Cycle commuting is immensely satisfying and there are lots of positives, from the obvious health benefits to beating public transport delays and queues and the freedom it provides. But there are a few things people don’t tell you about cycle commuting.
Cycle commuting is lovely when it’s a fine spring morning and the daffodils are out and you’ve got a light breeze on your back and a lovely blue sky to admire. But the weather won’t always be this picture postcard of perfection and there will be times when you’ll be battling howling winds and horizontal rain and endless hours of darkness which will test your mental fortitude.
The great thing about commuting by bike is you’re in complete control of how long it takes you, so you can generally time your commute to the minute. However, there’s nothing worse than the cruel blow of a major mechanical or puncture to ruin your commute. You’ll arrive at the office even sweatier, flustered, hands covered in grime and late.
If you’re a law-abiding cyclist, then traffic lights will be the bane of your life because they rob you of all of your momentum and it takes considerable effort to get back up to speed. There’s nothing like getting a nice run of green traffic lights to put a smile on your face and save you a few seconds or minutes, but some days it can feel like you are constantly stopping at every light. I don’t think I ever got a full green run along the embankment when I used to live in London.
The second annoying thing to stopping at every traffic light is getting shoaled at the lights. Shoaling is a term that describes that moment when you’ve stopped at the lights only for other cyclists to come along and stop in front of you. They’re queue jumping basically, and that's just not sporting.
Ever seen an angry commuting cyclist and wondered what’s got their goat? It’s probably because they’ve been cut up for the 50th time that morning by a bus, taxi, lorry, car or even another cyclist. Cities and towns are congested places and lots of people using too few roads and it can get a bit stressful as everyone is trying to get to work as quickly as possible. Tempers will fray.
This one totally depends on the length of your commute, if it’s short you might not work up a sweat. But if it’s a reasonable distance and you’re going quite fast you are going to get sweaty. Obviously you could ride at a slower speed to avoid getting a sweat on, but all commuting cyclists know you ride at terminal velocity.
Which leads to the problem of how to avoid stinking out the office all day. If you’re very lucky, your office will have a lovely hot shower and you can freshen up before a day sat at your desk. But often that shower can be out of order, or there’s always a queue, or there just isn’t an office. Which means you have to get creative with freshening up and learn how valuable baby wipes, dry shower wash and body spray is.
Forgetting some vital bit of clothing is a rite of passage for cycle commuters. So our best advice is to pack some emergency clothing at the bottom of your desk drawer just for that time when you will inevitably forget some of your clothing. Or if you're organised you take all your clothes into the office on one day you're not cycling to avoid this. Which leads us to...
Where commuting differs from weekend cycling is that you’ll need to carry stuff. Laptops, shoes, spare clothes, lunch and other essentials all need to be transported to and from the office, and whether you do it with a backpack (what way a bad back lies) or with panniers, you’ll feel bogged down by the extra weight. Just think of it as extra training. Or do as some organised people do and bring all the clothing they’ll need for the week on one day, so they can travel light for the rest of the week.
Cycle commuting can be a relaxing time to unwind from a stressful day at the office, or it can be highly toxic lactic acid inducing race all the way home. It’s frighteningly easy to find yourself gradually upping the pace to keep up with faster cyclists around you, and before you know it you’re smashing along the ride at 40kph trying not to let a gap open up. Great for training, not great for your hair.
One of the great things about commuting is that it’s often a lot cheaper in the long run than other forms of commuting. If you're facing a short commute you can likely get away with just wearing normal clothes and shoes. But if it’s a long distance commute you might want to embrace the typical Lyrca and special shoes outfit that cyclists wear, which if you don’t already own is an investment you’re going to need to make. Plus, you might need to factor in essentials like lights, spare tubes, tools, a pump, and, possibly, a helmet.
Then there are the consumables. Commute daily and you’ll wear out tyres, brake pads, chains and other mechanical parts on your bike.
Uh oh! You’ve wheeled your bike out onto the street and your lights won’t turn on. We’ve all been there, forgetting to charge our lights or forgetting the USB cable needed to charge them up at the office desk.
Cycling to the office can really get your metabolism going and it’s not uncommon to find yourself hungry all the time, especially if you commute daily and over a reasonable distance.
Ever pulled on a pair of wet padded cycling shorts? It’s a horrible horrible thing to do. It can happen if you’ve got soaked riding into the office in the morning and obviously your kit hasn’t properly dried out for the ride home. It’s enough to make the entire ride home misery. Mudguards and good waterproof clothing help here.
We don't want to put you off, but unfortunately close passes are a risk that all cycling commuters face. For the past couple of years road.cc has been running a Near Miss of the Day, and it’s about making a point about driving standards and the lack of consideration for vulnerable road users on UK roads. Some police forces have been campaigning close pass initiatives to increase awareness amongst road users, and in a recent update, rule163 of the Highway Code states that when passing cyclists, drivers should give "as much room as you would when overtaking a car".
David worked on the road.cc tech team from 2012-2020. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds, and you can now find him over on his own YouTube channel David Arthur - Just Ride Bikes.