One day you’ve got the sun on your face and sand between your toes; the next, you’re back in the real world and looking down the barrel of a British autumn and winter… and it’s work tomorrow. Summoning enthusiasm for cycle commuting might be hard, but don’t put it off.
While the evenings might be drawing in, September is usually a fine month for cycling. Better to get back in the habit now before the more challenging weather of late autumn arrives. Here are our tips for getting back into cycling after a long time off the bike.
Reboot your route to work
When you’re getting back into cycling after a long break, use the opportunity of the time away from commuting to reexamine your route to work. We all fall into the habit of using specific routes into and across town, seldom deviating from the skeletal networks we carry in our heads. Yet there might be an alternative route that’s quicker, quieter, or simply more enjoyable. Use journey planner websites or cycling apps like CycleStreets or Google Maps to investigate. Even if you end up sticking with your old route, you’ve confirmed it’s the best option for you.
Since September is a new school year, your commuting route might be affected by your kids. Maybe you’ll now need to go via the nursery with a childseat or via the primary school with a tag-along. Conversely, if your child now travels independently, you can plot a new route just for you.
Preparation, not frustration
When you haven’t ridden your bike for a while, you won’t have felt or heard any problems it might have developed. Check your bike over and expect, at the very least, to pump up the tyres and lubricate the chain. Better to fix that puncture now, if you’ve got one, than first thing Monday morning!
Get your commuter bag and riding gear ready the night before. You don’t want to be running around looking for a rear light when you’re meant to be on the road already.
Ready, steady, go!
Don’t leave the decision to cycle to work or not until the morning. If you wake tired and cranky, or feeling despondent about returning to work, your willpower will be at a low ebb. Decide in advance and don’t give yourself the opportunity to back out. Get up, get in the shower, and put on whatever you’ll wear to ride to work. (If you’re showering at work, put on your cycling gear as soon as you get out of bed).
Once you’re on the bike, you’ll remember why you choose to ride. The exercise will wake you up and get your head into gear: two-thirds of employees report being more productive at work after cycling there. So while your colleagues are staring morosely at a cup of coffee, dreaming of being back on holiday, you’ll be ready to go.
Don’t overdo it
You may be very keen on getting your cycling fitness back, particularly if you’re riding a bike for the first time in years, but by being off the bike you’ll likely have lost some fitness. You’ll want to resist the temptation to chase down other cycle commuters or attempt to set Strava PRs. Go steady, especially if you’re returning to cycling after an injury. A few days off won’t have made a difference – the rest may have done you good – but after a couple of weeks your cardiovascular fitness will have begun to decline.
Your peak oxygen uptake (your ‘VO2 max’) will be lower. Hard efforts will feel harder. So don’t do them: gear down, spin your legs, and let your fitness slowly return. If it feels too taxing to ride every day, go by bike on alternate days, or even just once or twice a week, or cycle to work and take your bike home by train.
Track your progress
Cycling to work is great for your health, but it’s a gradual process, not a quick fix. You might not notice the incremental improvements to your weight or fitness. If you need motivation, log them. Check your weight once a week and note it down.
Record your commutes on Strava and see how your time improves on that uphill segment. If you’re building up from one or two days a week to daily commuting, just put a tick on your wall calendar: I cycled to work today.
Cash in your savings
Cycle commuting is good for your wallet as well as your waistline. You can work out how good with this calculator. Let’s say for the sake of argument you save just £5 per day by cycling. Don’t let this get lost in the noise of your everyday finances: separate it out so you can reward yourself. Set up a weekly standing order into a savings account that you’ll use for something special, such as your next holiday. If you work 48 weeks a year and save £5 per day by cycle commuting, that’s £1,200 per year. Never mind your last holiday – where do you want to go next?
There's a saying that there's no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing. To which we'd add: 'and a lack of mudguards'. If you stopped cycling because you were getting wet, it's time to invest in some more kit. Don't forget you can get equipment-only packages with Cyclescheme. Buy and fit the fullest-coverage mudguards that your bike will accept. Get a good quality waterproof jacket, gloves, and waterproof trousers.
These items will soon pay for themselves, due to the money you're saving by cycling. And you won't have to decide any more between feeling guilty because you didn't ride, and feeling soggy because you did. Don’t let bad weather stop you from getting back into cycling after a long break.
Find a commuting buddy
Do you share all or part of your commute with another cyclist? Why not agree to meet up at a certain time on a given morning – or even every morning?
Sharing your cycle commute with others can provide motivation. It’s also more sociable. If there’s a work colleague you can arrange to ride part way with, you’re both less likely to backslide. If there isn’t, you could set up a Strava club for cycle commuters where you work, so you can see who’s riding, how far, and so on.
If you're the only cyclist where you work, encourage colleagues to start cycling. And at Cyclscheme, we’ve started our Love to Ride Community, where you can make connections, earn rewards and prizes, set yourself goals and record your cycle rides. For more information, click here.
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