Guest post by Gordon
It was April 2010. I had one of those weeks on the trains and tube we all dread. Every day, delays, cancellations, diversions, engineering works, passengers taken ill, trespassers on the line. The tube even stopped working because someone had nicked the copper wiring. You name it, I had it.
It just so happened that in that same week my work announced we would be joining the cycle to work scheme. I hadn’t really cycled since I was a kid and to be honest I didn’t think I would actually cycle that much, I just wanted to make some futile gesture toward South West Trains. So I signed myself up, “anyway”, I thought, “I can always ride it at weekends”.
One year on and I now cycle pretty much every day, work permitting, and have covered over 2,000 miles. For those of you who are thinking about making the leap I cannot recommend it highly enough. These are my top 10 tips of things that I have learned in the last 12 months, which may help you when you are starting out.
10. Make the Cycle2Work Scheme work for you – If you are doing the cycle to work scheme then you may want to consider getting a little more money than you require for the bike, in order to purchase some accessories. For example, it is recommended that you spend 10% of the value of the bike on a lock, so these can be relatively expensive. You will also require lights if you cycle at night (the law) and you may want to consider a helmet (not the law).
Remember that with the scheme you are making the savings on the tax and NI, so this is basically like getting a money-off voucher!
9. A little bit of maintenance goes a long way – Bikes are relatively simple things, certainly compared to cars, but they still have plenty of moving parts that need looking after.
While the word ‘maintenance’ may make you start to sweat, it can actually be very rewarding and it will save you money. Just by keeping the bike clean and lubricated you will make the parts last longer.
You can get an excellent free ‘Maintenance Made Easy’ e-book by subscribing to the London Cyclist newsletter. I can also highly recommend the free Evans Cycles maintenance courses, which have small classes and run you through the basics. If nothing else you will be happy mending a puncture!
8. Be Puncture Resilient – And you should be prepared to fix a puncture because, unfortunately, you will probably get one at some point.
However, if you carry the right gear (spare inner tube, tyre levers, pump) then you can be back on the road in no time. I also carry a small sharp knife to dig out any bits of glass or sharp stones. My top tip – always check for what caused the puncture in the first instance, otherwise you could end up getting another one half a mile later (since you ask, yes, I have).
If you really don’t fancy fixing punctures then I would recommend buying puncture resilient tyres, such as the Marathon Plus. Although heavier (and therefore slightly slower) I have not had a puncture while using them over the winter months.
7. Don’t wear anything under your cycling shorts – It took me a little while to realise that the pads in cycling shorts are seamless to avoid chaffing. If you wear anything between the shorts and your skin the seams will cause you issues. Just trust me on this one.
6. Set some goals – when I first started cycling it sometimes seemed easier to revert to the usual commute rather than get on the bike, so I set myself the goal of paying my bike off.
Using a simple Excel spreadsheet I kept track of the money I was saving by riding instead of using the train. I paid the bike off in just over four months and by that time it was part of my every day commute and I have never looked back.
5. Embrace the winter – Probably not what you want to be thinking about before spring even ends, but when summer does start to wane then don’t immediately put the bike in the shed. With a little bit of additional clothing, none of which needs to be expensive, the winter can be just as enjoyable as the summer. For a start there are fewer pesky cyclists on the road!
With the exception of my waterproof cycling jacket (£60) and winter gloves (£10 in the sale), the rest of my winter gear came from places like Mountain Warehouse, Track & Field and Decathlon. I spent about £100 – £120 all up and it will all last me another two or three winters easily.
4. Be courteous to other road users – One of the most amazing things I discovered when I started cycling is that, contrary to popular belief, not all drivers are maniacs. Indeed it transpires that the vast majority are very courteous.
Always try and indicate your intentions or at least check over your shoulder and most drivers will give you the room. If someone does let you out or gives you space to manoeuvre then try and acknowledge it. If we all try and get along then I am sure it will be better for everyone.
3. That includes other cyclists! – One of the great things about cycling is that everyone accepts that people go at their own pace. You will not encounter any furious ringing of bells or shouting of obscenities if you are pootling along – those behind will simply follow along until it is safe to overtake.
However, that doesn’t mean you cannot annoy a fellow cyclist. One of my pet hates is cyclists that you have overtaken but then, while you are stopped at a red light, saunter through the waiting masses and stop in front of everyone. Generally everyone then has to try and overtake them all over again. The term for this is Bike Shoaling.
Whenever I am overtaken I will make a conscious effort to sit behind them if I catch back up at lights. Equally, if I arrive at lights late I will tend to wait my place in the queue unless I know I will be pulling away quicker (i.e. someone wearing a suit on a Boris bike is normally a fair bet. Beware the Brompton though, these can be deceptively quick!).
2. Ride Positively Defensively – This may sound like an oxymoron, but it is one of the best bits of advice that I can give.
You have to be positive in your riding, particularly in Central London, otherwise you will never actually get anywhere. Also, nervous or uncertain riders create nervousness and uncertainty in those around them, as no one is quite sure what they are going to do next, which can cause problems.
Remember that you are as entitled as anyone else to be on the road, so adopt a strong road position if you need to, indicate your intentions as necessary and then act on them when it is safe to do so.
However, you also need to be aware of what else is going on around you and not just what you are doing. I ride looking well ahead of me so that I pick up things such as pot holes, vehicles turning, or pedestrians that look like they may step out. The sooner you see something the more time you have to act. And please remember not to ride up the inside of lorries at junctions.
It is also worth knowing that all London Boroughs operate free cycle training if you do want to improve your cycling or simply want a confidence boost.
1. Enjoy it – As clichéd as it may sound, this is actually the most important thing. Cycling can not only save you money, help the environment, make you fitter and reduce the stress of relying on public transport but it is also immensely enjoyable.
I have seen far more of this great city than I ever would have done if I had carried on making my way around underground. Now if something catches my eye, well I just hop off the bike and have a look. So don’t delay, hope on a bike today!
Special thank you to Gordon for sending me this post of things he’s learnt in the first year. It’s easy after more experience to forget these key lessons.
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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.