If you cycle occasionally for fun or fitness, then this post is to help you to take the next step and get happier, healthier and wealthier by commuting to work by bike. It will help you to identify the barriers to cycling to work and give you some basic, practical steps towards overcoming them. But let’s start by looking at the benefits.
You’ll be happier. Cycling is proven to improve emotional health, having a positive effect on wellbeing, self-confidence and resistance to stress. It also helps to reduce tiredness and difficulties sleeping.* People who have switched to commuting by bike consistently remark on how much less stressful it is than other forms of transport and how cycling improves their sense of happiness and wellbeing.
You’ll be healthier. Cycling is fantastic exercise. It helps you to lose weight and build muscle without putting too much strain on your joints. A recent study found people who cycle to work have a 39% lower mortality rate than those who do not and argued that cycling to work ‘can yield much the same health benefits as doing a specific training programme’.*
You’ll be wealthier. Savings website Pound a Day says the average commute in the UK is an 8.7 mile car journey, costing £2,250 a year or £6.16 every day. The combined cost of a very good bicycle, Gold Secure standard lock, waterproof panniers and two full services (regular cycle commuters should service their bikes at least once a year) comes to just under £850: even if you bought a brand new bike every year, cycling to work would still represent a substantial saving on the average car commute or many rail season tickets. Even with top-notch wheels and accessories, cycling to work will make you wealthier in the long run.
Know Your Route
Whether you currently drive, walk, or use public transport to get to work, the chances are the best route to take by bike won’t be the one you take now. There are fantastic online resources for sniffing out two-wheeled tricks to avoid traffic and get you to work as fresh and stress-free as possible. Cyclestreets (which also has an excellent app), Google Maps and Transport Direct (which also has a CO2 calculator so you can feel even better about your two-wheeled self) all have cycle route planners. There’s no substitute, though, for first-hand knowledge and experience: talk to regular cycle commuters, ask them for tips on where to go and tricks to avoid the worst traffic black spots.
Once you’ve got a good idea of the best route to take, do as much of a recce as you can, preferably when there’s not too much traffic around. If you know the road layout ahead, it’s easier to stay safe in heavy traffic or bad weather when you’re on your way to work.
Even the most meticulous route planning often can’t entirely avoid busy rush-hour traffic and for many people the greatest obstacle to commuting by bike is an entirely understandable reluctance to mix it with buses, cars and lorries. Here are two straightforward steps to help boost your cycling confidence and equip you with the necessary skills to deal with busy sections of your commute:
Find out about expert training in your area. You wouldn’t drive a car to work before your first driving lesson and unless you’re a confident and experienced road user you shouldn’t cycle to work without some basic training either. The Department for Transport’s Bikeability programme provides adult cycle training and many local authorities and employers offer it for free or at heavily subsidised rates. You can book a session to ride to work with your instructor and talk over any difficult junctions or traffic black spots so you have specific guidance tailored to your own commute.
Team up with a colleague or a neighbour. If you know someone who works with or near you and cycles to work, ask if you can meet them and ride in together for a week or two. Even the busiest and most daunting commute will feel much more achievable if you can tuck in behind an experienced cyclist, follow their line and learn their tricks for dealing with busy junctions or confusing roundabouts. Most cycle commuters are enthusiastic about cycling and will be glad to help someone make the transition to commuting by bike.
Unless your commute is a substantial distance or over tricky terrain, you don’t need to spend a fortune on a high-end bike and fancy clothing and accessories. However, if you are going to ride to work every day it is worth making sure you can commute comfortably and carry the necessary luggage. If you don’t have a bike or there’s only a rusting death-trap in the garden shed, then consider borrowing or hiring one for a week to see how you find it (schemes such as Cycle Boost in South Yorkshire and Better By Bike in the West Country offer free 1-month loans so you can try riding to work without having to buy a bike; see if there is a similar service in your area). If you live near a Brompton Dock you can try cycling to work a few times for less than £20 and increasingly bike shops are offering good, well-equipped bikes for short-term hire at reasonable prices. If you decide cycling to work is for you, it is well worth looking into Cyclescheme: if your employer is signed up you can make substantial savings on new bikes and equipment.
Other than a bike, you don’t need to worry too much: the majority of people who cycle to work do so in their work clothes. If you want to ride to work whatever the weather or if you have a demanding route, water-proof panniers and/or a change of clothes at work might help: through trial and error you’ll quickly work out the routine and equipment that suit you best. (There is also a substantial corner of the internet dedicated to information about cycling gear if you need guidance). The only ‘must’ is to make sure you have a good lock: the police recommend spending at least a tenth of the value of your bike on a lock.
Your workplace might already have secure bike storage, cycle showers and lockers: sometimes facilities for people who ride to work are tucked away and not very well advertised, so it’s worth asking around to see what’s available. If there aren’t any facilities for cycle commuters, persuade them that there should be. They might not be aware of the benefits of a two-wheeled workforce: research suggests that cycling to work can halve sick days and happier and healthier employees are more productive and highly motivated.** Plus encouraging cycling is a must for any organisation – and it should be every one – that cares about the environment and its green credentials. So if there are no facilities ask your employer why and persuade them that installing a shower and some secure bike storage will be worth their while.
If you follow these simple suggestions, overcoming the barriers you face to cycling to work won’t be a big deal. Once you’ve got hold of a bike, worked out your route and got expert advice you can take the plunge and cycle into work a few times. You’ll quickly start to enjoy it and feel the benefits and hopefully you’ll stick at it and in a year or two you’ll struggle to remember how – or why – you ever travelled to work any other way. Surely there’s no better way to get happier, healthier and wealthier than simply by changing your traveling routine: it’s as easy as riding a bike.
* Cycling & Health: What’s the Evidence – a report by the Public Health advisors to Cycling England
** Sustrans report based on Office of National Statistics evidence