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Commuting by Bicycle

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At the beginning of July, roadworks on a set of major junctions and a bridge between our house and work began. Lasting an expected 20 weeks, the works promises much disruption to our 15-20 minute commute, including right turn bans, road closures, temporary traffic lights, and all the other things associated with massive highways projects.

So, as I promised myself when we moved much closer to work just over 18 months ago (interrupted by a stolen bicycle and a year of terrible weather!), I vowed to cycle to work as much as possible to avoid the build-up of traffic. Why sit in a traffic jam when I could cycle and keep moving? At the time we were also blessed with uninterrupted sunshine, which meant the decision to cycle regularly was a no brainer. It was nothing new, really, I have always enjoyed cycling and have been cycling to work on and off – but this was about becoming a proper cycling commuter, with my bike being my default option and only using the car when absolutely necessary.

My Carerra Vulcan Mountain Bike

The day the roadworks started it became very clear very quickly that I had made the right decision. The traffic backed up for miles, with it taking commuters a couple of hours to travel just a few hundred metres – I’d have given up and gone home! But I was oblivious to it all until I checked twitter when I got to work, and was very pleased that cycling was an option open to me. It also confirmed my suspicion that cycling was going to be the absolute best way to travel into the city centre for many weeks to come.

One month on and I’ve cycled 16 days out of a possible 18 – one of those non cycling days I needed to buy (heavy!) rabbit food on the way home, and on the other the heavens opened as we were about to leave so we had a last minute change of mind and got in the car (I don’t mind getting wet on the way home, we have done a few times, but I really don’t want to be sat at work having got soaked on the way in). The other weekdays I was either on leave or working more than 15 miles away (which is too far!). Not bad. I’m quite pleased with myself!

The ride is quite enjoyable. While the route undulates – it’s certainly not flat – there are no difficult hills. The first half of the 4.5 mile ride is on quiet residential streets, followed by no-traffic tarmac cycle paths through open land, woods and along the river. There are three main roads to cross (each has a toucan crossing), and a couple of smaller ones, a little bridge over the river, a couple of sharp bends, a path alongside a field of horses, and a great view of the Cathedral for most of the way.

My Cycle Ride to Work - Quiet Residential Street

My Cycle Ride to Work - Paths through Open Land

My Cycle Ride to Work - Woodland Path

My Cycle Ride to Work - River Path

(Why is it that I waited until yesterday, which was a very dark and dreary morning, to take these pictures when every other day has been bright blue skies?!)

Our rides are not always pleasant, though. Those quiet residential streets have their hazards. There are always cars parked on the zig zags outside a School we pass (even with the banner on the fence drawn by kids asking drivers not to), and because it is also on a bend it makes visibility difficult for us and cars and pedestrians. Then there are the drivers who think it’s better to squeeze between us and another car rather than wait the two seconds it would take for the manoeuvre to become 100 times safer. Even on the dedicated cycle paths there can be hazards – mainly dogs and ducks – but also the overgrown trees and shrubs that make the path much narrower than it should be, and mean you have to duck down to avoid being clobbered in the face. There is one corner on the way home that I get stung by nettles on my right hand every day; I should learn to take that bend wider!

All in all, though, it’s not a bad route to work and at the moment it is far quicker than using the car. We’re probably saving quite a few pennies by not using diesel too, which is a bonus. It takes us anywhere between 20 and 30 minutes depending on the weather (cycling in a strong or blustery headwind is hard work!) and how energetic we’re feeling. I often end up left behind on the way home as LincsGeek is faster than me, but I’m a big girl and I can take it!

I did assume that cycling nine miles each day would lead to a changed shape and maybe even a bit of weight loss. I certainly expected it to help my fitness and give me more energy generally. But so far I’m wrong on all those counts. The ride each day is getting no easier (and no quicker) – I’m still using the same gears in the same places, and it wears me out so by 8-9pm in the evening I’m pretty much done and ready for my bed. I’m not giving up hope, though, surely if I keep this up my legs will begin to tone up and I will start to feel fitter and stronger (and maybe even beat LincsGeek home!).

To be completely honest my choice of bike is probably not the best for the commute (I can hear LincsGeek saying “I told you so!”). My Carerra Vulcan is a mountain bike (albeit an entry level one) with fat tyres and a small frame. I love it; I love the way it looks and the way it rides. I chose it because even though I hoped to be riding it to work, what I really enjoy is riding on trails, canal paths and uneven terrain, and so I bought a bike suited to that. I had plans to get a bike rack for the car and head out to country parks and the like to ride the trails at the weekend, but that hasn’t happened yet! It does have locking suspension so I’m not putting in extra effort than needed on the smooth surfaces, but maybe I should have chosen more of a hybrid or a road bike. Nah! And yesterday when the journey home was a particularly wet one, I was pleased for the fat tyres with deep tread. I do need to get some mudguards, though – my face and back were really dirty by the time I got home!

What I am considering is ruining the look and feel of my bike by adding a rack and pannier set to make it easier to carry my change of clothes and other bits and bobs. I don’t want to, I don’t think mountain bikes suit panniers very well, but I might have to. LincsGeek has a nice Topeak setup which works well for him. Or maybe I’ll invest in a proper cycling backpack instead. I also need to find some decent cycling clothing – a waterproof but very breathable jacket and some decent trousers are going to be a must if I’m going to do this properly.

I wouldn’t say that cycling to work is quite habit yet, although my morning routine is now successfully altered to include getting my bike out and ready. Hopefully I can keep this up throughout the summer and into the winter, and will start to see real benefits too. Long may the dry mornings continue!

Do you commute by bicycle? What tips do you have for me?

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