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Cycling - Commuting

To me cycle commuting is one of the main reasons for owning and using a bike. The commute is usually a distance that is within cycling range, and it is a journey that tends to take place on the most congested roads at peak times. By cycling you are not affected by unexpected traffic delays, in fact your commute time will vary by just seconds day after day; unlike your driving colleagues.

It’s not just local commuters that benefit from cycling, longer commutes can sometimes still be achieved by combining trains and folding bikes. The trains perform the longer distance, the bikes get through the traffic at each end.

Commuting by bike is easier than many people think, but it can take a little extra preparation and forethought in order to be really trouble free.

The main issue in most people’s minds is what to wear and how to look smart at work, coupled with the fear of ridicule for turning up at work wearing lycra!

If your commute is short there is no reason why you can’t ride to work with little effort in your working clothes. After all, that’s what most people in European countries where cycling is popular do. Make sure you have waterproofs to protect you if the weather turns for the worst.

For longer commutes, such as mine, cycle specific clothing is better as it enables you to remain comfortable. I keep several days worth of clothing at work, just carrying fresh underwear in my luggage each day. Even if I were to cycle in my work clothes I would keep at least one spare pair of clothes at work in case I got caught out one day.

The best system I have developed over the years is to keep several shirts, my trousers and shoes in a secure location at work. I also keep an emergency spare pair of underwear (in case I forget one day) and socks (in case mine get too rain soaked). If I have to take the motorbike or car near my work location then I use that opportunity to replenish “the wardrobe” and bring home the laundry; otherwise I pack a complete pannier carefully one day and take the full supply in.

This system means that I carry the least weight on the bike every day. I also save weight by using a USB key to transfer data, rather than transporting the laptop back and forth. I just take the bare minimum in each day in a simple pannier. I even leave a spare padlock at work to save carrying that.

This leads me onto my next point. If your bike can take a rack then fit one. It is much easier to carry any weight on the bike than on yourself. It is also much less sweaty than using a rucksack.

The only other essential luggage is the toolkit.

If you are commuting then you will be running on a tight schedule; you need to be at work on time. If you have a problem you need to be self sufficient and get yourself back on the road as soon as possible.

The basic toolkit I would recommend must include the ability to recover you from a puncture. You need to be able to remove your wheel (no tools if quick release, otherwise you’ll need the correct size spanners, and any additional tools if your bike needs them). You need to be able to remove your tyre, so if you need tyre levers they need to be in the pack. For commuting I would recommend carrying one or two spare inner tubes; it is much faster to replace a tube than fuss around with patches. (Patch the tube once you’re at work).

Additional tools that I have found useful at times (and carry) are a spoke key, a chain tool, Allen keys and spanners for all your bolts on the bike, pliers, a knife. Most of my tools are on a small multi tool that cuts out on weight. Cable ties can also be useful in an emergency, as is a tyre boot.

It is always a good idea to fit mudguards to your commuting bike.

Mudguards will keep an amazing amount of surface water off of you, as well as keeping you drier and more comfortable. Look for the longest and best fitting ones that you can get. Also try to get ones with pop-off front stays as they can be safer.

It is good to keep your lights on your bike all year round. That way if you get caught out and have to work late you can still ride home without problem. Sometimes (although not often) it is also handy to light up during fog or heavy rain. Since you will not be using your lights on a regular basis during the summer, and all the time during the winter, it may be worthwhile investing in a hub dynamo system.

I wrote some other lighting notes here recently.

Although I use my main bike for most of my journeys, commuting can put a lot of wear and tear on it. Even using the tips given on my making progress and filtering pages, brakes can get a lot of wear, as can the chain and gears. Therefore it may be worth your while investigating getting a dedicated bike for commuting.

It can be worth your while investigating this since many companies offer a scheme that enables you to buy a bike tax free from your salary, if it is to be used for commuting and other business purposes.

If you do buy a dedicated bike, it may also be worthwhile investigating puncture resistant tyres (despite their worse traction and performance) since you will not be riding long tours on them.


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Updated 03/11/04