The urban bike magazine

Why sweat and rain should be no barrier to cycling to work

How to deal with the mass transportation of residents and workers is one of the biggest challenges faced by major towns and cities across the globe. Roads are gridlocked, pollution levels are high, and public transport is often underwhelming and underfunded. The solution, it is often said, lies in getting more people to travel by bicycle—particularly at peak times.

Stuart Howard_square
Stuart is a freelance writer based in the South Pennines. A keen follower of cycling as a sport, he is also a great advocate of the bicycle as everyday transportation.
Header image: Kurt Bauschardt, CC-BY-SA-2.0.

We at Bike Citizens are, naturally, keen advocates of two-wheeled travel. Various studies have shown that people who cycle to work are healthier and happier. We do, however, realise that there are many people who may like the idea of cycling to work but never make the transition.

So just what are the barriers to cycling to work? And what are the solutions?

Traffic itself

Let’s get the biggest obstacle out of the way first. Catch-22. The solution to traffic problems is using fewer motorised vehicles, but the barrier to using non-motorised vehicles is traffic itself!

It can’t be sugar-coated: cycling in traffic can be an intimidating experience, particularly if your commute takes you on a busy, non-segregated route.

The simple advice is to follow the rules of the road, make yourself visible and act sensibly. Free courses exist to help beginners feel more confident on the road and local cycling groups often offer mentor-led rides, too. Once you have more confidence, you’ll soon be enjoying that feeling of gliding to work past stationary traffic.

Research your route and you may find quieter roads or traffic-free trails. The Netherlands is usually held to be a prime example of how safe and sensible infrastructure dictates travel choices. Cycling to work or, indeed, anywhere is just part of the everyday ritual. Other countries in Europe may lag behind but, after years of car-centric policies, the tide is changing.

Build it and they will come—in the UK, the “Cycle Superhighways” of London have seen an increase in the numbers of people—of all ages, importantly—cycling across the city, be it for work or leisure. The success of the GB Cycling teams at the Olympics have also helped increase cycling participation. The audience is there and the clamouring voices for change are getting louder.

I’m not fit enough and I live too far away

There is only one way to get fit—exercise! If you are time-starved, regular trips to the gym might be out of the question. Why not combine your commute to work with some healthy exercise? No-one is suggesting you become a five-days-a-week commuter straight away. Build up to it, one or two days a week to start. The physical demands of riding to work become easier the more you do it, and your waistline reduces accordingly!

Not all of us live a short ride across the city, though. For those with longer commutes, a great idea is to break up the journey. How about travelling by train for part of the journey and riding the rest? Or driving to a (usually cheaper) car park outside the city and completing your journey by bike?

Won’t I get too sweaty? We don’t have showers at work. And what about my clothes?

Yes, physical exercise produces sweat but it is rarely a real problem—body odour isn’t caused by the sweat but by the buildup of bacteria that follows. Shower before you ride and then clean up over the sink or with baby wipes and you should be fine.

Separate clothes for cycling to work are not a necessity. If your commute is short, your ordinary clothes might do the job, or there are numerous companies who produce smart urban clothing with cycling-specific detailing.

Donning lycra might be an idea for longer journeys—it is quick-drying and enables greater freedom of movement.

If wearing separate clothes, perhaps drive in or travel by public transport on a Monday, taking spare, clean clothing to use over the rest of the week. If taking it day-by-day, rolling rather than folding can help, as can using panniers. Some companies also manufacture clothing-specific bags.

I have nowhere to store my bike at work

This may be less of a problem than you think. Speak to your boss. Is there a basement room that can be utilised? Some councils offer grants to businesses to convert office space to accommodate shower and bike storage facilities.

cycling_to_work_bike_parking

Public bike parking next to a train station Photo: Jackie.lck, licensed under CC BY 2.0 license.

Is there a local bike hub near your place of work? In Greater Manchester, for example, there are a number of safe storage hubs at transport interchanges across the region. A small annual charge allows the use of all the basic hubs but there is also a larger central facility available with showers, lockers and a repair shop.

What about the rain?

There isn’t much we can do about the weather but it is rarely as big a problem as it first seems. Invest in a decent waterproof, or water resistant, cycling jacket and some mudguards and you are good to go. Don’t forget some spare dry clothes at work, just in case.

If you really don’t fancy the idea of getting wet, keep a close eye on the forecast—there is nothing wrong with being a fair-weather cycle commuter!

What if I get a puncture?

Punctures and other minor mechanical problems are almost inevitable. The only advice here is to be prepared. Keep your bike well maintained and you should avoid most problems—perhaps go on a basic course to learn some new skills, you’ll be surprised at how easy and how satisfying it is to be able to administer your own repairs.

Repairing a puncture is a straightforward, if inconvenient task. Carry spare inner tubes along with a pump and a multi-tool. There are some ways around getting your hands dirty: buying appropriately tough tyres or inner tubes with sealants could reduce the chance of punctures. Failing that, many cities have mobile repair shops ready and waiting for a call.

There’s safety in numbers—the more people that cycle, the safer it will become. The more demand that there is for infrastructure, the more likely it is that the infrastructure will be built (witness the success of the London Cycle Superhighways project). So, with all the myths debunked and excuses resolved – what are you waiting for?

Header image: Kurt Bauschardt, license CC-BY-SA-2.0.

Stuart Howard_square
Stuart is a freelance writer based in the South Pennines. A keen follower of cycling as a sport, he is also a great advocate of the bicycle as everyday transportation.

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