Hints & Tips

Commuting 101: TWC Catalogue of Advice to Help you Overcome Barriers to Cycle Commuting

Worries over angry motorists, lack of fitness, personal appearance and mechanical failures busted

Commuting to work is a great way to squeeze in a fitness fix without taking extra time out of your day. It often saves you money on your journey, and riding a bike gives you a carbon footprint almost as narrow as those little tyres. 

Despite all of the benefits associated with regular commuting, a 2014 survey showed that only 4 per cent of British people over 18 cycle daily, and about 5 per cent take to the bike two to three times a week.

That number is ever increasing, but clearly there are still factors putting people off taking the bike instead of the train or car. A survey that asked women why they didn’t cycle pulled out 4 key themes, and we’ve added one extra based on more anecdotal evidence:

  • Weather – 49 per cent put off by poor weather
  • Personal appearance – 28 per cent concerned about being sweaty, 19 per cent too self conscious, 14 per cent say hair will be too unmanageable, 11 per cent don’t want helmet hair
  • Not being fit enough – 35 per cent say distance is too far to cover, 12 per cent say they’re too unfit
  • The roads – 16 per cent concerned over abuse from motorists, 18 per cent say the roads are too uneven
  • Not in the survey – mechanical failures. Sure, this wasn’t in the data set we were given, but the number of people (men and women) we hear worried about punctures on the way to work tells us we shouldn’t discount the concern

At TWC, we’ve got articles covering pretty much every element of these obstacles. To help you if you’re struggling, we’ve created a catalogue of commuter advice from our library.

Dealing with bad weather on your cycle commute

Bad weather happens to us all, and we’ll be the first to admit that we’d choose mild summer’s day conditions every day if we could have them. However, unfortunately that’s not possible

Dealing with rain 

Rain is probably the most common off-putting factor. And the simple – if not entirely inexpensive – solution comes in the shape of waterproof cycling kit.  There’s a lot of it available – from waterproof trousers you can slip over your civvies for ultimate convenience to all enveloping rain capes. Alternatively, you can invest in a waterproof backpack instead. This will keep your work clothes dry if you and your commuting kit get wet.

Riding in the rain isn’t just unappealing because we don’t like getting wet. There’s also the fact that it makes the roads more slippery. However, this just requires a little extra care – you simply need to slow down and provide time for slower braking speeds, just as you would when driving. We’ve got a list of more detailed tips here. 

Bikes with disc brakes also offer quicker stopping in the wet, and many road and hybrid bikes for commuting now come equipped. Finally, using wider tyres and running them at a slightly lower pressure can help make you feel more stable in the wet.

Dealing with strong winds 

What not to wear: Exhibit A modeled by editor Michelle

Strong winds can be an irritating companion on a commute, especially when they’re blowing directly in your face.

The honest answer on how to deal with these? Allow extra time for your journey, because it might take a little longer. That, and change into a lower gear as the wind in your face already adds resistance. There’s more tips here. 

Crosswinds shouldn’t present too much of an issue in a built up area. If you’re out in the lanes, hedges usually protect you – but just take extra care as you pass more exposed sections, such as when passing a gate or a gap in the shrubs.

Ice and cold weather 

At this time of year, we don’t need to worry too much about ice and snow in the UK. However, there’s no harm in planning ahead!

Since you can’t often spot the shiny surface in advance, we’d advise finding an alternative to cycling when there’s risk of the slippy stuff forming. There’s advice on making decisions over whether it’s safe to ride here.

Defeating cold weather is all about layering – warm tights, base layer, jersey, jacket, gloves, overshoes, a cap and/or buff to protect your neck, head and chin. We’ve got a cold weather gear guide for you here. 

Arriving at work looking fresh after a commute

Ok, so at TWC towers – formally known as Factory Media and home to a number of cycling and action sports titles – we’re a bit casual. So neat hair, pristine make-up and heels are really not part of the uniform. However, we know not all work places are quite so chilled.

Cycling to work doesn’t have to mean being scruffy, though. We’ve got loads of articles to help you out here.

Hair help for cycle commuters

If helmet hair is your concern, then we’ve got some basic tips here, as well as an array of 12 helmet friendly hairstyles demonstrated via video here.

If there’s no shower at work, then your new best friend is dry shampoo – and we’ve got a round up of some of our favourites here. 

Make-up advice for cycle commuters

If you want to wear make-up for the ride, there’s no reason you shouldn’t. We’ve got round ups of the best cycle friendly make up here. Our favourite basics, foundation and mascara, are readily available in sweat and waterproof formulas.

Clothing and shoes for cycle commuters

You can choose to commute in your work clothes, or wear cycling kit and change. There are tons of brands making great clothing that works on and off the bike – take a look here for some  suggestions. If you don’t want to wear cycling shorts but want a little extra padding, then these Urbanist chamois pants might be right up your street!

If you wear cycling specific kit, then most clothing can be easily rolled into a backpack or panniers. Shoes can be a bit more tricky – but we’ve got a selection of shoes ideal for commuting and wearing during the day here. 

Tips for those who don’t feel fit enough to commute by bike

Think commuting to work will mean you’re exhausted for the rest of the day? Well, it might be a little tiring for the first week or so, but most people find regular exercise makes them feel more alert and energetic!

Your commute need only be as hard as you make it. If you’ve got a long way to go, you could get a train most of the way and simply jump off early with a folding bike for the remainder of the journey. If you’ve got a full sized commuting bike, then you can look at driving half way with the car in the boot, and gradually reducing your drive and increasing the ride over time.

If you’re still worried, or live somewhere quite hilly, then an electric bike could be the answer – they’re often heavy and take up a bit more room but you can use the motor to help you on ascents, and you still get a good workout.

Over time, your fitness levels will improve, and then you can start thinking about increasing the mileage or making it a little more intense if you like. 

Dealing with fear of the roads on your commute

It’s a real shame that fear of traffic puts people off cycling – and we absolutely understand why. However, despite the frequency with which we hear reports of nasty accidents, it’s important to remember that they are rare in relation to the number of cyclists.

Recent statistics show that one cyclist is killed on Britain’s roads for every 27 million miles travelled by cycle. That’s the equivalent to over 1,000 times around the world. For every death, 8 million cycling trips are made.

Those numbers hopefully help put fears into perspective. However, they only tell half the story. Cyclists asked to record incidents of ‘near misses’ that left them upset of feeling frightened said they experienced unpleasant interactions on the roads almost every day.

Know how to position yourself 

Much of feeling comfortable on the roads comes down to confidence, and knowing how to position yourself. That means often taking the ‘primary position’ – in the middle of the lane, when it’s unsafe for a vehicle to overtake you: at junctions, roundabouts, when passing parked cars and on narrow roads.

When there is a suitable amount of space, then you should take the secondary position, which allows cars to overtake you. However, still aim to leave 1.5 metres between yourself and the curb, this gives you more room to get around obstacles in your path.

The best advice we can give is to ride defensively – that means constantly looking for potential hazards, and preparing for them in advance. We rounded up common threats that commuters might come across here. 

Plan your route

You can also plan your route in a way that avoids as much of the heavy traffic as possible. You might be surprised to find out how many mixed used paths and dedicated cycle paths there are in your area that can help you cut out the most urban roads

Cycling UK (formerly the CTC) have a really useful tool you can use here – giving you the option to choose a ‘fast’ route, ‘quiet’ route, or a ‘balanced’ option that’s a mix of the two.

Dealing with road surfaces

Hazards on the roads that aren’t driven by humans are fairly predictable. Check out these pieces for useful hints and tips:

If you’re after advice from women who are long in the tooth when it comes to cycle commuting, check out this feature with tips and tricks from women all over the world here. 

Dealing with mechanical issues when commuting

Bicycles are fairly simple machines. Most of the things that can go wrong and actually stop you getting to your destination are fairly easy to fix.

The number one cause for concern for beginners? Punctures. The good news? They’re easy to fix, and once you’re practiced, need only add about five minutes to your journey. Just make sure you never leave without a spare inner tube or patch kit, pump or co2, and tyre levers.

We’ve got a guide to changing an inner tube (repairing a puncture) here. You can simply buy a new tube each time you puncture, or repair them – if you go for the second option, we’ve got a guide here. Our top tip is to practice fixing punctures at home, before you get them when you’re out and about in a rush, so you can be confident when you really need the skills.

Punctures shouldn’t be a constant plague – if you’re suffering flats on a weekly basis, check out this article and see if there could be an underlying cause. Aside from flat tyres, keeping your bike clean and well maintained should limit time spent beside the road.

A five minute safety check before you leave for a ride is also a good idea – we’ve got a full guide here but essentially you need to check that both wheels are secured via the wheel nuts or quick release, that there’s pressure in the tyres, that the gears and brakes work, and that the headset, handlebars and saddle are all securely attached.

The more familiar you get with your bike, the easier maintenance will become – there’s a host of guides, including some video tutorials, here. 

Looking for more? You might also like… 

Getting your Bike Ready for Spring or Summer After a Long Break 

7 Things You Need To Be Able To Do To Commute By Bike Safely

TWC Recommends: Top Pumps for Faff Free Inflation

What to do if You’re Involved in a Collision When Cycling

5 Most Common Annoying Noises Bikes Make and What They Mean

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