a junction if you don't feel comfortable
Enjoy your commute and don't be afraid to get off your bike to cross a junction if you don't feel comfortable

The last thing you want to be worrying about when commuting is which way you should go at the roundabout! So take some time to plan your route in advance.

There are loads of route mapping apps that can help with this. Strava can help identify the most popular routes taken by cyclists, which is a great start. The National Cycle Network and Transport for London both have route planning capabilities, and will indicate the quieter routes you can take if you want to avoid busy roads.

Then, when you’ve got the route dialled, do a practice run on a quiet day, such as at the weekend, where they’re likely to be less traffic to think about.

“Before I started commuting, I practised the route a few times at weekends until I was sure I knew it by heart,” shares new commuter Jamie Todd. “That meant when it came to doing it for real I didn’t have to worry about remembering the way — one less thing to think about!”

Ride with friends or colleagues

Having friends there to support you is a great way to boost your confidence, so see if you can buddy-up with someone for your commute, or for your dry run.

This works particularly well if you can ride with an experienced cycle commuter. They’ll be able to share their knowledge and experience with you, you’ll be able to ask any questions you have in a no-pressure environment, and they can give you feedback on your route and riding.

Plus, it’s a always a lot more fun to share the journey with a friend, right?

Over 10 million activities were analysed for Strava's London guide
Over 10 million activities were analysed for Strava's London guide

Give yourself time

The last thing you need is time pressure when commuting, especially the first few times you try it.

Most route planning apps will give you an estimated duration for the journey. Add some extra time to give yourself leeway in case you need a break or take a wrong turning. You also may not want to arrive at work hot and sweaty, so allow for a sustainable cruising speed.

The brilliant news is that once you settle into a commute, it’ll take pretty much the same amount of time whatever happens. Bikes don’t get caught in terrible traffic jams like cars do, and they’re not affected by train strikes either.

Once you get in the flow, you’ll be able to schedule exactly how much time you need to get to work, and it’ll be nice and consistent.

Communicate with drivers

The clearer your communication with drivers and other road users, the better they’ll be able to understand what you’re doing.

Using “lots of eye contact and hand signals” is how Purcell puts it, and eye contact is particularly powerful, as is a smile and a thank you when cars give you room to make your move.

“I always try to reinforce good behaviour by thanking courteous drivers. It makes all the difference when they give you space!”

Make sure your bike is in good shape

Lubricate your bike's chain
Lubricate your bike's chain

“The last thing you want to be thinking about as you ride to work is ‘what’s that noise coming from my bike?” says Tim O’Connell, and it’s an important point; you want to know your bike is working well.

Give your bike a good check over before you start commuting, or take it into a bike shop for a service.

  • Are the tyres in good condition and properly inflated?
  • Are the brakes in good working order?
  • Is the chain running smoothly and can you shift gears?
  • Are your lights fully changed? If you’re going to be riding in the dark

Once it’s in good nick, you’ll also need to do a little maintenance to keep it running sweetly. The most important things are to make sure you keep your tyre pressure topped up, that you clean and re-lubricate your chain regularly, and that the brakes are working well and the brake pads haven't worn down.

If you’re unsure of anything, most bike shops will give you advice, and some employers will have free, simple maintenance sessions where you your bike can have a once-over.

Then you’ll be able to ride confident in the knowledge that your bike won’t let you down.

Tips for confident commuting with kids

With kids of different ages, a mixture of kit can work well, such as this cargo bike, child seat and tag-along combo
With kids of different ages, a mixture of kit can work well, such as this cargo bike, child seat and tag-along combo

Cycling to school is an excellent way for kids to get to know their local area, gain confidence and independence, and also get some of that all-important exercise.

Purcell has been commuting with her two children for several years and wouldn’t swap the bike for a car for anything.

“I’ve commuted with trailers, back seats, a ‘Follow me’, and with the children riding their own bikes,” she says. “My children recognise where they live. They know how to connect routes and find key spots in the village. They can say hi to people when they ride past, enjoy the fresh air and exercise and the are learning good road sense.”

Fresh air, exercise, and more time spent together... what's not to like?
Fresh air, exercise, and more time spent together... what's not to like?

Purcell has some top tips for confident commuting with kids, including route choice: “I avoid the particularly tight or busy roads, and use cycle paths where I can,” she says.

“If you’re riding with the children, prepare as much as you can the night before and have a desired departure time, and a ‘last call’ departure time. Aim for the former, but don’t stress if you hit the latter.”

Feeling nervous?

If you feel nervous before you set off or on the way, try some of the following techniques.

  • Breathe deeply — focus on a long breath in, deep into your stomach, then a long exhalation. Do this for at least 10 breaths and you’ll feel much calmer.
  • Trust your equipment and planning — you know your bike is in good condition, you’ve planned your route and you know what you’re doing.
  • Take your time — Don’t rush the first few times. If you need to stop and regroup, do it. If you feel nervous about a junction, hop off and push the bike.

Commuting by bike becomes more familiar and natural the more you do it, and the more you do it, the more confident you’ll become!

Aoife Glass

Women's Cycling Editor
A mountain biker at heart, also drawn to the open road. Likes big long adventures in the mountains. Usually to be found in the Mendip Hills or the Somerset Levels in the UK. Passionate about women's cycling at all levels.
  • Discipline: Mountain, road
  • Preferred Terrain: Rocky, rough and a long way from anywhere.
  • Current Bikes: Liv Avail Advanced Pro 2015, Juliana Furtado 2013, Canyon Roadlite AL
  • Dream Bike: Juliana Roubion, Liv Avail Advanced SL
  • Beer of Choice: Red wine for the win!
  • Location: Weston Super Mare, Somerset, UK

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