Tag Archives | commuting

Tips for commuting by bike

Commuting by bike has several advantages, it can save money, get you there quicker, plus give a useful bit of exercise. I’ve been commuting into Oxford for the past 13 years. It’s not a long commute  – only about 2.5 miles each way. Despite the stress of dodging Oxford buses and taxis,  commuting by bike is a great way to start the day. Even when I started working from home, I found in practise I preferred to keep commuting into a city centre cafe – rather than stay at home. More than anything a 10 minute cycle ride is a great way to get the brain working.

Over the past 13 years, the main change I’ve noticed is that I’ve become a slightly slower and more patient commuter, but as a result probably enjoy the experience more.

These are my top tips for commuting by bike.

1. Patience. Depending on the city, commuting by bike is likely to be significant faster than most other forms of transport. To a large extent, you can escape the traffic congestion and queues of traffic.

several-cyclists-junction

However, it is not a race, if you have a little patience, you can make the ride less stressful and safer. Running red lights is dangerous and can end up leaving you with a fine. You will also annoy a lot of people – both motorists and other cyclists. If you give yourself a little more time, you won’t feel the need to push on regardless. Similarly, if you have a little patience, you won’t take unnecessary risks like squeezing inside buses to save a few seconds. It’s potentially very dangerous. Having a little patience also make the commute more enjoyable. If you treat the commute like a time trial, you are creating unnecessary stress, and you will probably end up riding like an idiot. I’ve nothing against cycling fast, but doing it up the High Street with buses and  innumerable traffic lights, is not the best of places.

2. Check different routes

cyclist-up-hill

The best cycling route is often different to the one you would drive. Slow minor roads can often avoid busier junctions

Any commute can be made a little safer and more enjoyable by seeking out quieter roads and better journeys. If there is a nasty section of road or junction, investigate whether it is worth a detour. Planning alternative routes may add a little to your journey distance, but if it makes it safer and less stressful, it is worth it.

Be seen

weight

In an ideal world, cyclists wouldn’t have to dress up like a Christmas tree to be seen. I’m not a fluorescent yellow evangelist, but it does worry me when I see cyclists wearing only dark clothes at night without lights. If you ride on the road without lights and in dark clothing, it really increases the risk of an accident. Also it annoys other road users. If you spend any time driving, you will understand the importance of cyclists being visible.

Be a considerate road user

In any commute, you will come across irritating and inconsiderate behaviour. This will be from any road user, be it pedestrian / car / bus / lorry driver / cyclist. You can not influence how other road users behave. But, the best thing is always to be considerate yourself. If you are considerate and use your common sense, you won’t get into needless dispute, but find it is quite easy to obey the highway code.

Dealing with road rage

Unfortunately, being a considerate road user doesn’t insulate you from all problems. If you commute anywhere in the world, you will face dangerous moments, which are out of your control. It is easier said than done, but there is a lot to be said for keeping calm and not getting drawn into arguments you can’t really win. My general philosophy is generally to have low expectations and let little irritations go. Of course, it is different if you are involved in an accident. In that case, you should take down all the details you can. But, I never expect the advanced cycle boxes to be free. I expect cars to turn into the road, making you slow down. I’m half expecting cars to be on the wrong side of the road. This is all the downside of commuting into town. But, it’s a lot easier to accept as long as you don’t feel it is your responsibility to educate all the car drivers in your city because you won’t be able to!

Maximsing safety

The perceived safety of cycling is often the biggest deterrent to cycling in cities. To some extent you can reduce certain dangers and risk. The big ones include:

– Avoid undertaking buses and lorries – unless you are very certain they are going to be stationary.

bike-bus

– Learn to look over your shoulder and signal before manoeuvring out into the road. Continue Reading →

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Cycling through London and a visit to Rapha

Last Monday, I went down to London, hoping to do a bit of Christmas shopping by bike. The day before I signed up for the Brompton hire dock. For £1 annual membership, you can hire a Brompton for £5 a day. It is available from quite a few train stations, such as Oxford. It sounds a fantastic idea. Get a train and then cycle around the city. In the end, I decided not to hire a Brompton. I got put off by the notice you had to carry it with you at all times; they don’t allow you to lock it up outside whilst you go into shop. In the end, I thought I might as well take my battered old commuting bike. Save £5 and less worries about getting the bike stolen.

hyde-park-bike-lane

Hyde Park, London

From Paddington, it’s a short stretch to Hyde Park. It was quite pleasant cycling around Hyde Park. There is a decent bike path, with enough room to have a separate path for pedestrians.  At one point though, I saw some signs to say bike path was closed because it was Christmas, I couldn’t quite work out why. The shared bike facility works well, if you’re not racing and have a little patience. One or two cyclists came flying through a busy intersection with bell ringing loudly hoping people would jump out of the way; it’s the kind of approach that doesn’t really help to get more shared cycle facilities.

I came across some tourists who had just had hired some Boris bikes. They obviously had a few difficulties with handling the 25kg bikes. One tourist veered impeccably across my path completely unaware of where she was going. Fortunately, I had a little bit of that generous Christmas spirit; I was going relatively slowly and could anticipate the random movement. It would have been different, if I was cycling at top speed.

hyde-park-bike-lane2

As much fun as it was to go round and round Hyde Park, I needed to venture into the hectic world of central London and try and find a nice cafe to eat, and possibly a few shops to visit. Although, the media can exaggerate the dangers of cycling; it’s hard not to be conscious of the recent spate of serious accidents in London. November was a grim month for London cyclists, no matter how you look at it. I was cycling in defensive mode. –  trying to anticipate dangers, not in a rush, following rules of the road, not taking any unnecessary risks.

If I was a Londoner, I might be able to find the best cycle route East across London, but I didn’t have the patience to examine multiple maps, so I just headed West, trying to follow suitably looking quiet roads. The cycling can best be described as stop start; it’s a bit of a jungle out there. It’s definitely hard work cycling through London, I don’t really envy London commuters, though it’s not as bad as recent headlines make out. The main problem is that you are sharing roads with innumerable buses, lorries, vans. On one occasion a van did a quick three point turn in the road. It was a good job I was on my toes, I had to reverse onto pavement to make sure he didn’t reverse into me. But, apart from that, it was relatively incident free. But, you have to ride with a heightened sense of awareness more than anywhere else. For what it’s worth, I would never dream of cycling around London with headphones on.

rapah-outside

Even the bikes parked outside Rapha have a certain class

I always go to London with the great intentions of having a fantastic time, visit loads of shops, find a great cafe. But, after 20 minutes of cycling towards Covent Garden / Soho, the London experience was already getting a little tough. I had no idea where I was, just going from side street to side street. You pass so many cafes, you keep think you’ll find a better one; so end up going past many.

After several cafes came and went, I was investigating one cafe, only to notice it was the Rapha cafe! I know Rapha from somewhere, O yes! the cycle team and cycle clothing company. Sometimes, it does work out just rambling through London. I went into the Rapha cafe and shop. I eyed a very attractive winter jacket; it looked superbly designed and made. Though it didn’t have a price tag, and I was too shy to ask. It would make an excellent Christmas present, if Santa Claus reads this blog. It was a good place to hang out though. Lots of cycling memorabilia and magazines and a good cycling feel.

pinarello-battered-merckx

The shop has a convenient rack to hang a bikes. I couldn’t help but notice these two bikes next to each other. 1 an immaculate Team Sky issue Pinarello Dogma. The other, the most battered old Merckx commuting bike you could imagine. And the battered Merckx is probably the best choice for cycling in London!

After a good lunch at an excellent nearby cafe, Bills, I started to head back to Paddington. Though, I thought I ought to make a cursory attempt at shopping. I chose a five floored Waterstones in Picadilly, but my heart wasn’t really in it. London is too big a place to shop. And I was thinking more about the vague cycle route back to Paddington.

rapha-outside

Rapha Cafe and shop. The Rapha Festive 500 is a challenge to ride 500km between Dec 24 and Dec 31.

Taking the bike on the train was fine, and it was good having a bike to get from Paddington into Central London. I thought it was difficult cycling into Oxford, but after a day in London, I realise there are much harder places to cycle. It’s hard to add anything to what has already been said about cycling in  London. Except, it would be great if London could be made more accommodating for cyclists. It was an interesting experience and I was glad to come across the Rapha shop and cafe.

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