Cycling is perfect for the last few miles of a long-distance commute. Bike-rail is one option, if you have a compact folding bike or the patience to put up with unhelpful carriage restrictions. Another option is the car: drive part way then park and ride.
Where to park
Park and ride facilities have sprung up at the peripheries of towns and cities across the UK, offering free or cheap parking and a regular shuttle bus to tempt traffic out of urban centres.
Park-and-rides tend to have lots of parking spaces, good lighting, CCTV, and toilets. They're ideal for the car-bike commuter... usually. The normal arrangement is that you park for nothing – or for peanuts – and then pay for your shuttle bus ticket. However, some park-and-rides charge you to park and give you a 'free' bus ticket, which you won't want as you'll be on your bike!
It still might be worthwhile compared to town centre parking. Search for 'park and ride' and the town or city you're heading for and see what the options are. While you're online, check the opening and closing times; even though you won't be on the bus, the car park barriers will come down after the last one and won't open again until the first one. So shift workers may be out of luck.
If there isn't a suitable park-and-ride, consider on-street parking on suburban side roads or satellite villages. You'll be parking much further out than the average driver, so should be able to avoid 'disc zones' and other parking restrictions. Just be sure to park sensitively and choose somewhere well lit and with passing pedestrians.
Planning your route
The chances are that you'll have parked near the arterial road that you came in on. It's tempting to follow that route into the centre, like the bus. While this may be the best option if you're pushed for time, it's worth exploring the less direct, quieter options.
Cycling is much more pleasant on backstreets and the lack of congestion may mean that you can maintain a higher average speed. Go online to www.cyclestreets.net and either download the app or plan your journey on your desktop computer. You can choose between the fastest route (main roads), a balanced route, and the quietest route. If you're in London, Transport for London's Journey planner is good too: www.journeyplanner.org. Whichever you use, plot your journey in both directions as one-way streets or busy road junctions may prevent you returning the way that you went.
Bike inside the car
Carrying your bike in the car is the best option. There's no effect on fuel economy and your bike is safe from weather and mishaps.
Some cars, such as MPVs and estates, are big enough for a normal bike to go in complete. This will save you time and hassle. Lay the bike on its left side, chain uppermost, or fix it upright using luggage straps. Use an old blanket or sheet to protect against oil, dirt and scuffs.
With the front wheel – or both – removed, a normal bike will fit in just about any car. A bike will even fit across the back seats like this. Be aware that if oil can get on something, it will. White Lightning's Chain Johnny (£19.99, www.madison.co.uk) is designed to cover the drivetrain, or you can just use a black bin bag if the back wheel is off. Leave a pair of gloves (workshop or washing up) in the car so that you can get the wheels on an off without getting dirty.
If you've got a small car and/or don't want to take wheels on and off each day, any folding bike will fit. You can fit two Bromptons in the boot of a Smart Fortwo!
Bike outside car
The three options are, in ascending order of price and usefulness: strap-on boot rack; roof rack; and tow-bar rack. Strap-on racks fit to the back of the car with tensioned straps, hooked around the edges of the hatchback door or boot. Some are awful, others - such as the Saris Bones 2-Bike Boot Rack (£125, www.paligap.cc) and the Thule ClipOn High 9105 (£185, www.thule.com) - decent. They're not such a good option if you'll be leaving your car all day, as they're more vulnerable to theft and it's time consuming to take them on and off each time. And note that you will need a lighting board if your bike obscures the numberplate and lights.
Roof racks get your bike up and out of the way – of everything except low barriers. The bike racks fit solidly to roof bars, which can often be locked to the top of your car and left in situ. It can be hard to get the bike on and off the roof, particularly if you're short, the car is high, or the bike is heavy. Your bike is up in the wind too, which affects fuel economy, but it's the best option if you don't have a tow-bar. Good roof racks include the Thule ProRide 591 (£90 per bike) and the Pendle Fork Mount Roof Rack (£88.25 per bike, www.pendle-bike.co.uk). Don't forget to budget for roof bars too.
Tow-bar racks are more expensive, particularly if you don't already have a tow-bar, but they're sturdy, can be locked to the car, don't affect fuel too badly, and give easy access to your bikes. If you will regularly be carrying bikes, or doing lots of miles, a tow-bar rack is the best option. Just be careful when reversing! Wheel support models with an integral lighting board are the most stable and convenient. Good ones are available from Pendle, ETC (www.todayscyclist.co.uk), and of course Thule.
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