Before I start this post properly, I want to say a HUGE thank you to everyone who read and responded to my post from last week. Publicly confessing that your finances are in a state was always going to be nerve-wracking and a little bit risky. So it was a relief to get so many lovely comments. And as a bonus, my story was covered in the Daily Mirror. That’s my fifteen minutes of fame covered for this week…
In case you missed what I wrote last week, the TL;DR version is this: I tried not to spend anything for a month apart from food and bills. I missed some things, like the pub. Other things I was glad to be rid of: public transport being a case in point.
Let’s face it: Tubes and buses are can be awful. Especially during rush hour. Cycling is a great way to escape from being trapped in a tin-can stuffed with other people, whilst saving money, whilst fitting in some exercise. It’s a triple win.
However, there is a certain amount of preparation and organisation required to make it work. I started in August 2014 but never managed to really nail the habit until this year, after a lot of trial and error. And it’s something that really has changed my life for the better.
When I started out, I found that there was a lot of information out there about cycling in general, but nothing much that covered my key concerns at a basic level. So here is my guide for everyone who is curious about cycling to work but hasn’t taken the plunge yet.
To avoid this post becoming War and Peace with Bikes, I’m going to cover the basics today, with more to come later.
Getting the skills: Unfortunately, cycling in London comes with an element of risk, which makes it a daunting prospect for most people. There are many cyclists on the road who look like they were born in Lycra. If you’re not as confident, it’s easy to believe that riding in the city is not for you.
If it’s been a while since you’ve taken a spin on a bike, or if you’re totally new to riding in the city, help is at hand. If you live or work in London, you can get free cycling training funded by TFL. It’s a great way to sharpen up rusty skills and learn how to cope with rush-hour traffic, in a quieter environment. I would highly recommend it.
Getting a bike: I was completely clueless about bikes when I started cycling. Here’s what I’ve since learned, in a nutshell: for commuting you probably want a hybrid bike or a road bike.
Hybrid bikes are supposedly a cross between mountain bikes and road bikes. The plus side of a hybrid is that it feels familiar to ride; more like the bike you had as a kid or a teenager. They tend to be cheaper. Also, you can get a variety of styles. I’ve noticed more and more ‘pretty’ bikes like this one on the road lately, if that’s what you’re into:
Road bikes are faster, lighter and slimmer. If you’re new to cycling, or rusty, they might take a bit of getting used to as the brakes, gears and handlebars are different. You also ride in more of a hunched-over position that feels a bit weird to start.
My first bike in London was a £125 hybrid I impulse-bought from Halfords. I upgraded to a road bike later through the Ride-to-Work scheme. If your employer offers this, it’s worth doing – the paperwork is a faff but you get the bike much cheaper, and you get to spread the cost over the year.
Getting other stuff: The essentials are a lock, lights, pump and a helmet. If you’re feeling super self-sufficient you’ll probably benefit from having a spare inner tube and tyre lever so you can sort yourself out if you get a puncture. But to be honest, I didn’t bother with those at first.
What to wear
The great thing about London is that you can wear whatever you want and no-one cares. The same is true for cycling. I saw someone riding in stilettos last month. I wouldn’t personally recommend it, but I appreciated her commitment to impractical shoes.
Unless you cycle like a maniac or it’s a hot day, you generally won’t sweat as much while cycle commuting as you would any other form of exercise. Some people do ride in their work clothes. If your commute is very short, you could probably get away with it.
If you’re going any further than 2 miles or so I’d recommend wearing some form of Lycra. You don’t need to buy specialist cycling clothes – whatever you wear for exercise is probably fine as long as it’s got nothing flappy that’d get caught on your bike.
You don’t need padded shorts unless your bike seat is particularly hard, or you’ll be riding a really long way (I’m not sure if this still applies if you have testicles to deal with. Answers welcome).
If you’re going to be cycling in the dark, it’s worth getting some fluorescent or reflective kit to help you be seen.
It can also double up as daywear should Nu Rave ever come back in fashion.
This post is part of a series. I still have lots more to cover, including: how to make the cycling habit stick, how to not get lost in your office’s basement and how not to forget your pants. If you’re not already signed up to my mailing list, add yourself today to make sure you don’t miss it: