I’ve already outlined why I’m loving the daily bike commute here. But as I’m sure you can imagine, it doesn’t come without some challenges. Here are some hopefully helpful things I’ve learned so far…
Look at the positives
Distance and commute time is going to be an obvious obstacle for many. This can be mitigated somewhat by recognising that the commute can also be part of your daily exercise routine. My bike commute takes 10-15 mins more each way than if I travelled by car. So that’s 20 to 30 mins a day wasted, right? Not if you remember that you’re getting a decent cardiovascular workout at the same time.
If the distance/time is a bit too far for you, maybe look at investing in an e-bike. They cost a bit more but you’ll soon make the money back on petrol savings.
Mindset shift: it’s not a race
I’m a cycling novice, and have only really ever done it for exercise purposes. Within a few days I recognised that I needed to shift my mindset from “ride as hard as you can” (step away from the Strava segments) to “get there alive and without being sweaty”. There’s a time and place for pushing yourself to see what you can do and the commute is not it.
You’ve really got two options for avoiding being sweaty in school.
- Ride more gently on the way in so you don’t get too hot. Change your clothes when you get to work.
- Ride and get sweaty, shower and change in school.
Showering in school is currently not an option for me so I’ve gone with 1. I take it easy on the way to work (only actually adds a few minutes to my journey), change out of my cycling gear and get suited and booted. My route isn’t too hilly (and the main hill is at the start so a good warm up) so I’ve not had any issues yet.
The fastest route isn’t necessarily the best route
Don’t just automatically take the shortest or quickest route. It’s worth going a bit further if an alternative route is safer or more enjoyable. My route takes about 5 mins more than the quickest route, but the roads are quieter and around half of it is a lovely trail ride along a bridleway. It even goes under the M53 at one point so I get to chuckle at people stuck in traffic 😉
Ride visibly and confidently (but like there’s a £1M bounty on your head).
I’ve not had much experience of riding on the roads, so this has been a baptism of fire. Ride confidently; stuttering indecision at junctions, roundabouts etc is not good. If you’re good to go, go. But at the same time, ride defensively. Assume everyone is trying to kill you. Basically channel your inner John Wick (but with maybe a little less ultraviolence).
Forget about trying to look stylish: wear bright neon colours and have bright lights (including in flashing lights in the day time) so that you’re likely to be seen by drivers. I’d rather look like a dayglo Christmas tree than be dead.
I’ve got a Garmin Varia rear light/radar that’s an absolute godsend. It links with my Garmin 810 bike computer and bleeps at me aggressively whenever there is traffic behind me (works from quite a distance). Obviously you still need to check over your shoulder when pulling out etc but the extra awareness of traffic behind me is really useful.
Carrying essential teacher kit
First off: clothes. Two options here really
- Drive/get a lift in once a week and take 4 days of clothing with you. This takes a little bit of planning ahead but makes the commute much easier. I take a few suits, 4 shirts etc and leave on hangars somewhere safe in school. I bring the dirty clothes home with me each day, and the following Monday swap the suits and repeat.
- Take the clothes with you. I have a TwoWheelGear Garment Carrier Pannier bag. It’s not cheap but it’s an absolutely wonderful piece of kit. I can get suit, shirt, all my rain gear, lunch, laptop, everything I need into it. Adds a fair bit of weight to my bike though.
Whether you’re taking clothes with you or not, I’d recommend getting a rear bike rack and using pannier bags. Rucksacks are ok but can lead to back ache and get you all sweaty. The rear rack also lowers the centre of gravity. A decent trunk bag like this has loads of space for what you need to take with you (and clip on and off easily).
Beat the bad weather by dressing appropriately
The old adage of “there’s no bad weather, only bad clothing” applies pretty well to cycling. I have a waterproof jacket, trousers, gloves and (most importantly) shoe covers all tucked in my bag. Don’t neglect the shoe covers, riding home in soggy shoes is not pleasant.
A word of caution; clothing that keeps rain out, also tends to keep sweat in, so you’ll need to slow down a bit (wise in bad weather anyway).
Where will you store your bike when you’re at work? Some schools are lucky enough to have secure staff bike sheds (locked doors etc). Some of my colleagues will bring them in and tuck them at the back of the classroom. I leave mine on the generic bike rack outside (does have a shelter) but keep it secure with a bloody big chain though the rack, frame and rear wheel and a smaller cable lock through the rack, frame and front wheel. I leave them attached to the rack so I’m not ferrying them around (heavy). Sure, technically someone could get a circular saw and cut through it, but that’s fairly likely to attract attention during the school day and there will be easier targets.
I can also recommend the Knog Scout, a handy little bike alarm (iOS users only) that also contains a tracker that you can use with Apples Find My network.
For many people (particularly with shorter journeys) using a knackered looking, unstylish bike for commuting reduces the chance of someone bothering to nick it. You’ll see this tactic in Cambridge (old bikes chained up everywhere).
Have a backup plan
There are things that can go wrong (as with any type of commute) but you can mitigate for many of them by having a loose plan. For example
- Feeling ill/exhausted – don’t be a hero. Get a lift with a colleague, use the car (if you have one), public transport or even use some of the money you’ve saved and get a taxi. The bike commute is meant to be both enjoyable and sustainable so don’t be a martyr. Likewise with extreme weather.
- Bike out of order – there are times when your bike may be broken or at the bike shop for maintenance. Either do the things listed above, or have a spare bike. I’ve got an old road bike that I can use (different route required) when needed.
- Puncture whilst commuting – this can happen with cars too so not exclusively a bike thing. Tubeless tyres can mitigate against this. If your tyres are tubeless (some will need converting) then they have a sealant in them that seals any small punctures as they occur. Failing that, learn to change an inner tube and take one with you (it’s a lot easier than changing a car tyre). Worst case scenario you need to get a mate/taxi to collect you and get you to work (or you walk the rest).
I’ve had multiple car related issues in my teaching career that have hindered my commute (punctures, minor crashes, wipers broken etc) and to be honest bike issues are generally easier to sort.
Enjoy the sleep!
Honestly, I’ve not slept this well in years. The extra exercise and the fresh air really help me get good quality sleep. Make the most of it, get to bed early and get out of bed with a spring in your step, ready for the morning commute.
Any questions? Obstacles stopping you from bike commuting? Feel free to post below. I might not know the answers, but if not then someone else might be able to help…
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