I used to use my brother’s bike. He cycled from Lands End to John O’Groats as a teenager and raised hundreds of pounds for Cancer Research UK, and I was inspired by this to try a commute. After all if he emerged unscathed from a trip like that, half an hour on the roads should be no problem.
I rode until the bus and cycle lanes finished and then decided to keep safe by walking through town. Red lanes here are ridiculous, one stops at the top of a hill before cars go into a bottleneck at the bottom, so you often have to go on the pavement as the queue doesn’t leave enough room.
Cars often park in the lanes meaning you have to weave around them. But at least most of the vehicles were generous with space.
My bag was a bit heavy – I had to carry both locks in it – you should have one in between the wheel, over the main frame and round the bar and the other securing the back wheel going through the main frame and round the bar. If this sounds a bit confusing have a look at the image below.
I considered getting insurance – it would probably cost me less than the bus.
I thought it would be a lot harder returning uphill than it was – whenever it got a bit much I could get on the pavement and walk. I was clearly a first-timer – other 2-wheel commuters were whizzing past me as if they were in the Tour de France. I felt like a fancy dress runner at the back of a marathon.
The only thing is that it’s not that safe to be zooming down when the road is wet, so most of the time the weather will prevent me from commuting in this way. But I enjoyed regaining control for the day, no longer forced to wait in the cold for a bus that may or may be late, smelly or snail-slow.
On arrival the facilities were sufficient – there was a shower, although it was a bit basic not having a changing room. I was amused by a notice requesting users to direct the shower head away from the door to avoid a “swimming pool” floor, to which one indignant bather had responded in red capitals “OR YOU COULD INVEST IN A BETTER SHOWER CUBICLE!” I hovered around my stuff on the one chair whilst changing and as there was no mirror I did my makeup in the toilets.
My verdict? You can bike to the top of town from my area using the bike/bus lanes. Just be careful of the buses as they don’t leave much space and will come up right behind you if you hold them up (despite the fact that they seem to be quite happy to go slower than the speed limit at any other time). Look behind you when coming out of bus lanes – I squeaked as a bus sped right past me almost as I was coming out of it, leaving no room whatsoever. It was a little annoying having to walk right through town as there are no decent lanes running through – for example there is a strip on one side of the road going down but not coming up. But really it depends on our changeable weather…I don’t fancy getting cold and wet.
As for elsewhere – I’ve heard cycling in London can be quite risky and from what I have heard I wouldn’t recommend it!
Top 10 First-Timer Tips
1. Follow the rules of the road. If you’re not sure read the Highway Code. Or copy what more experienced cyclists do. Signal clearly well before turning using the signals below. Make sure you keep your balance whilst you do so.
2. Give your bike an M.O.T the night before – check the tyres to ensure they’re hard enough, cycle round a bit to check the gear chain is in good working order and the seat is at the right height.
3. Make sure you have a helmet and wear a reflective jacket even in the day. If you’re wearing clothes that make you noticeable, keeping as far to the side as possible and following the rules of the road then there is no excuse for anyone driving.
4. If you’re going to wear work clothes, wear a “wicking” shirt underneath that draws away the sweat. Secure your trousers with reflective bands or they’ll get shredded in the gear chain axle. I’d advise wearing skin tight “pedal-pushers” (three-quarter length trousers) a t-shirt and a light longer sleeved jacket as a wind-breaker. A shower is also recommended!
4. ALWAYS LOOK BEHIND YOU WHEN COMING OUT of a lane. Be it a bus stop marking or from behind a car. It’s best to wait for a gap in traffic or wait for a car that’s seen you and has therefore left space.
5. AVOID ROUNDABOUTS – it’s tricky to stay in the right lane and cars can’t always leave sufficient space and may not be looking around their lane as they come round the bend. Also, beware of slippy roads in wet weather and AVOID TRAM TRACKS – many friends have fallen off riding on these.
6. Beware of potholes on bike lanes – where I live there are quite a few! Also beware of broken glass in them. Your commute will be much slower with a puncture. Then if possible, walk to work from the end of the bike lane like I do – I’d rather take a bit more time getting there than risk my safety.
7. ANTICIPATE – just as important as when driving, leave space for people getting out of parked cars. Keep an eye on pedestrians, they may not be aware of you when crossing the road.
8. Lock both front and bike wheels to the main frame and the bar. If you are concerned about security perhaps consider insuring your bike, it’ll cost less than replacing it and perhaps less than using public transport.
9. Make sure you have a hearty lunch or a snack approximately two hours before you leave. It’s no fun cycling on an empty stomach. But don’t eat less than two hours before or your blood will be involved in digestion rather than powering your muscles.
Try it and write about your experience. It fulfilled my exercise needs of the day, saved me time and money, was carbon-neutral and had positive effects on my mood and productivity.