There's an endless amount of myths about cycling to work, most of which we try to resolve here. Whether it be safety, sweat, or storage, you'll find the hard facts on each below.
Cycling is statistically safer than scuba diving, swimming, driving and even walking. In comparison to other everyday activities it’s extremely safe. In the UK, there’s only one cyclist death per 33 million kilometres of cycling and it would take the average cyclist 21,000 years to cycle this distance.
Organisations such as the British Medical Association have long argued that the health benefits of cycling far outweigh the risks. The real danger to life is a sedentary lifestyle. Coronary heart disease is the West’s biggest killer, and cycling has a huge part to play in reducing deaths from CHD and obesity.
For sure, cycling in traffic can be daunting, but there are tactics you can employ which will see you through.
The key to safe cycling in traffic is remembering you’re operating a vehicle, you’re not a fast pedestrian: claim your road space; ride predictably; be ultra-aware of your surroundings; anticipate driver behaviour; try to make meaningful eye contact with drivers; ride with hands covering the brakes; watch for car doors opening in your face; and don’t take risks such as red-light running. See the PleaseCycle Top Tips page for more commuter advice.
Once you’ve overcome your fear of motorised traffic, you quickly learn how to use the surge of adrenalin to your advantage. Your senses will be heightened. You’re in charge of the swiftest vehicle around. Just remember that pedestrians don’t always look both ways…
There’s an acronym for this: SMIDSY (’Sorry, mate I didn’t see you’). The bottom line is keep your eyes peeled for the unthinking and the unhinged but don’t let any of the above prevent you from cycling to work – being a couch potato is far more dangerous.
Cycling is truly door-to-door. No searching for a car park, an empty space or a parking meter. No getting stuck in traffic jams. Motorists tend to under-estimate the actual times car journeys take, door-to-door. The average auto-commuter spends 36 hours per year stuck in traffic!
Andrew Burns, Edinburgh’s transport leader has warned that a 20-minute car journey in the city could take an hour by 2026. The same distance journey in 2026 by bike will take the same time as today.
Unless you live in Seattle or Manchester, it rains a lot less times per year than you might imagine. In the UK – supposedly a rain-sodden isle – when you cycle a daily ten mile journey, statistics say you will only get soaked once in every one hundred trips. That is three to four trips a year on a daily basis.
Anyway, with modern waterproof and breathable fabrics, it’s possible to arrive at your destination in comfort in all but the fiercest of storms. Even in Seattle or Manchester.
For most people it probably takes a good 10-15 minutes of relatively hard exertion to lather up a sweat. If you don’t want to arrive at your destination all hot and flustered, don’t pedal so hard, freewheel so you can to catch a cooling breeze, or use a Dutch-style bike or a beach cruiser, both built for going slow.
Emma Osborne, a cycling officer for British routes building charity Sustrans, said: “Cycling from A to B doesn’t have to mean you arrive dishevelled at your destination. Cycling doesn’t have to be a race – you can take it at your own pace without having to work up a sweat or don Lycra cycling wear.”
Short distances, ridden slowly, will not transform you into a foul-smelling ogre. If you arrive at work in a sweaty state – perhaps it’s hot that day or you wanted a hard workout – you won’t have instant body odour as it takes hours to develop.
Depending on your exertion, a quick spritz of deodorant, wash over a sink, or ‘sports wipe’ can often do the trick, although many companies are now installing showers for a more thorough cleanse. If not, join a nearby gym and use their facilities. Cool down your face with a splash of water, dab on a dot on cologne and you’re ready to take on the world, as sweet smelling as your colleagues.
Modern tires and tubes are supremely puncture proof. You can also add gloopy sealant to repair small holes on-the-fly. If all this fails and you still get a flat (perhaps a ‘snake bite’ puncture from hitting a kerb with under-inflated tires) fit a new inner tube.
Don’t know how to do this? Have your employer book a PleaseCycle maintenance session and we’ll fix your bike up whilst teaching you the basics.
You don’t have to be super-fit to start cycling. Start slowly, progressively increase your exertion levels, and your fitness will grow along with your skills and expertise. Naturally, if you’re starting from zero and have any existing health conditions, seek advice from your doctor about the levels of recommended initial exertion.
Most doctors recommend cycling because it’s a low-impact, weight-suspended form of exercise. The bike does the carrying. Unlike jogging, your knees do not take a hammering from hard tarmac.
Pack some bike lights. Small LED lights don’t cost much and stay powered for ages. At the other end of the price scale there are bike lighting rigs which are as bright as car headlights, but a few flashes here-and-there along with a smart cycling demeanour will have you cruising the city streets like a pro.
Yes, you can. A bicycle is a brilliant load-carrying platform. People cycle the world with huge amounts of gear stuffed into their pannier bags so you’d be amazed how much stuff you can carry on a bike!
It’s not necessary to dress for the Tour de France to ride to work. You can do it in a suit. Plenty of people do. For distances of five miles or less it’s perfectly sensible to wear the same togs you’d wear if you were walking or driving.
Riding in normal clothes is standard practice in the bike-friendly capitals of the world such as Amsterdam. Few in bike friendly Copenhagen cycle in Spandex. Lycra is out, Louboutin heels are in.
Cycling is chiefly an aerobic activity, one that uses great gulps of oxygen. Contrary to popular belief, cycling does not necessarily lead to bulging leg muscles. What most people find is their legs become trimmer and more toned, shapelier. In other words, if you want a cute bum: get cycling.
How about using public transport for part of the journey and a bike for the start and/or finish? A folding bike is ideal for this or you could have two bikes, one at each transit node.
A lot of commuters drive part of the way and then get a folding bike out of the boot. E-bikes are also on the rise, whereby a charged motor can shoulder some of the miles and aid during uphill ascents.
All roads are ultimately bike routes, but some are less friendly to bikes than others. Many newcomers to cycling to work would prefer to start by taking back-streets rather than mixing it with fast-moving cars and trucks.
If that's the case, then why note use our journey planner in the "apps" tab above. For your first trip it's advisable to take the "Quietest Route" to get use to London's roads.
Well then you’d best leave the city altogether, because cycling is one the best ways to reduce your exposure to emissions! Research shows that motorists are sitting targets: they breathe in two to three times more pollution than cyclists, who sit high above the fumes.
Automobile air-conditioning systems do not remove PM10s, the sooty particulates produced by diesel engines. Cyclists are breathing hard and rapidly clearing their lungs out as they exercise. Motorists aren’t.
Getting to work by bike is not a race, just pedal at your own pace up the hills. It’s not as hard as you would imagine, especially with modern day bikes with ultra-low gears (or electric motors for pedal assistance…).
Once you’re fitter you can increase your slope speed. Hill climbing by bike is the fastest way to fitness. Switzerland is not pancake flat yet cycle use is twenty times greater over there. Think positive, if you’ve got hills to go up, you’ve got hills to come down: a free ride at least half of the time.
If storing your daily data on a USB drive isn’t enough there are a number of ways of keeping it safe. Start with padding, such as a form-fitting laptop sleeve. This will fit into a pannier bag and can be further protected with additional wrapping if required.
If you want to keep your laptop suspended and away from bike-borne roadshock you could opt for laptop-specific backpack or messenger bag.
The basic necessities for cycling are just you and a bike. You don’t need the latest gizmos. You may need the odd lock and light, but that’s about it. Just get on your bike and go – that’s half of the fun.