It seems that more and more of us from Kent and the South East are choosing to commute to London by bike. With unpredictable trains and rising fares it can seem like the more sensible option as it will save you money and keep you extremely fit.
First of all you need to know how to get to work via bike which is a whole different kettle of fish to driving by car. There are many online route planners but I found Cycling UK to be the most accurate and useful.
Below is a route that I mapped from Eltham in South East London to the Monument area of the City of London. It not only gave us a great overview and all the essential time related stats but accurate turn by turn directions. We particularly liked the fact that it gave the route a ‘CO2 avoided’ rating and a % quietness rating so that you can tweak your journeys to be less chaotic or dangerous.
Take a practice run
Once you have your route planned you will want to take a practice run at it rather than doing it for the first time on a work day (trust me this will lead to danger, extreme stress and you being a sweaty mess by the time you get to work). It is best to do this on a weekend or bank holiday at a time when the traffic on the roads is likely to be at its quietest. When you take your practice run try and memorise as much as you can about the route. Take photos, make notes and remember what is and isn’t working for you as this information will be critical for your actual commute to work by bike.
This may seem obvious but on a bike usually you will only have the chance to make one bad mistake. It may sound morbid but the brutal truth is that many cyclists on the road are blissfully unaware of how many times they have a brush with death on a daily basis. There are some key tips you can use to help keep you safe:
- Always wear your helmet, maybe it does make you look stupid but stupid is better than dead or brain damaged. Never take it off while riding no matter how safe you think the road you are on is.
- Make sure motorists can see you. If that means wearing a six foot neon sign so be it, just do what ever you can to make sure motorists know you are there.
- Get some training. This one will mainly apply to inexperienced cyclists. Cycling in central London is no joke and there are many good courses around. If you live in Kent see this site for some useful information.
- Be aware of vehicles. Not all drivers drive according to the highway code, there are thousands of uninsured and unlicensed drivers on our roads all of which are a danger to your life. Try and spot erratic or bad driving and give these vehicles a very wide birth. You should also be very weary of large HGV vehicles as they have many blind spots. It is more than likely that they haven’t seen you at a roundabout or crossing. See this article where a cyclist and an articulated lorry cross paths. Fortunately in this instance the cylclist escapes with his life, he is however one of the fortunate ones and very lucky.
- Make sure you are doing everything correctly. As much as motorists can be penalised for improper driving, cyclists also need to obey the rules of the road. Make sure you don’t jump red lights or cycle on the pavement as these are all things that could get you in trouble with the law or hurt/killed in a traffic accident.
Take the correct equipment
Again this might seem like an obvious one to experienced cyclists but if you are ill prepared and do not have the right equipment for your journey you could run into problems.
Even if your commute is in the daytime and there is no danger of it getting dark, equip your bike with a set of lights. What if you have to work late or you get stuck somewhere for whatever reason, how will you get your bike home in the dark without lights? The best lights to go for are something fairly inexpensive but also tough, reliable and rechargeable.
This set from Degbit offers fantastic value, is USB chargeable and performs well.
If you are commuting by bike the last thing you want is to get to work splashed in mud. You will also be doing the person riding behind you a favour too. An added bonus to putting these on is that you can add a rear blinker to them for added visibility.
This is a great set from SKS and has been doing the job perfectly.
Portable air pump
This one goes without saying really, your bike’s tyres need to stay fully pumped or you will start to run in to problems. Of course we should be keeping our bikes in tip top condition when we get them home but don’t ever get caught without a pump. If you should run in to this situation however Evans cycles and number of other London based bike retailers will let you pump your tyres in their store for free.
A portable toolkit is also an essential item for any bike commuter. I have been caught out without tools before when my handlebars have needed tightening and its not a great situation to be in. All I needed was a few turns from my bike tool to solve the problem but just didn’t have it with me.
This set from Flyproshop has everything you need and can be slipped into a small bag.
Puncture repair kit
For a weekend or holiday cyclist this may be necessary once in a while but for a commuter you will depend on this to get you home some days. A small inexpensive item that can save you hours of misery. Be sure to take a look at one of the online guides such as the one below before you go out riding so that you know how to do it.
If you value your bike and would like to see it again for your home journey I would highly recommend investing in a good bike lock. Personally I use the Kryptonite Kryptolok and have always found my bike to still be there at the end of the day. They are stress tested offer great protection from would-be thieves for your pride and joy.
This one will be particularly useful for those new to commuting by bike. When I first started I did manage to take many wrong turns (despite plenty of pre-planning). This meant some time was spent on Google Maps trying to figure out where the hell I actually was. This phone holder from Osomount made that task a whole lot easier and saved me from having to pull it out of a pocket or a bag every time I needed it.
Choice of bike
Choosing a bike for your commute will entirely depend on how you plan to do the journey. Are you a speed demon? Do you have any rough ground to cross? Do you just want comfort above all else?
some commuters only want the bike for part of their journey so opt for a folding bike that can be taken on the train for the main part of the journey. These can vary wildly in price, the one below is just an example – not one that I have ridden myself.
If like me you plan to take your bike commute very seriously it is above all else necessary to listen to as much advise from seasoned cyclists as you can. Also take an interest in cycling outside of your commute and get to know how your bike handles. The more information you can get around your particular commute the better. You will learn how to spot bad drivers and signs that you need to hang back. Your reflexes will also be tested, I don’t know of a bike commuter that doesn’t have a tale to tell about how they saved themselves from a last minute swerve that became a near miss. Above all else stay safe and have fun, it is a great way to get to work and still a small but growing club.