Dos and don'ts for cycling to work

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If you’re thinking of taking to two wheels for your commute, consider these important dos and don’t before you get behind the handlebars

A great way to keep fit, reduce stress and save money, cycling is arguably the most sensible way to get to work. And with these handy tips for bike based commuting you’ll be doing it without breaking (much) of a sweat in no time.

From environmental benefits to savings in your back pocket, the pros of cycling to work are significant, but as many regular pedestrian or motorist commuters will tell you, there are lots of things cyclists get wrong on their daily cycle, too. For this reason it’s worth getting clued up on how to be a model bicycle commuter before you take to the road. 

Do: always follow the highway code

person behind handlebars on bike

It should go without saying, but to be the safest cyclist you should follow the highway code to the letter. That means never cycling on pavements, always stopping at red lights, using the correct hand signals and being sure of what to do at roundabouts and junctions. It’s also important to note that the highway code was updated at the beginning of 2022 providing a new hierarchy of road users meaning cyclists must give way to pedestrians as they are now considered the most vulnerable road users (cyclists are then second in the hierarchy). If you’d like to learn more about the highway code update click here, and if you’re interested in a full guide to cycling safety you can find that here.

Do: think about the length of your commute

While in an ideal world, everyone would be able to cycle to work, the reality is that many people’s commutes are simply unsuitable for a bike. Consider the length of your journey and what kind of obstacles you might expect to encounter on it before embarking on a new cycling regime. It’s worth considering the type of terrain you’ll be travelling over; 10 miles along fairly empty country roads and cycle paths will feel much shorter than stop-start traffic in a busy city for example. As a general rule of thumb we would suggest the following in terms of how long is too long for a cycled commute:

  • 1–5 miles – an easy cycle for almost all riders
  • 6–10 miles – accessible for most riders
  • 11–15 miles – more difficult and requires a reasonable level of fitness
  • 16–20 miles – a hard cycle that will require training if undertaken daily
  • 20+ miles – a significant time and fitness commitment

Remember, while a 40-mile cycle on a weekend would be feasible for most people with a reasonable level of fitness, taking on a cycle of this magnitude five days a week will be far more challenging.

Don’t: wear your work clothes for the cycle

man in suit cycling to work

Perhaps the biggest reason many people choose not to cycle to work is hygiene. Nobody wants to sit at their desk all day wearing sweaty clothes from a morning workout on your commute, but there are plenty of things you can do to negate this. 

If you can, wear a set of light cycling clothes for your commute that you can quickly change out of at work and make use of showers when you arrive if you’re lucky enough to work in a place that has them. 

Do: plan for how much you sweat

man carrying bike while sweating

If neither a shower or change of clothes is an option for your commute, that still shouldn’t stop you; amend the way you cycle and try to minimise overexertion and sweating. For much of the year in the UK, most early morning starts will be too chilly to break much of a sweat, but during the warmer months there are steps you can take to reduce perspiration. Cycle in a low gear with light pedalling maintaining a consistently casual effort. Remember that even a short sprint or uphill effort will make a big difference to how much you sweat; don’t be afraid to dismount if your route involves a particularly steep incline. It’s also helpful to slow down towards the end of your commute as this is when sweating can be at its worst. Once you stop there will be no wind to help evaporate moisture so try to take the final leg of your ride as easily as possible, warming down your body before you dismount.

Don’t: wear a heavy backpack

man commuting wearing rucksack

If you’re commuting regularly, the last thing you want is to be lugging around a heavy backpack as you go. Regularly carrying weight on your back while riding your bike can cause back pain, make you less balanced and exacerbate sweating, especially on hot days. Installing a basket or mounted box is an ideal solution allowing you to cycle comfortably without straining your back while still carrying all your work essentials.

Do: wear safety gear

man clipping up bike helmet

While the dreaded helmet hair is the enemy of the two-wheeled commuter, it's certainly not a good enough reason to eschew protective headgear all together. Protective wear is essential for a safe commute so ensure you have a helmet that fits securely and comfortably on the head and around the chin without being constricting. If you’re concerned about how your hair will look afterwards, pack hair wax or gel to tame any flyaways or opt for a ponytail or bun if you’ve longer hair to avoid an untameable mess in the office on breezier days.

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