9 Tips for Commuting by Bike
Commuting by bike is a small pleasure within the MEAME team. It wasn’t always this way – before Steven introduced Megan to cycling, commuting by bike (especially in busy London traffic) wasn’t very high on the agenda. After trying and seeing the benefits in health and travel freedom though, it’s safe to say that changed pretty quickly.
Switching to commuting by bike can be daunting, and we definitely know that feeling. To run you through the process, we gathered some tips from Andrew Griffin, country manager for Bianchi bikes, and Anthony Garcia, head spin instructor at Lomax. Read on and get riding…
1. Like the looks
Worries about looks, in our experience, is one of the chief reasons people put off starting to cycle – and it needn’t be that way! Whether you like slender Fixies that nip through traffic, or prefer the more regal feel of a Dutch bikes, it’s fine to factor the visual part in your decision. Style is a chance to inject some fun into your daily routine, and we believe you can tap into your taste when it comes to commuting by bike.
“Not many people will admit to it, but choose a bike you like the look of. An ugly bike is a discarded bike, and a discarded bike is a waste of money and a lost opportunity to help save the planet, get healthy etc.” – Andrew
2. Get the right fit
Function is also core to cycling, because if it’s not a comfortable ride, you’re much less likely to enjoy it and want to keep riding. Bikes come in fewer sizes than there are sizes of people, and an ill-fitting bike can lead to strains and pains in your back and neck. It’s important to find one that is right for you – a good bike shop should size you up properly, taking flexibility, torso/limb proportion and intended use into account.
When you find the right sized bike, make sure you test it out. Ride around a street, change gears and squeeze hard on the brakes. Do you like how you’re positioned on it? Is it a weight you prefer? A heavier bike will be sturdy on the roads and over potholes, whereas a light bike will be speedier on the road and easier to carry up flights of stairs. Are the gear shifts smooth? Does it stop easily? How does it feel when pushing the pedals? Take your time to find something that feels right and fits you.
3. Be safe and seen
One of the reasons for starting MEAME was noticing how many cyclists neglect their safety when commuting. Style is important (see #1) but so is your visibility on the roads:
“A cyclist is much smaller than a car and every lorry ever made. So it pays to make yourself look bigger than you are… High power LED lights are essentials, from the rear they are visible from further away than standard lights. From the front they can let you see where you’re going AND alert drivers to your presence.” – Andrew
Beyond lights, reflectives are also a good way of increasing your visibility. If florescent high-vis really isn’t your thing, then the discreet reflectives in our tweed blazer or biker jackets may appeal instead. After visibility, a good helmet is essential for increasing your safety whilst riding. The advice here is “pay more than £30” and “don’t leave home without it”. We like Dashel and Swako Furano for stylish helmets.
4. Uncover your routes
Okay, you’ve got your bike and you’re fully equipped. Which way do you go? Your best routes are rarely the ones you’d use in a car so have a look for cycle lanes, Cycle Super Highways in London or even canal towpaths. Certainly, if you’re just starting to commute, picking a route that is less busy lets you get used to riding before you brave busier streets. It can be a longer distance but, in cities at least, they’re likely to be quicker too.
5. Claim your space
It’s easy to be daunted on the road by the traffic, obstacles and sometimes the lack of space drivers give you. However:
“For a driver, the worst cyclist is one who weaves in and out of parked cars. Don’t do it. Ride in a straight line down the line of parked cars with enough space to allow a door to open unexpectedly, without knocking you off.” – Andrew
Don’t worry if a queue forms behind you (“There will always be a queue” as Andrew says) because it’s better to move out the way when there is space to do so safely, and rejoin traffic in the same way. On that note, also be aware of where key blind spots are for your road position. For instance, London Cycling Campaign outlines how undertaking lorries can be dangerous.
An extra tip for boosting your confidence is to access the number of cycling training schemes across the country. Some local councils even offer free training, which can help build your road knowledge and help you cycle safely.
6. Cultivate patience
Part of cycling to work is to make your commute less stressful. The majority of close calls we’ve come across are due to impatience with other road users. If a car is dithering, it’s likely to do something unexpected and by being patient, you can anticipate beforehand. The road is a shared space for pedestrians, cars and cyclists. By being considerate and patient to others on your commute, it will help the streets become a safer place for everyone using the roads.
7. Pace & Fitness
When starting, you’re probably not going to be commuting in medal winning times, but you can still get to work in good time. An average commute in the UK is 8 miles, which, even at a sedentary speed of 10mph, is a 50-minute commute time. At that pace you’ll hardly break a sweat too. Once you’re familiar with your route and have built up your fitness, chances are you’ll naturally cycle in shorter times and all the while, arrive energised for the day ahead.
8. Loosen your grip
Commuting by bike is a joy, but if you’re not careful, injury is possible – and potentially painful! A simple thing like holding the handlebars in the same position for too long, gripping too tightly or leaning too far over the front wheel can run the risk of compressing your ulnar nerve. It’s the largest unprotected nerve in the body and runs from your little finger through the elbow and into the upper arm.
Similarly, if you choose to fasten into your pedals with cleats, make sure they’re well-aligned:
“If not properly positioned at the correct angle, you will end up with shooting pains in your knees that will continue to grow until corrected. An awesome side effect of well-aligned cleats is that they will help you to generate more power with each pedal stroke and who doesn’t love more power.” – Anthony
The crux is to check your position as you ride, as it can help prevent injuries.
9. Practice Makes You Smile
Not really a tip but an invitation to get on your bike: regularly exercising helps boost mood and increases focus, making cycle commuters happier and more productive than many other categories of commuter. We whole-heartedly encourage you to feel as good as you look, so this is a great reason to start riding.