How To Start Riding Your Bike To Work
If you think riding a bike to work is an ideal way to bookend your day but don’t know the first thing about how to get started, this seasoned work cyclist takes us through the paces. Welcome to cycling 101.
After another agonising Melbourne winter, this morning was the first one in months where I could ride my bike to work without gloves on. It was a tiny win – hardly worth noting – but that, coupled with the whiff of jasmine waking up, the sun’s shadow of warmth on my skin and the wind on my face as I coasted into town made my commute feel kind of triumphant.
Once a casual weekend cyclist who drove to work, this was the first winter where I committed to bike riding as my main form of daily transport. I decided to ride every single day that it wasn’t raining, and I (more or less) achieved that. I had nothing to prove to anyone, and no great purpose for my promise, but I realised today, on the first day that really feels like spring, that I feel pretty bloody great about it.
I can’t help but feel a little justified in my self-satisfaction (okay, smugness). Once you take stock, the reasons for cycling to work start to pile up like Everest; there’s no impact on the environment, it’s cheaper long-term than paying for rego, petrol and parking or public transport, you disguise a pretty good workout as a means of getting from A to B (because incidental exercise is the best kind), and if you live close to the city, you’ll probably get there faster than if you’re standing on a crowded bus or sitting in congested traffic. My morning commute – once the most hated part of my day – saves me money, makes me fitter, doesn’t hurt the planet and allows me to roll out of bed at 8:30am for a 9am start time.
If you’re an able-bodied suburban city-dweller who knows how to balance on two wheels, then the biggest obstacle to cycling to work is actually starting to. But making the change really isn’t hard, and once it becomes a habit, you’ll probably feel pretty satisfied (okay, smug) too.
Here’s how to get started.
This is probably the most important part of riding; it’s your support, your vessel, your steed. And like a long-term lover, you need to value its mettle over its appearance.
While heavier cruisers look great, your best bet is to choose a road bike with a lightweight frame and some gears. Find a good bike shop and explain your needs, how long you expect to be riding it for per day and over what sort of terrain, then have them fit you a bike within your budget (I paid $400 for a Fuji on sale, for reference) and make sure to give it a decent test ride.
Invest in upgrading your tyres straight away to avoid flats and ask the shop assistant to show you if you’re not sure how to inflate them – you’ll need to do this regularly. Buy a good lock too, to protect your investment, and a basket (cute) or panniers (less cute) if you don’t want to ride with a backpack. Ask how often you should come in for a service and then do that, because steeds need nurturing.
Now, buy a helmet, a bell and two rechargeable bike lights – a red one and a white one. Keep a light charger at home and at work so you never run out of juice.
Then look up ‘bicycle laws (your state here)’ and brush up on the road rules for cyclists. In some states there are also free cycling courses and maps available if you need a helping hand.
If you’re not a confident rider, you should start by getting out into some backstreets on weekends in your suburb. Set your own pace, stick to bike lanes where possible, and know your rights on the road. Your confidence will naturally build as you ride more, but always stay alert to what’s happening around you.
Think of what you consider to be the riskiest parts of riding, and plan how to mitigate them. Get to a busy street without a bike lane and you don’t feel comfortable riding? Pull off to the side, jump off your bike, and walk it on the sidewalk. Don’t feel comfortable riding out into an intersection? Hop off your bike and walk it across when the pedestrian light is green. If safety is a concern at any time, just remember that there’s absolutely no shame in pulling over and walking. And if you see someone driving unsafely, slow right down and keep your distance.
Just remember to keep your wits about you; pedestrians, Pokemon Go players and cars can be pretty scary, but learning to use your peripheral vision goes a long long way to a safe and calm cycle in.
Choose your route
You don’t need to ride to work the same way you’d drive in, or even via the most direct route. If you live in a major city, take advantage of the bike lanes that stitch most of them, even if it means going slightly out of your way. Google Maps offers pretty comprehensive bike routes when you select cycling mode, but ask around on Facebook, on message boards or among your friends and colleagues to see if anyone knows of any safer passageways.
Better yet, ask around to see if any experienced cyclists would be up for shepherding you to and from work on your first few days before you give it a go alone. My boyfriend did it for me, and it was a huge help.
The clothing situation
Ignore the cult of Serious Cycling; commuting by bike doesn’t require Lycra, but you do want to be comfy and dressed for the season. Cycle in workout wear – sneakers and a t-shirt, leggings, gloves and a coat in winter (I swear, the ride warms you up in no time), shorts in summer – then bring a change of clothes in your bag or panniers. You can also leave some work shoes in your office to change into. Some workplaces have showers, but if you take the morning ride easy, deodorant generally does the trick (then you can ride harder on your ride home).
If you end up loving cycling so much that you even vow to do it in the rain, then a) you’re my hero, and b) get a raincoat, a mudguard for your back tyre, and take a small towel and whole change of clothes in your bag – underwear, socks and all – to avoid some major workplace discomfort. Lord knows I learnt that the hard way.
Taryn is the editor of our sister site, AWOL. When she’s not cruising the streets, she’s stealing cryptic crosswords from cafe newspapers and trying in vain to make her dog sit still for photos.