When you first start riding to work it's a revelation that you can exercise at a time of the day when you were previously sitting in the car or on the bus.
But if you really catch the cycling bug and start training for races and events, soon that commute becomes its own frustration. Is the journey to work really long enough to be a worthwhile contributor to your training plan? Especially if you do a city commute, it can feel too meagre for any meaningful leg-stretching. But during the winter months, we want to make the most of any time we spend outside.
Ruth Eyles doesn't think frustrated commuters need to worry. She won 11 different National Championship medals in her cycling career until 2009. Now she's a personal cycling coach and does cycle fitness seminars.
"I barely think there is a minimum distance that can be useful when it comes to using your commute for training," says Ruth. "Even if it's only a mile, I would say it's worth doing. For example, I used to commute three miles a day when I lived in London, and I think that was the foundation for me doing a London to John O'Groats ride.
"You only have to put ten or fifteen minutes of effort in for it to be worth doing, without a doubt."
You don't necessarily need to pushing yourself to the extreme for it be worthwhile either.
"I'd suggest that a lot of people should do a lot of cycling like this: just do it briskly!" says Ruth. She recommends that completing your commute at a decent, but not lung-bursting pace, is the best. "Don't dawdle, and go at a rate that is just too hard to hold a conversation at. You shouldn't want to have a long chat while you're riding, but you could say a few words to somebody."
Sprints and climbs
Moments of more intensive exertion are appropriate if you aim to improve your sprinting or climbing, however. Most of us are guilty of having complained about commuter racers at some point, but getting off the line at the traffic lights is a valid form of training.
"The speed from which you can get back up to top speed after you've had to stop is very relevant to somebody who is perhaps a mountain biker or a road racer," says Ruth. If hill-climbing is more your thing, timing your effort up the one on the way to the office will help towards your ultimate, polka-dot goal.
Strava, Garmin connect, a spreadsheet, or even pen, paper and a wrist watch are all legitimate ways of recording your efforts. Ruth was keen to stress that spending big money on a bicycle computer is not necessary for training, but keeping records, whatever the format, is important.
Don't think that because your commute isn't 'proper' training, you can be lax with record-keeping. As well as enabling you to keep an eye on your progress, keeping a tally validates the effort. Record sections of the route that are important to your eventual training aims, and if you have an especially short commute, "just record the whole thing!".
Don't be unrealistic
Because it's 'only' your commute, it's natural for you to push yourself too hard due to boredom with the route or with your progress. But Ruth stresses that not every day should be a PB day – you don't have to be consistent.
"Choose your moments wisely. If it's a Monday morning and you've been out on your bike on the Sunday and your legs are a bit sore – just decide that that's not a commute where you will attempt a personal best. You'll do that on Tuesday instead."
Some of us tend to get traffic-happy after doing the same commute every day for an extended period. And although track-standing at the traffic lights and sneaking past some cars might 'improve your bike handling'... well, it's just a bit silly to take chances, especially during the winter months.
"I think my message would be, don't mess about in traffic, concentrate on what you're doing and focus on staying safe," says Ruth. "Go find a park to do your track-stands in: somewhere with some grass so you don't hurt yourself when you fall over!"
Find more information about Ruth Eyles' cycle fitness seminars here.