My First Bike Commute

June 7, 2019 - by Blog, Cycling

With Bike Week (8th-16th June) on its way we asked Anna Harding, Content Lead here at Fusion Media, to write about her experiences surrounding  her first bike commute in London.

I first started at Fusion nearly 12 months ago and walked into an office like no other I’d worked in before. Everyone here (and I mean EVERYONE) cycled. As a runner, I would run commute on my way to or from work a couple of times a week, but I hadn’t been on a bike in years and to be honest, the thought of cycling in London terrified me:

‘It’s so dangerous.’
‘What if I crash?’
‘What if I get lost?’
‘What if other cyclists judge my lack of experience / terrible bike?’

Those were the main barriers to me biting the bullet and getting on with it. Despite the negative thoughts, I made it my goal to ride to work, at least once. Six months ago I made the first steps towards this goal, by collecting my very* old Raleigh Mistral hybrid bike (*the one my mum bought for me when I was approximately 15 years old) from my sister’s shed in the Midlands and bringing it down to London on the train. I rode it back to my house and I was lucky that one lovely colleague took it to have a look at everything and make sure it was rideable, which it was. No excuses!

 

But it wasn’t until 6 months later sick of being crushed, sweaty and stressed out on the Central Line every morning and spending £33 every week for the privilege, that I decided enough was enough. It was time to get on my bike and give bike commuting a whirl. I had two options of riding the seven miles in – along the roads or via the canal towpath.

The first morning I rode in I decided to set off at 6am because I figured the roads would be quieter and it would give me a chance to get used to everything, including the route, in my own time. I plotted the route out on the Komoot app and wore my bone-conducting headphones, on very low volume, to get the audio direction prompts to make sure I didn’t get lost. The first hurdle of navigation was overcome.

It was a beautiful sunny day and I had a huge grin on my face from start to finish. I was doing it! The feeling of being able to get yourself from A to B without relying on anyone other than yourself is something I love about run commuting and being on the bike was no different. Sure, the air quality in London isn’t the freshest, but I defy anyone to go out on their bike first thing in the morning and not buzz off the endorphins of having been active while soaking up some vitamin D. And a study by academics at King’s College London showed that you’d have to cycle for nearly 10 hours a day through rush-hour traffic in the centre of the capital before the damage done by the pollution you’re exposed to outstrips the benefit you’re getting from the exercise.

On my way home, I chose the canal option so I could decide which route I wanted to use. This was a BIG mistake! The towpaths are narrow and busy with pedestrians, runners and FAST cyclists, especially at peak times. So despite my reservations about riding on the busy roads of London, I surprised myself in finding I actually preferred being on the road. 90% of the route from my home to work has some form of cycle lane too, which made me feel far more comfortable.

A huge win for me biking to work, as well as saving £130+ per month in tube fares, is that door-to-door it is actually quicker to hop on my bike. Which makes it a bit of a no-brainer.

If you’re yet to experience a bike commute and have some of the same reservations I had, these are my top tips to get out there and do it:

RECCE YOUR ROUTE
Try a dry run of your commute on a weekend so you can get a feel for what it’ll be like when it’s quieter.

CHECK YOUR BIKE
As I mentioned before, my colleague checked over the mechanics of my bike to make sure the chain, gears and brakes were all in working order. What I didn’t anticipate was that having nowhere to keep it indoors over the winter meant my chain made an awful clattering noise from the rust it had gathered and I hadn’t checked the tyre pressure in about 6 months before riding it. Trust me, riding on nearly flat tyres is hard work! So do a once-over of the main bits and bobs, find a friendly colleague who knows his or her stuff or take it somewhere like Evans Cycles for one of their services if it’s been a while since the bike was ridden.

CONFIDENCE
I got my cycling proficiency when I was about 11 years old, but that was a LONG time ago! I had read about being able to do a London version of the cycling proficiency called Cycle Skills by TfL, which they put on across the different boroughs. Having looked into booking, I soon discovered that the courses are only during the week and during my working hours, so it wasn’t an option for me. Instead, I re-read the Highway Code before I got back on my bike. The main tips I took away from doing this were: Make sure you position yourself in the road away from the kerb, where you can be seen and communicate your intentions clearly to other road users and be confident with them.

BE SEEN
Being a runner, I have plenty of bright kit to wear to be seen, but I was pretty blasé about having lights on my bike – I was only cycling in once the sun was up and getting home before it set. But after a post-work run I was about to bike home again when a colleague asked if I had lights. I said I didn’t but that it was fine because it was an hour til sunset and my commute was only 35 mins ❌ Half of all cycling accidents happen in mid-afternoon or in the early evening. Lesson learned.

These are some of my observations as a new cycling commuter:

WHAT TO WEAR
I had no idea what to wear on my bike commute. In the build-up to just getting on with it, I found myself checking out what other cyclists wore. There’s a lot of lycra and cleats. I don’t have that kind of gear and running costs me enough as it is, so I wasn’t about to go mad and kit myself out in all that. But the general consensus from me is that there is no specific right or wrong thing to wear. As long as it’s comfy and doesn’t have long, dangly bits that are going to get caught in your wheels, then anything goes. I go for running leggings (make sure they’re not see-through on your bum when you sit down – you don’t want to be showing off your undies to the poor cyclist riding behind you), sports bra and tech t-shirt. Basically what I’d run in. I then bring spare clothes to the office to change into because, you know, sweaty. But I’ve seen people biking in wearing normal workwear too. Whatever works for you.

‘PROPER CYCLISTS’
It turns out that other people on bikes probably aren’t as judgy as you think they are in your head. I was really worried that I’d stick out like a sore thumb and be that annoying newbie getting in the way, but I haven’t had any bother at all. That said, some of your fellow cyclists will behave as though they’re competing in the Tour de France. They’re easy to spot, clad head-to-toe in expensive team bib shorts and jerseys with carbon fibre road bikes lighter than your cup of morning coffee, riding as fast as they can physically go at all times. My advice? Just let them get on with it!

MEN V WOMEN
Wow there are a lot of men on bikes! I’d say women are probably outnumbered by men to a ratio of approx 5:1 on my commute. It’s disappointing, as I really don’t feel like your gender should be a barrier to choosing a mode of transport for getting you to work. I’d love more women to get on their bikes, but it does take confidence and I’m lucky to have that in buckets. Even the white van man shouting and whistling at me out his window hasn’t put me off. It’s not ok, but it’s nothing an eye roll can’t solve.

RED LIGHTS
I’ve seen cyclists run red lights before. In fact, I’ve nearly been knocked over while out running by a cyclist who ran a red light at a pedestrian crossing and my entire life (and weeks of marathon training efforts) flashed before my eyes. I’m stunned at how many cyclists do this. You are effectively a vehicle on the roads. Don’t!

SIGNPOSTS
I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to navigate across London with pretty much no major disasters, by following the signposted cycle lanes. If you know the general direction you need to go in and you’re riding at peak times in the morning or evening, then following the flow of other cyclists and the blue signposts is super easy!

Since that first morning, I’m pleased to say I haven’t used the tube to get to or from work once! I’m averaging riding 40-50 miles per week and have even racked up 40 miles in just one day nipping around everywhere and I am absolutely loving it.

Bike Week, delivered by our friends at Cycling UK, is an annual celebration to showcase cycling. Riding a bike can easily be a part of everyday life and Bike Week is here to inspire people all over the UK to give cycling a try: https://www.cyclinguk.org/bikeweek

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