With no parking costs or petrol it’s an inexpensive way to travel. And right now, transportation is producing 26% of the UK’s greenhouse emissions, the largest percentage of any sector; going forward it’s not just a good idea, it’s imperative that we increasingly start choosing active travel.
You’ll also be making your doctor happy, easily squeezing in your NHS-recommended 60 minutes a week of exercise while you commute.
However, the real secret that, sadly, no one is talking about is that cycling is fun! No other form of transportation offers the opportunity to freewheel along with the sun on your face and the breeze in your hair.
Choosing to commute by bike is a simple and straightforward way to immeasurably improve your quality of life.
The first step is getting your hands on a bike. At the moment, bicycle mechanics are classified as essential workers during the Coronavirus pandemic, and some retail outlets are still open and trading, selling both new and refurbished bicycles.
There are a few things you must make sure of when buying a bicycle. It’s crucial you test ride a bike before you buy it. You wouldn’t buy a pair of shoes without trying them on; don’t buy a bicycle without riding it.
Crucially, if buying a new bike, ask if the retailer has a service policy. Not only do bikes sometimes require a bit of tweaking during their initial “settling in” period, a service policy shows the retailer stands behind their product.
Poor quality bikes that are constantly requiring unpaid servicing within weeks of buying would be a poor investment for a retailer, so if they have a service policy it’s a pretty good indicator that they only stock merchandise that’s fit for purpose.
Whether you’re buying a new bike, or getting an old one out of storage, remember there are innumerable customisations you can make so it suits your needs:
Speak to your trusted bike shop about what needs to change
If you’re dusting off an old bike, it’s important to assess its roadworthiness. Always perform a thorough inspection of any bicycle before you ride.
There are several common problems to look out for on bikes that haven’t been used for a while:
1. Cracked tyres
The most frequent problem I see on customers’ bikes is deflating tyres that crack and degrade. Have a close look at the side of your tyre and assess how deep any cracks are.
Written on the side of your tyre is the recommended inflation pressure. Pump your tyres up using this as a guide. If there’s significant cracking, if the tyre is bulging or distorting, or if it won’t inflate, see a mechanic immediately.
The second most common issue is rust. If you don’t use it, you lose it, and things that have been stationary for a long time often are reluctant to start moving.
Place your bike on the ground and squeeze the brake levers, then look at and feel the brakes engaging. If they’re impossible or incredibly difficult to pull, or if they don’t snap back when you let go, so that the brake is permanently “on”, see a mechanic.
A chain with a couple of spots of rust might only need a couple of drops of oil. A chain that is completely orange and no longer moves smoothly through the derailleurs is in danger of snapping and needs changing straightaway.
Before you start commuting on a bike, it’s advisable to have it serviced by a trained mechanic. Even if your bike seems in relatively good shape on inspection, most bike shops offer a basic tune up or check over service just for peace of mind.
How often you service your bike once you begin commuting depends largely on the road and weather conditions where you live, and the distance you travel every day.
Remember, the miles tend to add up! Three miles each way, adds up to six a day, and once 365 days have passed you’ve gone further than the Tour de France! As a general rule get your bike serviced at least every six months. Bikes will tend to need more attention in winter weather conditions.
The most common factor putting people off commuting by bike is safety concerns, but with the proper planning and preparation risk can be reduced to a minimum.
Before your first ride, sit down with your phone and plan your route using a mapping app that has a bicycle route option, such as Google Maps. Then do a trial run, ideally with a friend, to get familiar with the terrain.
This gives you an opportunity to assess how you can best navigate any obstacles you might encounter, like finding a way you feel confident to cross a complicated intersection, as well as scoping out what resources, like bike shops are nearby, should you find yourself in difficulty.
Also, it’s a good idea to evaluate the cycle parking at your destination so you can prepare accordingly. And when you set out on that first trip, give yourself a bit of extra time.
If you’re concerned about your cycling ability, have a look to see what kind of support there is in your area for inexperienced cyclists. Most councils offer free or inexpensive adult cycle training.
Finally, keep in mind the words of champion tennis player, Billie Jean King: “You have to see it to be it.” When you set off to take on the city on two wheels, you never know who’ll see you whizzing past and be inspired to join the cycling revolution.
Willoughby Wren Zimmerman is the director of SpokesPerson CIC, a Cardiff-based social enterprise that services and repairs bicycles, as well as developing social programs designed to support women, LGBTQIA people and others from groups often disadvantaged within the traditional cycling industry to choose cycling for their transportation and wellbeing.