Beat the strike — go by bike! Cycle commuting top tips
There's never been a better time to have a go at commuting by bike; here's what you need to know to get started...

There's an easy way to beat the Tube strike, or, if you don't live in London, get to work without sitting in traffic, and save money too: ride your bike. If you're thinking of taking the two-wheels-to-work plunge, here are our top tips to help you get to work the fun and fast way.

Choose your route

CycleStreets gives you a choice of routes

Unless you’re fit, fast and experienced following the same roads that you previously drove is not much fun, and the arterial routes into many cities are the scenes of more than their fair share of  crashes involving cyclists because of their high levels of truck and bus traffic, and dire junction design.

Happily, you don’t actually need to use them. On a bike your top speed is limited by how hard you’re able (or willing) to pedal; you can’t go any faster on bigger roads. That means that you can avoid the fastest, busiest roads in favour of quieter ones without your average speed suffering. It’s often the case that the quiet roads are more direct, too.

Get yourself a map and work out some options. Expect to have to experiment a few times with routes before you find the best one. Google Maps is a useful tool. Use the cycling option and it’ll automatically make a route that you can then easily drag around to suit your preferences.

Cyclestreets.net is another great online tool. It will provide you three routes between your home and destination: fastest, quietest and a ‘balanced’ intermediate. It also has apps for iPhone, Android and even Windows Phone and Blackberry 10 so if you can mount your phone on your handlebar, you can easily follow the route it provides.

Cyclestreets will tend to route you along cycle paths if it can, but they’re worth keeping in mind even if you’re planning your own route. They won’t always be an option, but traffic-free routes are nice if available. Look for other alternative transport corridors like canal towpaths, too. They’re not always lit and can have unpredictable surfaces, but at this time of year that shouldn’t be a problem.

If you get hooked on bike-commuting, remember that you don’t have to use the same route every day, or even at both ends of the same day. One of the joys of cycle commuting is the freedom to take a longer, more scenic, or – if you’re training – deliberately harder route if the mood takes you. Most experienced cycle commuters have a selection of routes from which they pick and choose according to conditions and whim.

Get trained

If you're new to mixing it with traffic, you’ll benefit from some extra skills and knowledge to ride safely on the road. Several organisations offer adult cycle training, with qualified instructors to help you get to grips with busy roads, complex junctions and so on. If your commute takes you on roads (and most will) and you’re not hugely confident, then a day’s training will make a big difference.

Stay safe

Riding home after dark? Get lights

Sunset tomorrow is after 9pm, so you might need lights if you’re working rather late and you’ll certainly need them later in the year if you make cycle commuting part of your routine. Some riders use lights during daylight too; modern LED lights are so compact and efficient that there’s little downside to using them.

After dark, lots of reflective material (either on your clothing or stuck to your bike) is a good idea too. Alas, there’ll always be the occasional driver who just doesn’t look, but get yourself as visible as possible and you’ve got a chance of getting the attention of the slightly inattentive ones.


What you wear to ride depends on a number of factors. You can ride a short, easy commute in your normal work clothes. If you don’t have to raise a sweat then there’s little reason to change, and you’d be surprised how far you can ride with little effort. If you’ve either got a significant distance to cover, significant hills to scale or you just like going fast, then wearing cycling kit for your commute makes sense.

That means you’ll have to change at the office so you’ll need some way of getting your civilian clothes to work. This is straightforward if your workwear is something other than a smart suit: just roll it up and put it in a rucksack or pannier.

If you need to be smart it’s trickier. There are panniers and rucksacks available that are specifically designed to carry a suit, so that’s an option. Remember that you don’t have to take all your clothes every day. A popular strategy is to leave the suit at work until it needs cleaning and bring in a fresh shirt, pants and socks each day. Or bring a week’s shirts on Monday and travel light until Friday evening when you bring it all home again to wash over the weekend.


Inevitably you’ll have to carry some stuff with you to work. If you don’t need to take much, a rucksack or shoulder bag is fine. Some people swear by rucksacks because they’re fuss-free: step off the bike and your load comes with.

Others can’t stand carrying things on their backs and swear by panniers because weight on the bike is more comfortable. You can carry a lot more in panniers and you don’t get a sweaty back. If you plan to fit a rack, make sure that you choose a bike with the necessary mounts. You can get racks that work with any bike, but good ones are expensive.

The bike

There are lots of options in street-friendly bikes, but for now you might be better riding whatever you have

Choosing the right bike is something of a challenge, particularly if you’ve not had much to do with bikes before.

This is where a good bike shop comes in. They’ll be able to narrow down your options based on the nature of your commute, how much you need to carry, whether you plan to ride in all weathers or just on nice days and of course your budget. The best bike for a commute across a busy urban area isn’t the same as the best bike for a longer trip along open roads out of town.

However, if you already have any sort of bike, you might just want to make sure there’s air in the tyres and the brakes and gears work and go for it.

Want more advice? See our Guide to the Best Commuting Bikes and Kit

Lock it or lose it

Get yourself a beefy lock like this Abus Bordo

Find out now if there’s anywhere in your building or nearby that you can safely park a bike. If you’re going to have to leave it on the street, get yourself a high-strength lock and see our tips to stop bike theft.

Share your knowledge

Got advice for your fellow cycle commuters? What do you wish you'd known the first few times you set out to work by bike? Tell us in the comments, below.

Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.

Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.

Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.

The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.


Airzound [1084 posts] 4 months ago

Pretty obvious stuff.

But also get yourself a head cam or preferably two, one facing rear wards for when you are rear ended by some fuckwit dangerous driver. And also get yourself some life insurance. Cycling in the UK is dangerous. Get a helmet as the first thing ambulance crews ask when you have been knocked down is "Have you hit your head, were you wearing a helmet?" It might just save your life.

jmaccelari [236 posts] 4 months ago

Couldn't agree more! I had a lovely ride in this morning! Good weather, clear roads and zero stress!

LarryDavidJr [221 posts] 4 months ago

If motivation starts to be a bit of a problem, think about the worst end of your commute for traffic. For me it's the evening (mornings I breeze in, in the car). When I struggle to get up at 5am, and thoughts stray to another hour in bed and the car, I think about that god-awful commute home with all it's queueing in traffic in the hot weather, watching the happy cyclists pass me by on the cycle tracks.

That gets me up and running pretty good.  1

teaboy [296 posts] 4 months ago

One of my favourite thoughts as I ride to work in the warm Summer months is "there are people on the tube now. They PAID for that experience!" I can't help but smile.  16

alotronic [427 posts] 4 months ago

Calculating the offset of not paying for transport versus all the nice stuff you can 'justify' for your bike  1

Worked out I've been commuting by bike for 35 years, a few things I have learned:

The less lycra you wear the less you get into testosterone-fuelled races

General outdoor gear is a lot cheaper than cycling gear and is just as good for rides up to 10-15 miles

Merino boxers and a pair of unlined shorts will do you for most of the year and be less expensive and less washing

Merino in general is pretty good stuff for odour suppression

Don't slap or kick peoples cars even in justified frustration (I've been assaulted twice in that situation)

Ride assertively but when things get nasty back down first, despite the red mist

Practice a new route on the weekend before it gets covered in traffic and you are running late

Making your route a km longer to avoid a nasty stretch will only cost you 4 or 5 minutes and save you a lot of stress

Smile and wave like an idiot when someone does something nice for you

Try not to assume that any part of your route is safer when you know it

The weather is never actually as bad as it looks from the back door

And know that you will arrive at your desk more refreshed and happier if you ride

Lee170 [29 posts] 4 months ago

Commuting by bike is the best way by far, arrive at work all happy and buzzing(well I do). And it also helps as a training aid for the bigger rides/sportives at the weekend

jug_23 [55 posts] 4 months ago

Whilst cycle streets is good, if it proposes a route you don't know, I'd recommend looking on streetview to ensure it's not proposing something inadvisable. I just had a go with my commute and rather than the 30mph b road it puts me on the A417 that runs parallel to it at a point where it has 3 lanes and is full of cars that are driving like they're on a motorway, because they effectively are.

It's not the right time of year, but I'd also suggest that for almost any commuting outside of summer you get yourself a decent softshell - cold, windy, or a bit wet it's perfect.

cyclingDMlondon [452 posts] 4 months ago

Enrol in self defence classes, and wear a D-lock in a specially designed belt, with rapid access.

flashpoint [1 post] 4 months ago

A wise man once said to me that commuting by bike 'turns the worst part of your day into the best part'. Sums it up for me.

stenmeister [207 posts] 4 months ago

Work is just something to pass the time between my morning ride and my afternoon ride.

mbrads72 [157 posts] 4 months ago

Going to the front of the traffic light queue past all the cars that just 'had' to get past me makes me smile.  1

... and repeat.

jmaccelari [236 posts] 4 months ago
mbrads72 wrote:

Going to the front of the traffic light queue past all the cars that just 'had' to get past me makes me smile.  1

... and repeat.

Ha! Ha! I was riding in with a mate yesterday when a plonker behind us hooted aggressively, revved his engine until the pistons started popping, pushed past us and then had to slam on anchors for the traffic lights in front we were slowing down for.

So we laughed at him, gave him the thumbs up and plonked ourselves in front of him again in the cycle box. He was too embarrassed to look at us. Great feeling.

He didn't try his trick again and we had a lovely ride in!

Bill H [19 posts] 4 months ago

Buying a new bike with mudguards, rack, hub dynamo etc for year round commuting is a lovely feeling, but start with anything road worthy that you already have access to.

Put the saved petrol money or tube fare to one side and, if you keep it up, buy whatever you want with those savings. That way if you decide that its not for you there is no loss and no new bike getting dusty in the garage.

It also plants the seed that cycling pays for itself with significant others, which will come in very handy.

flathunt [77 posts] 4 months ago

Never fails to amaze me the numbers of people who decide to hop in the car to drive in on strike days. Probably 2/3 of the cars coming in (well, parked on the roads leading to London) were single occupancy this morning.

"The tubes aren't running, the roads are going to be horrendous. I'd better drive".

At least they had their phones to play with.