In a bid to become less people I have taken up cycling to work one or two days a week. It isn’t very far and I am not very fast but as someone who hasn’t been on two wheels since breaking my arm on a friend’s BMX in 1998, going up against the four-wheeled metal monster boxes of rush hour has taken some bottle.
Here is what I have discovered in my short tenure as a ‘cycler’.
HAVE THE RIGHT GEAR
I had an old bike underneath a pile of bags, shoes and board games at my mum’s house that I had barely ridden so before spending all my pocket money on a brand-new machine, I decided to take the old girl to the repair shop to see if she could be saved. Despite more than a decade dormant in the cupboard with not much more than a pair of pugil sticks for company it turns out that all she needed was some TLC to restore her to full health (and safety).
A comprehensive, gold star service ensured that she was roadworthy and would take good care of me on the mean streets:
- The gears were checked and adjusted to make sure they could provide sufficient going power.
- The brakes were checked and adjusted to make sure they could provide sufficient stopping power.
- Seat height and handlebars were altered to accommodate my (no longer teenage) frame.
- Finally, a quick pump of the tyres, a splash of lube on the chain and a rub down with a damp cloth got her back looking and feeling a million dollars!
Like with any good look though, it's the accessories and fine details that can turn sow’s ear into silk purse and the minor discomfort of a chaffed bottom into something more serious in the event of an accident.
The Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations (RVLR) state that it is illegal to cycle on a public road after dark without lights and reflectors (https://www.bikeradar.com/road/gear/article/bike-light-laws-in-the-uk-what-you-need-to-know-48568/). If you are cycling at night a good quality set of lights showing white light at the front and red at the rear not only lets you see where you are going but more importantly lets other road users see you and react accordingly.
While (perhaps controversially) there is no law in the UK which demands wearing a helmet while cycling, and with the jury still out on whether they cost more lives than they save (https://www.cyclinguk.org/campaigning/views-and-briefings/cycle-helmets), personally, I wouldn’t embark on a ride without mine. Whether an added feeling of security or an extra dose of confidence, the experience is much more comfortable overall while wearing a lid in my opinion.
HAVE THE RIGHT FEAR
Waking up and bounding straight into traffic with my frozen-in-time two-wheeler was never going to work. It had been so long since I had been behind the handlebars that I knew I would be nowhere near as comfortable on my bike as you need to be to deal with the busy morning commute. To prepare for this, the weekend before Operation Wiggins, I took lots of little, shorter journeys. Nothing special just 5 – 10 minutes from my house and back in different directions. This helped me get used to predicting, interacting and communicating with all types of traffic and let me re-learn the road from a completely different perspective.
What I learned is that cycling is scary. Especially at busy times and especially for new cyclists unsure of the protocol and etiquette of the road. Strangely, it is this fear that I find most comforting about being in the saddle. Cars, busses, lorries are all bigger than you and all faster than you, you should fear them. Always being focused and aware of your place on the road as well as where you fit into the pecking order gives you a degree of caution and a respect for your surroundings that helps keep you safe.
HAVE THE RIGHT IDEA
Cycling is a healthy exercise with a built in reward – Getting you where you need to be.
Do what you can when you can and don’t be too hard on yourself. If you set yourself the target of cycling to work every single day and you miss a day you are more likely to write off the whole week with the familiar hollow promise of ‘it starts again on Monday!’.
Set the bar at a height you know you can jump over and the easier and easier that it becomes to clear, raise it little by little. Currently I bookend my week with rides. Riding into work on Monday morning gives me the productive start I need and puts me in a good frame of mind for the week ahead while my Friday ride lets me recover fully and at the same time end the week positively.
Like with anything else realistic expectations are going to keep your optimism stoked and interest maintained.
Cycling is good for you and it should make you feel good so enjoy it for what it is worth and what it is doing for your health!
In the words of my father, who has never so much as sat on a bicycle in his life...
Always ride safely!