How to: Cycle to Work

Getting around London can be a royal pain, but ever since I started cycling everywhere the city seems a lot smaller and interconnected. I only started cycling to work a few years ago and like most people I was a bit scared that I’d get really sweaty or even worse, run over. Now that I cycle everywhere I feel fitter, stronger and less mental. I don’t have to fit in time at the gym, I’m never wedged under someone’s sweaty armpit and I get to see bits of London that I’ve never seen before. I calculated once that before turning 18 I’d spent roughly seven thousand hours on public transport, I think I’d much rather spend the next seventy thousand years on a bike.

Taken outside my old flat in Greenpoint

I’m anti-kit, my bike is an old sit up and beg inherited from a lovely lady I used to work in a pub with (thanks Jan!) You don’t need to spend a lot of money on stuff if you want to start cycling, I do have a waterproof but it’s just a kid’s cagoule from Decathlon that cost me £15. What I would spend money on is lights -which are essential for nightime and misty winter afternoons, and panniers. Ortlieb are the cyclist’s pannier du choix and it’s easy to see why. They’re pricey, but they’re waterproof and their insta-lock system or whatever it’s called is a lot easier to clip on and off than most. Having said that, their carry strap is a bit of a pain so if anyone has any better pannier ideas leave a me comment.

If I’m cycling for about 30-40 mins then I’ll just wear my normal clothes, unless it’s boiling you don’t really work up a sweat in that amount of time. In any case you don’t really tend to get hot untill you stop, so when you arrive, just strip off as much is decent, catch your breath and get a sip of water. If I have to cycle for an hour somewhere then I might bring a change of top, or a complete outfit in a pannier, this is only really possible for commuting as you probably want to have a shower before you get changed.

Bad things to wear include floaty midi skirts that fly up and show your knickers, cycling one-handed while you try to tuck your skirts into your pants is not a good look (also: kinda dangerous). I generally tend to wear trousers with some stretch and some kind of loose-ish top although it’s totally possible and easy to cycle in miniskirts or heels.

Red lights
It’s a common complaint, but in my lifetime I’m pretty sure I can count the number of cyclists who I’ve seen recklessly run lights on both hands. To paraphrase Goldie Lookin Chain, cyclists don’t run red lights, people do. Drivers, pedestrians and cyclists all set off when they shouldn’t; it’s not about whether you use a car, your legs or your pedals, it’s about how much of a dick you are on the road.

Having said that, I see a clear difference between a cyclist running a red light at full speed without looking, and a cyclist gently rolling through a red light, checking for traffic and pedestrians, to keep momentum. For more info on this see Wheels, Pedals, Person’s piece on why she runs red lights where she links to this awesome video about the ‘Idaho Stop’ which explains momentum and cycling more clearly than I can. There is something kind of sad about someone who is so in a hurry that they can’t even pause for a minute at a red light or a crossing, sometimes it’s nice to have a little rest.

Mild version of my death stare that I give to scary drivers.

To helmet or not to helmet
I don’t really wear a helmet, in winter I wear a nice Whistles cashmere beanie which is breathable and keeps my hair tiday, in summer I just tie my hair up. The reason for not wearing a helmet is because I’ve witnessed first hand that drivers will be more reckless with a lycra-ed up, helmeted cyclist than with someone dressed like a human being who has feelings and dreams, with their hair ruffling in the wind. It’s a psychological thing but it makes a difference, but I don’t blame anyone for wanting to wear a helmet, I wore one in New York because it was scary there! You can find more info on helmetshere.

Worst enemy
Black cab drivers can be a pain but on the whole aren’t too bad, buses can be pretty annoying at times, Addison Lees I give a very wide berth, West London Range Rovers drivers are a nightmare, drunk tourists in Covent Garden do my absolute nut in…. But you want to know my worst cycle enemy? Plane trees. Whoever decided that planting a tree that sheds tons of fibreglass-like seeds should be given a good talking to. They fly around and get in your eyes, shatter, itch like hell and make you cry.

~My Cycling Code~
This is a loosely cobbled together list of Things That I Figured Out While Cycling, with some contributions from friends.
-Always stop at zebra crossings, it’s the law and it’s nice to be nice to pedestrians.
-Get to the bike box at the lights and make room for other cyclists.
-Don’t hug the kerb, make space for yourself and people will give you space. This is also useful so you don’t get car door-ed.
-Get in the right lane, or at least pick a lane, cars can’t guess where you’re going.
-In the same vein, clearly hand signal to let cars know if you’re turning.
-Having a bell is important to herd pedestrians off the road.
-Don’t be intimidated by the bike dudes, it’s fine to go slow.
-Your best defence is being aware and on the lookout for unexpected.
-Doing some basic bike maintenance gives you more confidence on your bike, see the links below for info.

Double thumbs up for cycling!

Useful Links
LCC – organisation of London-based cyclists who campaign for better safety (they were also behind the Big Ride)
London Bike Kitchen – Jenny runs a DIY workshop, they also programme fun bike events
Look Mum No Hands – Lovely café/bike shop where you can get a few beers, food and they often screen races.
Bikeworks – Community cycle centre based in Tower Hamlets
Bike Snob NYC – Get yer bike LOLs and news here
Cyclists In The City – good resource for London-based news and info
@Chain_Case – friendly bike mechanic in South London and cargo bike expert.

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10 comments to How to: Cycle to Work

  • well this was pretty concise and useful, i’ve not got to the point of affording a bike to be honest. i need help in choosing too

  • I really recommend a mirror for your handlebar. It’s amazing being able to see things coming up behind you! (I was going to say “I haven’t looked back since getting one” but that’s only true in the figurative sense).

    There are lots of trendy looking ones from Velorution and the like, but after reading many reviews, I just bought the Zefal model that can be strapped to anywhere and moved really easily.

  • Magicmagicstar

    You should definitely wear a helmet Isabelle, if you got doored or knocked off (or even hit a pot-hole or some gravel going downhill fast) it will make the difference between getting a mild concussion and being dead or brain-damaged!

  • Anonymous

    Wearing helmets tends to discourage cyclists from getting on their bike and is often used in a scaremongering way, shifting responsibility onto the cyclist rather than encouraging drivers to drive safely.

    I’m quoting from this presentation “for Great Britain as a whole, the trends in
    fatalities, serious injuries and severity ratio show no evidence at all of a beneficial ‘helmet effect’.
    Indeed, what change there has been in severity ratio would suggest that the proportion of serious
    injuries actually increased during the period of greatest helmet take-up.”
    You can read more here >

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the tip Katie! I think being aware and being able to see traffic is more important that wearing a helmet. Mirror is super cheap as well, might add it to my shopping list!

  • Anonymous

    It’s quite easy to pick up a perfectly decent bike for £60-80. Try eBay, Gumtree or even put a request out on Freecycle, a lot of people would happily donate an unused bike to a budding cyclist.

  • Marine

    if you’re in London, have a look there, all combo of 2nd hand bikes !

  • [...] Post: Cycle Gifs How better to show you what I wear to cycle across town that through the medium of the ~gif? Check out these beautiful works of art. If [...]

  • [...] Linus Le Sac Despite what I said about being anti-kit in my How To Cycle To Work post, I’m sort of getting to the point where my hobo cycling ways just won’t do. After [...]

  • Bob

    I have been cycling as main transport for many years, however, I live in Australia. This has some pluses, it generally quite flat land and rain is less a disruptive common problem. There are though, two big negatives, the summer heat means you need a shower when you get to work or anywhere else on arrival in 35 degrees Celsius, and Australia has bigger vehicles, bigger distances mean bigger roads and bigger cars driving quickly and aggressively.
    But on a day when feeling good and sun is just right, it is always beautiful when get to point where can peel off from the congested main road, onto a cycle path that sweeps along a park or river. :]

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