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Two wheels good: a beginner’s guide to commuting by bike

Have you ever noticed how cheerful your cycling colleagues are when they arrive at work in the morning? That’s because their commute is quicker and cheaper, they are full of endorphins from the exercise, and they have avoided being crammed on to hot, overcrowded public transport.

The good news is it’s actually very easy to follow their lead. Commuting by bike is an intimidating prospect for a lot of people, but it shouldn’t be. A surprisingly small amount of kit is required, starting, unsurprisingly, with a bicycle.

If you own one already, use that. Just make sure you check that there is air in the tyres and that the brakes are in good condition, particularly if you haven’t ridden it recently. Ask a cycling buddy to help, book it in for a service at your local bike shop, or find a tutorial on YouTube – basic bike maintenance is easy, even for total beginners.

The government’s Cycle to Work scheme, meanwhile, offers big savings on the price of a new bike: your employer buys the bicycle, which you then “hire” from them through salary sacrifice (the savings come from the fact that you’re not paying tax and NI on the fees), and you buy it outright at the end of the 12-month hire period.

Once you have your bike sorted, there are a few other things to consider, in terms of clothing, accessories, and staying safe on the road. Front and back lights are a must – USB-chargeable ones avoid the hassle of changing batteries and are more environmentally friendly.

If you choose to wear a helmet, brands like Bern, Sawako and Bobbin specialise in stylish models you won’t be embarrassed to be seen in. Helmet hair is unavoidable, but a can of dry shampoo in your desk drawer solves that problem. A pack of biodegradable baby wipes are also handy if you can’t shower at work.

Drivers will see you more easily in bright clothes but there is no need to invest in a wardrobe full of Lycra. Wear whatever is comfortable – although long floaty skirts or wide-legged trousers are best avoided as they can get caught in the chain. Slip-on shoes can be hard to pedal in too, but pretty much anything else will work just fine. To avoid getting mucky en route, make sure your bike is fitted with mudguards, and if your workwear is too restrictive to cycle in, consider leaving a couple of outfits at the office that you can change into. A pair of padded shorts, though not essential, will make long commutes more comfortable.

Your first commute can be scary, but advance planning helps. A route planning app like CycleStreets provides three options to choose from: the fastest route, the quietest route, or a balance of the two. Do a practice run on a day when you are not in a hurry, ideally not at rush hour, so you know what to expect, and take it easy the first few times you cycle to and from work. Or consider breaking up a long commute at first – cycling part of the way, leaving your bike at a station and taking public transport for the rest of the journey.

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There is no right way to commute by bike, and it’s not all or nothing. Cycling to work even once a twice a week will still save you time, make you healthier and open your eyes to aspects of your town or city you never noticed before.


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