Perhaps I’m about to embarrass myself fantastically, by revealing my own approach to cycling that is entirely unique and shared by no one. But perhaps not.
I cycle for fitness, for training, to be better at racing. In my student days, I owned a second hand mountain bike and a pair of waterproof trousers. I got everywhere by bike because I didn’t have an alternative. Those days are gone. Or were.
Being a digital journalist, I work from home – so I’ll generally get my riding in some time around lunch time – cycling from my house, around the area, and back to my house. I don’t own a bike that I consider to be disposable. If any of my bikes were to be stolen, there would be tears and angry Facebook appeals.
All of these factors add up to what I’m calling a new phenomenon: lazy fit.
I’m fit enough to ride 50 miles, or maybe even 150 if someone could give a genuine justification for doing so (and a lot of food). In days before my work-from-home life I was more than happy to commute 15 miles to work, too. But ask me to ride 5 miles to pick up the some milk? Well, that’s just a bit of a hassle.
It’s entirely possible that I’m the only cyclist in the whole world who knows she doesn’t use her bike to get around as much as she should, or could. But if I’m not, I’ve put together a few tips and tricks to help us all use our bikes more regularly for those short journeys round and about town.
If you can – get a commuter hack
If your goal is to commute regularly to work, where you’ve got a safe container and a significant mileage to get there – you might want to ignore this one. But if, like me, you’re looking to up the frequency with which you cycle a couple of miles in to town then it might be worth picking up a cheap bike.
You can find a second hand singlespeed on ebay for £50, if you look hard enough and wait long enough for the right one (and check it's not stolen). Of course, no one buys a bike with the intention of getting it stolen – but having a machine you didn’t fork out too much for might mean you’re happier about locking and leaving it.
Store it somewhere accessible
The best bikes, in our house, are locked upstairs. Surrounded by a ring of impenetrable fire and five angry bulldogs. Sure, they can be unlocked and taken for a spin, and they are exercised almost daily. I’m probably stretching it a bit here - but for the purpose of a ride that’s likely to take about ten minutes, lugging one down the stairs could become a barrier to commuting on a really lazy day. If you’ve got a porch, under-stairs area, or outside storage, keep your commuter-machine here.
Get a lock that you trust and will use
The lack of regularity with which I carry out a journey that requires a bike lock means I can never find one when I need it.
It’s a vicious circle: don’t ever use the bike lock. Not sure where I left the bike lock. Drive/walk instead. Don’t use the bike lock. Not sure where…
Bike locks have Sold Secure ratings – the Gold rated locks are the safest. They’re also often the heaviest and most cumbersome – but some brands are cleverer than others! If I were to make a personal suggestion, I’d go for the Hiplok DX – it snaps on to the back of your jeans and is Sold Secure rated Gold. Yes, it’s £70 – but we’re talking about a new lifestyle here!
Make a carrying-things plan
You probably have a backpack lying about the house – but it might not be large enough for your traditional mid-week shop.
You could fit panniers – but then your bike will be constantly pannier-ed up, and that might not be a style you want to channel on your Saturday morning club run (if you’ve ignored point one about getting a purpose designed hack).
This is where you need to open your eyes to the alternatives: handlebar bags (check out Goodordering), frame bags (check out Alpkit) – there are many options for those who want strap on/strap off bike bags.
Always have lights charged and ready to go
A bit like the lock: if you don’t use bike lights regularly, they tend to get lost under the pile of punctured inner tubes you keep meaning to mend and wedding invites (just me?!).
Keep your bike lights somewhere sensible – ideally in a small box next to the door with your lock - and charge them after use. Simples!
Find a bike friendly cafe/pub
Speaking of riding at night: cycling about your social life is great. A short ride to the pub, or a spin to a cafe to meet a friend for coffee gives you a little endorphin rush and saves you driving round in circles looking for a parking space or getting the bus.
Not all pubs and cafes are made equal. Some have space for bike parking. In the case of dedicated cycling cafes, often inside. When it comes to pubs: in or around the beer garden.
If you and your friends are all into bikes, hunt out one of these mythical social gathering points and make it your home.
Basic nasty weather gear
You don’t want to cycle to Sainsbury’s in your best lycra, but you also don’t want to get there soaking wet.
There’s a lot of affordable cycling kit out there which won’t set your world alight in terms of breathability, but will keep you dry and do the job for a short spin down the road. All you really need through winter is a waterproof jacket, and waterproof trousers if you want to go all out (these also allow you to wear absolutely anything you like underneath). In summer, you just need bottoms you can pedal in, perhaps some padded pants, and a pack of wet-wipes.
If style is high on your agenda, there are lots of cool brands making commuting kit that looks just as good off the bike.
If you’re ferrying kids...
If you’re a busy parent ferrying kids around for half of the day, it can seem easier to pop them in the back of the car. But give them a good dose of fresh air and perhaps (if they’re old enough) some exercise, and they might take a nap and give you a little time back later in the day!
There are lots of options for carrying children – I know a certain National Hill Climb Champion who got fit following pregnancy by riding with a trailer in Richmond park. If they’re old enough to cycle beside you then it’s a great excuse for you to slip your engine back to easy gear, and you can always up the incentives by promising some cool new accessories from Santa this year.
Recognise the convenience
This is more about mental trickery.
The alternatives to cycling one to five miles are: walking them, driving them, or taking public transport. Walking is slow, driving is likely to take about the same amount of time when you factor in parking, and public transport is expensive and not always reliable. And of course cycling is significantly better for the environment and for our towns and cities.
If you set yourself up with an appropriate bike, lock, luggage bags and kit then you can save yourself time and money.
Recognise the lifestyle and fitness benefits
Riding your bike as part of a fitness regime is great – and that’s generally going to involve longer rides that don’t revolve around provision of milk and porridge oats for the family.
However, all those little rides add up: make a ten-minute journey each day (20 minutes for both ways) and that’s over two hours extra riding, every week. These kinds of rides generally involve a fair amount of stopping and starting too – ideal for strengthening the muscles in your legs as the ‘push off’ requires more force.
I’m not going to swear on the Brownie code (or whatever it was called) that I’m going to carry out every single short journey in the coming weeks and months by bike. But I’ll certainly be trying to log more commuting miles.
... Race you from the lights!
You might also like...