Cycling to work is great. It's often quicker than driving or taking public transport and it's definitely better for you, your wallet and the environment. It's an easy way to sneak some extra exercise and fresh air into your routine and you'll feel the benefits for your mood and energy levels throughout the day from day one.
Nonetheless, it can seem a bit daunting to start when you see cyclists on the road decked out in all sorts of specialist gear. This guide will walk you through the essential things you need to get rolling in safety and comfort.
If you've not got a bike already, you'll need one! But with so many different types available, what should you get?
City bikes, as the name suggests, are designed for riding around the city. That makes them great for commuting. They are durable for daily use in all conditions, stable for safety in busy traffic and simple to use and maintain. Most come pre-fitted with accessories like mudguards, baskets, pannier racks and kickstands that are extremely useful for commuters. They're a brilliant option for those who want to get rolling with absolutely no fuss.
Hybrid bikes are also very well suited to commuting. By combining the stability of a mountain bike and the speed of a road bike, a hybrid offers the best of both worlds. Their versatility makes them a superb choice if you want a bike to take out for fun at the weekends as well. With their bigger, nobbly tyres and stable geometry, they like to go off-road too - why not incorporate a short off-road section on the way home from work for a bit of fun?
If you want to get to work fast or have a particularly long commute, you could also choose a road bike. They're quicker than either town bikes or hybrids on the road. Even if you're not a speed demon, the lightweight and efficient design of road bikes and will get to you work with minimum effort, leaving you fresher and with more energy when you arrive. City bikes are comfortable over short journeys, but a longer commute will benefit from a more performance-oriented road design.
One thing that might impact your choice of bike is how you'd like to carry your things on the way to work. Pannier bags are one of the best ways to carry things on two wheels but they require a rack that fits to special mounts on the bike. Not all bikes have these mounts, so if you want to use pannier bags you will need to choose a bike that has the correct mounts or comes with a rack pre-installed. More information about bike luggage options like pannier racks can be found below.
A helmet could save your life if you have an accident while riding your bike. It's an essential bit of kit and there's not much more to say! There are lots of options available but as long as you are protected you can't really go wrong.
Helmet design has come along considerably in recent years and helmets are much less heavy and bulky than they used to be. It's now much easier for image-conscious commuters to find a helmet that both looks good and keeps them safe.
By covering up with a waterproof jacket, waterproof trousers and a waterproof helmet cover, you can cycle to work in the foulest weather and arrive at work with clean, dry clothes as if nothing had happened. No need to carry a change of clothes or keep spares at work: just pull the waterproofs on over your normal clothes, ride alone and take them off again when you get to work.
Even if you are wearing cycling clothes on the commute and changing into work attire when you arrive, it is worth investing in a waterproof jacket at least. The health benefits of cycling to work aren't quite as significant if you get soaked and catch a cold every time it rains!
Whether you are wearing waterproofs or not, fitting mudguards to your bike will help keep you dry and clean when the ground is wet.
They also have benefits for the bike itself. Mudguards don't just stop you getting sprayed with mucky ground water - they stop the bike getting sprayed as much as well. Fitting mudguards means your bike doesn't get as messy so you don't have to clean it as often! A cleaner bike also lasts for longer between services. This is particularly important during the winter months the salt on the roads is particularly corrosive if sprayed up onto your bike.
Front and rear bike lights are a legal requirement for any cyclist riding at night and for good reason. They are essential to let other road users know where you are - for both your safety and theirs - and so you can see where you are going. At the very least you need one front and one rear light, but any extra lights will help keep you be seen as well. There are lots of convenient options that fit to your bike, clothes, bag or helmet.
You can read more about buying bike lights here
Lights are an important part of staying seen on the road but you can take additional precautions for extra safety. High visability, or hi-viz, clothing helps you be seen by reflecting more light from car lights and other light sources than normal clothes. They are dyed with bright fluorescent colours, usually yellow but also orange and pink, and have large, eye-catching reflective designs to make sure drivers know where you are.
You can kill two birds with one stone by using a hi-viz waterproof as your outer layer. There are also lighter, more breathable hi-viz options so staying seen doesn't mean you overheat in warm, dry weather. Almost every item of cycling apparel is available in hi-viz colours and they'll all help you be seen: trousers, gloves, jackets, jerseys, helmet covers and bag covers all have hi-viz options.
Most people have a fair bit to carry to work every day: documents, a laptop, a packed lunch. If you're cycling to work, you might choose to take a change of clothes for when you get to work as well. There are three main ways you can carry all this stuff on the commute:
City bikes often come fitted with a basket on their handlebars. Baskets can also be bought separately and fitted to other bikes as well. They are a very easy and simple way to carry small loads around - just chuck stuff in and off you go! They do not protect your things from the rain, however, and do have a limited capacity. Carrying too much weight on your handlebars can impair your bike's steering and handling.
If you want to carry a bit more stuff and keep it dry in the rain, you'll want a pannier bag or two. In order to use pannier bags, you'll need a pannier rack - a metal structure that sits over your rear wheel and holds the bags. Most city bikes are already fitted with a pannier rack in addition to their basket. You'll also be able to fit your own pannier racks to any other bike that has the correct mounts - look for threaded eyelets around your rear wheel axle. Touring bikes sometimes have mounts for pannier racks on each side of the front wheel as well so you can carry even more. You probably won't need both front and rear panniers for the commute, however.
Pannier bags can store considerably more than a basket and can do so more securely as well. With roll-top or zipped closures, there's not danger of your things bouncing out when you go over rough ground. Waterproof materials also keep your things dry - important if you are carrying important documents, a laptop or a change of clothes. There's no point taking a change of clothes to work if they're going to get just as wet on the way there as your cycling clothes! Weight in pannier bags will also have less of an effect on your bike's handling.
A third option is to use a rucksack. You might already own a rucksack, but it is worth considering upgrading to a cycling-specific model if you are commuting by bike. A normal bag can swing around uncomfortably while you're leaned over reaching for the handlebars, getting in the way of your thighs as you pedal. Cycling-specific rucksacks fit close to the back and are secured with a hip belt to prevent unwanted movement while you cycle. They are designed with a slim profile to allow full freedom of movement for your upper body and often have special padded airflow systems to keep your back cool and comfortable. Additional features like reflective detailing, clips for bike lights and secure helmet storage make them extra practical.
Rucksacks are also water resistant to keep your things nice and dry. They can get overwhelmed in the wettest weather, however, so it is worth considering a waterproof rucksack cover for extra protection. These covers are often available in high viz designs to help you stay seen in poor light.
You can read more about bike luggage here
Many workplaces are wising up to cycle commuters and starting to offer secure bike storage for their employees. If yours does not, you'll want to make sure your bike is locked up safely before you leave it unattended for 8 hours while you're at work. Many people with secure bike storage like to lock their bike up as well for total piece of mind.
The last thing any commuter wants is to arrive at work late after being forced to walk for half your commute by a flat tyre or a mechanical problem. Take a mini tool, mini pump and a puncture repair kit with you and you can get your bike up and running again in a jiffy if anything should go wrong.
The best way to avoid delays is prevent mechanical issues from developing in the first place by keeping good care of your bicycle. You can read more about essential maintenance here