There are plenty of beginner’s errors to avoid when riding to work. Here are ten of the most common.
1. Hugging the kerb
Riding at the edge of the road can feel safer because you it puts you out of the way of following cars. It’s not safer. The principal danger is that it encourages drivers to squeeze past when there isn’t room to overtake safely. It makes you less conspicuous to other road users. It gives you less room to manoeuvre, to avoid potholes etc. You’re more likely to encounter drain covers, broken or cambered surfaces, and road detritus like broken glass. Be bold: ride 75cm or more from the edge. When necessary, take the lane.
2. Pretending mudguards aren’t necessary
Most bikes in the UK are sold without mudguards. Sports-obsessed cyclists and cycling media will tell you that mudguards aren’t cool. They’ll provide half-baked justifications, but it’s because the iconography of racing doesn’t feature mudguards. Unless you’re the kind of person who likes to drive an open-top car in the rain, fit mudguards. Not those little plastic fig leaves that fit under the saddle or on the down tube - proper, full-coverage mudguards. They’ll stop cold, dirty water spraying over your feet, your backside, your luggage, and your bike.
3. Riding like it’s a race
Indulging in a bit of Silly Commuter Racing can be entertaining as long as you know it’s a game – an optional game that not everyone is playing. You don’t have to overtake that cyclist who has just overtaken you. You don’t have to smash that high street segment because you lost your Strava KOM. High tempo cycling is good training – if you’re commuting for fitness, you’re in bike gear, and a shower awaits. If that’s not you, competitive commuting will just make you hot. No one will know you’ve ‘won’; no one except you, sitting at work in your sweaty pants. Relax. Ride at your own pace.
4. Accidentally going commando
Going commando (no pants) is standard when you’re wearing lycra cycling shorts, which are designed to be worn next to the skin. It’s not standard when you’re at work! Sooner or later, however, you’ll forget your underwear if you commute in cycling gear. You’ll mysteriously have everything else - shoes, trousers, shirt, jacket - but no pants. You can avoid this by stashing spare underwear in your commuting bag or by riding to work in normal clothes – at a pace slow enough that you don’t sweat.
5. Failing to unclip your feet
If you use clip-in pedals or normal pedals with toe-clips, you have to get used to twisting or pulling your feet out of their restraints. Otherwise you’ll get to a junction - perhaps that red traffic light, where you plan to execute a cool trackstand? - and find your feet stuck when you need to put one down for balance. Lying on the tarmac still attached to your pedals is a blow to your body and your pride. Loosen the straps or retention springs and practise getting your feet out in a hurry.
6. Choosing procrastination over lubrication
Light rain won’t wash all the oil off your bike’s chain, but a downpour could sluice it off and leave the drivetrain dry and spotted with orange rust by morning. That last thing you want to do when you get home soaked is see to your bike. Yet it’s worth spraying some water displacing lubricant on the chain right then; it’ll only take a couple of minutes. Periodically clean and oil it properly too. If you’ve ridden on slushy, gritted roads, hose the bike down before attending to the chain.
7. Letting the tyres go soft
Tyres that are too soft drag more on tarmac, wasting your energy and making every journey longer. They’re much more likely to puncture for two reasons: they can bottom out on the rims, causing snakebite punctures; and they readily pick up sharp debris, which can then pierce the tyre. Soft tyres compromise the bike’s handling too, squirming when cornering. Invest in a floor pump (also known as a track pump) and keep your bike’s tyres inflated to the pressure stamped on the sidewalls.
8. Forgetting your lock
Getting to work and realising you’ve left your bike lock at home is a stomach-churning dilemma. Have you got enough time to fetch it? If not, what will become of your bike? Can you take it inside? No? You’ve got one security chain left: the bike chain. Remove the quick link, if fitted, and using your chain tool, split the chain, wrap it around the bike and the anchor point, then rejoin it. Next time, ensure your lock is in your commuter bag - or leave it at work.
9. Wearing headphones
It’s not illegal to use headphones on a bike. It is inadvisable on the road, as they limit your awareness of traffic. While deaf people can’t hear traffic either, they’ll have spent a lifetime learning to cope. You haven’t: hearing is a passive sense you’re always using. If you can’t do without your music, invest in bone conduction headphones. These transmit sound to the inner ear through your jaw and cheek bones like a hearing aid, leaving your ears free and unblocked.
Cycling generates more heat than walking because cyclists work that bit harder. If you dress for cycling like you’d dress for walking, you’ll start to overheat in as little as 15 minutes. The key is to lose the insulation. Generally, you’ll need a windproof outer layer and a comfortable base layer, but that sweater or suit jacket probably belongs in your commuter bag. Conversely, your extremities will get colder due to increased windchill. Dress accordingly.