It’s not about the bike, the lights, lock or baggies says Rob Ainsley — unless you’re planning on riding to work. In which case it is…
- UK readers: can you help us get more people on bikes? Whether you’re a keen cyclist or a complete beginner, we’d love you to get involved in our Get Britain Riding campaign, in association with B’Twin. Click here to sign up!
1. Which bike?
Your local chainstore might try to flog you a mountain bike for commuting. No. What you need is either a featherweight road bike and loaf-sized backpack, or a sturdy commuter with mudguards, rack, removal-van panniers and an Eiffel Tower kickstand.
The roadie option is cooler and associated with high-income occupations — perhaps because they can afford to replace their bikes regularly when they get stolen.
It’s also associated with City finance whizz kids, so be warned: that’s double the perceived smugness. The heavyweight trundler suggests artisan, traveller, thinker, writer or eccentric, so be warned also. But it allows more enticing shop or party possibilities en route home.
There are also e-bikes to consider, of course.
A pain in the airhole, especially as they’re more likely in the rain. But they’re also easily preventable: those armour-plated Kevlar tyres named after South American mammals do work.
In a decade of daily London commuting with Specialized Armadillos, I didn’t have a single puncture. But take a repair outfit and pump (with Schraeder/Presta adaptor) anyway — not for you but for being a good Good Samaritan when colleagues struggle with a flat.
A pound shop combination lock won’t cut it. Thieves will, though — easily. You need two big locks of different types: a D-lock that’s heavier than the bike, and a cable lock that’s more expensive than the bike.
If your workplace has decent racks and you can store your bike indoors safely at home, you might be able to do that slightly annoying (for others) thing of leaving your locks locked to the racks overnight; otherwise there’s no point having a light bike.
If your workplace doesn’t, lobby them: your local Cycle Campaign can suggest a BUG (Bicycle User Group).
Again, there are two opposing choices. Either amble along in your work outfit or hurtle along in Lycra and mirrored shades.
The first is easier: no showers, no frantic changing, no clothes in the backpack; just saunter straight into that morning meeting looking fresh when all the car drivers are stressed out — although that necessitates leisurely, sweat-free cycling (not usually a problem in most traffic-light-ruled city centres).
The second frees you up to perspire on fast or long journeys, but needs lavish body-rinsing infrastructure at work.
5. Lights and reflectives
Evidence that being brightly lit or attired prevents you from being run over is surprisingly thin. Reflective jackets are up to you; paradoxically, they give stand-out anonymity.
Front and back lights are legally required in the UK though, so you may as well embrace them: go for two each, one set to steady, one to flashing (now legal).
Always take them with you because that social stop on the way home can last longer than expected, and front lights make good torches.
6. Folding bikes
Commuting alchemy, eighth wonder of the world: a bike that melts into a satchel. Hugely recommended. No worries about rush-hour trains throwing you off, and it opens a whole new cosmos of transport possibilities: coach, bus, car boot, kayak...
Today there’s any number of variations on the folding theme but for commuting you still can’t go wrong with a Brompton. No wonder they keep their second-hand value so well — but thieves know this too, so keep it with you, even when at the pub or restaurant, under the table like a faithful pooch.
The mark of a serious cycle commuter is heavily crammed panniers: tools, shopping, wet/cold/hot weather gear, netbook, phone, free council cycling maps, camera for potholes, book to read while waiting for a train (if you’re allowed on) and a Swiss Army knife with 24 tools (but you only ever use the scissors and corkscrew).
Panniers are in heavy use every day, so get a top-quality make such as Ortlieb. I can’t tell you how long they’ll last, because I’ve only had mine for 10 years. Backpack adaptors can be handy for retail parks, where the cycle parking is usually at least half a mile from the entrance.
You won’t get as wet as you think. Stats show that if you cycle-commute every working day, it’ll only rain on you 12 times a year. It may even be true. At least you can only get soaked one time per commute: once wet, you’re wet.
Still, rainproofs are usually worth taking. You can get away without waterproof overtrousers (fiddly to put on mid-ride) if your legs are clad only in Lycra. In extremis, if your work trousers get soaked, they dry quickest if you continue to wear them, rather than draping them over a radiator. Few jobs’ dress codes permit either though.
9. Road manners
Try to look as if you’re obeying traffic signals; studies suggest it has little effect on your safety either way, but jumping red lights is terrible cycling PR, which matters more these days.
Don’t phone while moving; anyway, ringtones are drowned in traffic. Keep phones in trouser pockets, set to vibrate.
Consider cycle training, often cheap or free through your local council. Don’t be put off, it’s not kiddie stuff (like this amusing 1970's film), but useful techniques for mixing it with traffic. Sneaking up inside lorries or using iPods aren’t just bad manners — they’re bonkers.
10. Bad driving
When, inevitably, you get cut up by bad drivers, don’t lose your rag. That said, we all do sometimes, so don’t feel too guilty.
Report traceable vehicles such as buses, taxis and vans to the company concerned, with all details; usually you get ignored, fobbed off or disbelieved, but sometimes it works.
At the very least, their pathetic denials may give you self-righteous blogging fodder. Some police forces such as the Metropolitan Police invite, and sometimes do act on, your incident reports. So don’t get mad, get helmetcam footage — no guarantees, but occasionally it clinches things.