Take the plunge and start cycling to work. Follow these ten tips and make your first week of cycle commuting stress free.
Spring's here. You've got your new bike through Cyclescheme. Now it's time to use it. You can just jump on it and go one morning; you never forget how to ride a bike, and your cycle commute will very soon become second nature. But instead of finding things out the hard way, get a head start on serene, trouble-free commuting with our ten tips.
1. Fit mudguards
Lots of bikes don't come with them. Every commuter bike needs them. They stop dirty water being sprayed all over you and the bike whenever the roads are wet, which reduces maintenance as well as as laundry. Full-length frame-fitting mudguards offer the best spray protection. If your bike won't accommodate them, use SKS Race Blade Long or Crud Roadracer guards (designed for road race bikes) or partial guards that fit to the seatpost, down tube or fork crown (designed for mountain bikes).
2. Buy some wet wipes
If you get sweaty, an armpits-and-groin wet-wipe wash in the loo is a passable alternative to a shower. If your hands get dirty fixing your bike en route, wet wipes will get rid of the grime. Leave the wet wipes in your commuter bag or your desk drawer at work, along with some emergency pants and socks. What emergency? If you bring your work clothes with you each day, one day you'll forget your underwear. If you cycle in your work clothes, one day you'll get caught in a deluge or drenched in sweat. Be ready!
3. Pump up your tyres
Tyres that are at the right pressure make cycling easier. They roll more efficiently, so every pedal stroke takes less effort. Firmer tyres are also much less likely to puncture, because they don't pick up flints, thorns and glass as readily as soft tyres. Buy a track pump with a pressure gauge. Look at the pressure range that's stamped on the sidewalls of your bike's tyres. Then inflate them to at least the minimum figure, going firmer if you'll be on smooth roads or are heavy.
4. Test your lights
You don't need lights as much during British Summer Time but if you even might need them, you must have them and they must work. What if you end up working late? What if you have a mechanical problem on the way home? What if you want to go out with colleagues after work? It's always worth having lights on your bike or in your commuter bag, just in case. Check rechargeable lights are charged the night before. For occasional use, lights with disposable batteries are okay.
5. Check your toolkit
Make sure that the spare innertube you thought was in your seatpack is still there. Likewise the quick link for fixing your chain, plus your essential tools. If you're not comfortable fixing your bike at the roadside, you need two different tools. One is a cannister of sealant spray to fix a puncture; get the bike shop to show you how this works. The other is a charged mobile phone with some taxi firm numbers. If you can't take your broken bike with you, lock it and pick it up later.
6. Plan your route
The best cycling route to work is usually different from the best driving route. You journey will be more pleasant and less stop-start if you swap main roads for minor roads, and perhaps incorporate backstreets, cycle tracks, and even towpaths. Visit www.cyclestreets.net and download the free app; it's available for iPhone, Android, Windows Mobile and Blackberry. Enter your start and end points and choose either the Quietest or Balanced route options. Even in your home town, you'll probably discover route options you hadn't even considered.
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7. Pre-ride your route
Don't leave it until your first day of cycle commuting to discover what your new route is like to ride or, crucially, how long it will take. The Saturday or Sunday before, take a test ride and time it. Don't rush this - it's not a race. You're timing how long it takes to get there at a relaxed pace. That way, you know you've got a bit of slack in your schedule. If you're ever running late, you'll be able to push a bit harder on the pedals and still arrive on time.
8. Get ready the night before
Pre-pack your backpack or pannier(s) with everything you plan to take. Put the heaviest items at the bottom of the bag. Put any clothes at the top – rolled rather than folded. Plastic bag any potentially dirty items (tools, lock) if they're going in the main bag. Put cycling gear such as your bike jacket, cycle clips, shoes and helmet next to your commuter bag. The easier it is to head out the door with everything you need, the less likely it is you'll back out – or end up rushing around looking for one lost cycling glove when you're supposed to have left five minutes ago.
9. Leave home early
Give yourself an extra ten minutes for your first ride to work to avoid rushing. You know how long the journey should take, because you'll have pre-ridden it. But traffic is likely to be heavier on a weekday. Wind or rain will also lengthen your journey time, as could an unexpected niggle with your bike. A time buffer buys you peace of mind. Within a week or two, you'll know your journey time to the minute and can set off later.
10. Ride confidently
Cycle commuting is quicker and safer if you ride assertively. That doesn't mean riding aggressively. It means using effective road positioning and communication. Conversely, if there are parts of your route where you don't feel confident or comfortable on your bike, just dismount and push your bike around that bit – then look for a different route option later.