Help a colleague cycle to work

Cyclescheme, 06.09.2013

Help a colleague cycle to work

Cycle to Work Day on 12th September is an ideal opportunity to encourage colleagues to try commuting by bike

Last month we looked at how to encourage colleagues to cycle to work. One or more workmates may well be willing to give it go. Don't just leave them to it: you can help them enjoy their first ride to work. You stand to benefit too – and not just from good karma.

If they try it and like it, they're more likely to become a cycle commuter long term. The more cycle-commuters there are where you work, the more leverage you'll have when requesting better facilities for parking and changing, and the more likely it is that your employer will offer Cyclescheme to all employees – saving you all money - if it doesn't already.

A road-ready bike

More than half of all UK households own at least one bicycle, so the odds are good that your colleague will have something to ride. Most bikes are not well looked after, however, and have soft tyres, a poorly lubricated chain, and a saddle that's set far too low. All these things make cycling hard work.

Offer to check their bike over. You can do this in your lunch hour at work if it's not convenient to do so at the weekend; you'll need a pump, a multitool and some oil. Give the bike a basic safety check. Pump up the tyres to the pressure stamped on the sidewall. Make sure the saddle is level and set high enough. With the cranks in line with the seat tube, your colleague's leg should be fully extended with the heel on the pedal. There will then be a slight bend at the knee when pedalling normally, with the ball of the foot over the pedal.

If your colleague doesn't have a bike or it's not serviceable in the time available, perhaps you could lend one? This has the advantage that the bike will be better quality and better looked after. Adjust the fit, principally saddle height, to suit your colleague. Maybe you've got other items you could loan for the day, such as cycle clips, lights, or a helmet? 

Research the route

If your colleague is not a regular cyclist, make sure they're not biting off more than they can chew. Half an hour each way is ample for someone's first ride to work. That's probably about five or six miles maximum, and less is better yet. If they live further away than that, suggest they park and ride or take the train part way.

Plot their route for them. The best cycling route is probably quite different from the best route by car. Avoid main roads and look for quite backstreets and traffic-free sections. You'll know some of these route options from your own commute. If your colleague is coming in a different way from you, use CycleStreets to help you plan. Try to avoid hills. The best route is the one that's the most enjoyable. So long as your colleague isn't riding too far, it doesn't matter how wiggly and indirect it is. It's much more important to avoid heavy traffic and hills. 

If you have time, do a trial run of the proposed route with your colleague at the weekend. That way, you can help with navigation and there's no time pressure. It will make the actual commute less stressful.

Cycling to work together

If you live relatively close together, or can arrange to meet at a specific point part way, you could cycle in to work with your colleague. You are then on hand to navigate, deal with any minor mechanical problems, and offer advice on road positioning. Plus you can chat, which will make the ride more sociable. If you're meeting part way, you'll obviously want to swap mobile numbers in advance in case either one of you is delayed or goes to the wrong meeting place.

When you're riding along together, you might think that it's best if you lead. It's not. Let your colleague lead while you ride a bike length or half a bike length behind. This enables you to watch your colleague at all times and to call out any instructions. You will automatically ride at your colleague's pace, which will probably be slower than yours. 

If your colleague has little experience of riding in traffic, you should ride further out than them from the side of the road. They should be at least 50cm from the kerb, while you are a bike-width further out. You might even want to take the lane. This means traffic has to come around you and can’t cut in too close to your colleague, who might veer or wobble or simply be freaked out by cars passing too close. It also means that you won't run into your colleague if they stop unexpectedly.

If your colleague is okay with traffic, you can ride directly behind. This gives your colleague the opportunity to look behind to check for traffic, without you in the way. It’s not essential, since you’re covering the job of traffic observer anyway, but it’s good practice.

On quieter roads or cyclepaths, there may be scope to ride side by side. It's perfectly legal and gives you the chance to chat. You should be the rider on the outside, closest to the centre of the road. When you need to ride in single file, you brake and drop back. This stops you accidentally clipping wheels with each other, which is a possibility if you accelerate and cut in.

Once you arrive at work, get the kettle on and don't stint on the biscuits. You've both earned them!

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