DITCH THE DRIVE FOR A HAPPIER DAY
Does commuting make you happy? It might on a bike. A report by the New Economics Foundation last year found that cyclists experience "lower stress and greater feelings of freedom, relaxation and excitement" than those who drive.
Bristol's less than 10 miles edge to edge – an easy distance to cycle. Eighty three per cent of Bristol's residents work in the city, meaning eight in 10 of us ought to be able to ride to work, at least some of the time. But only seven per cent of us do, even though it might make us happier – and slimmer and richer: Alan Sugar lost three stone when he started cycling and imagine how much cash he's saved by not having to fill up the Rolls every week (mind you, he was already quite rich).
Commuting by bike might seem like a big lifestyle change but it needn't be.
Don't over-complicate things – cycling's basically as simple as walking; you just move faster, with less effort. If you're thinking about giving it a go, here are some handy tips to make life easier.
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Plan your route. It's probably not the same one you'd take in a car or bus. Use a site such as www.cycle streets.net or www.betterbybike.info/trip-planner to work out a traffic-friendly journey. The most direct route is rarely the most pleasant, so try a few different options – you could even do a "dummy run" on a Sunday to familiarise yourself with nasty junctions and friendly shortcuts.
Ride confidently. It's safest to "own the road". If you ride too close to the gutter, cars are more likely to squeeze by when it's not safe to do so. You're also more likely to encounter potholes, drains, and broken glass if you ride too near to the edge of the road. Keep a good metre or more between yourself and the kerb. If riding alongside parked cars, ride more than a doors' width away from them – motorists often forget to look out for cyclists when opening their doors.
Keep calm. It's not a race. Be considerate of other road users; make eye contact, give a friendly smile. Road rage is just as unsightly in cyclists as it is in motorists. Rise above it.
Stay comfortable. Wear layers that can be easily removed if you heat up, or put back on if you're too cold. The more you cycle, the fitter you'll get and the less you'll overheat, but to begin with at least cycling can give you an inner glow, so dress as if it's warmer outside than it really is – if you start out a bit chilly, you've probably got it about right. Keep an extra layer to hand in case the weather turns against you – something like the Altura Pocket Rocket, a wind-proof, waterproof jacket that packs down smaller than a tennis ball when not in use. Clothes that keep the rain off are a good idea, but don't get too hung up on extreme waterproofs. You can now get clothes that look entirely ordinary but keep the worst of the wind and rain out – Swrve's WWR trousers, for example.
If it's hot, wear shorts and put your work clothes in your bag. Many cycle commuters keep a few handy items at the office – work shoes, for example, maybe a fresh shirt and a pair of dry socks in case of an unexpected soaking.
Stay fresh. If you don't already have a body odour problem, cycling isn't going to give you one. But if you're worried about being the office stinker, don't rush – better to leave a bit early and coast along. The breeze will cool you as you ride, but not when you stop, so factor in a bit of cool- down time when you get to work.
If you desperately want/ need the exercise of a proper work-out, take it slow on the way in, then belt it home. Unless you're riding particularly far or fast, most people won't need a shower after cycling to work. Some swear by freshening wipes for really hot days – they might sound a bit Glastonbury festival, but apparently they really work – others recommend Rocket Shower (see www.10nine8.net), a special spray to freshen you up without needing a full wash.
Pack wisely. Don't swing a heavy bag over your back or dangle your laptop case over the handlebars. The right kind of kit will make everything easier. If you're regularly carrying enough stuff to need a bag, fit a rear rack and get some panniers to go on it. These are tough, waterproof and far safer than having a bag swinging around. Also their centre of gravity is lower, so the bike remains easier to handle. Decent brands (like Ortlieb) come with carrying straps so they work as a normal bag too. It's a good idea to chuck a basic toolkit in there while you're at it – a small pump, puncture repair kit and multi-tool cover most bases. If you have to wear a suit for work and don't want to cycle in it, consider getting a 2WG commuter pannier. These promise to carry a suit wrinkle free – plus shoes and laptop – all in one handy weatherproof bag. But at £100 plus, they're not cheap.
Be seen (and heard). Splash out on a decent set of LED lights (expect to pay more than £30 for good ones) and get a bell, too – a friendly "ping" lets people know you're there.
Be reliable. Look after your bike, and it'll look after you. Check your tyres are pumped up hard, that the brakes stop the bike but don't rub, that the chain's well-lubed.
Avoid punctures by fitting puncture resistant tyres such as Schwalbe Marathons, and by not riding too near the edge of the road – that's where broken glass, nails and so on tend to end up.
Finally, remember that you don't have to ride in every day – maybe start out with making Fridays bike days, and go from there. The important thing is to give it a go. You never know, you just might like it.