Riding to work, the shops or the café can be one of the most rewarding changes you make to your lifestyle. Depending on your route and time of travel cycling is usually cheaper, faster and less stressful than driving, public transport, uber or taxi. It can mean less time spent crowded on public transport catching colds, or sitting in traffic with your engine running getting nowhere. You don’t have to worry about circling for a parking space and parking fines are a thing of the past. It also makes multi stops a breeze. Need to stop at the ATM on the way, then feel like grabbing a coffee as you go past your favourite café? It’s possible and so simple when you can just push your bike along with you.
Obviously, cycling has some drawbacks, sudden changes in weather, low visibility in traffic, risk of punctures and possibly needing a change of clothes when you reach your destination, but these are minimal and manageable with a little patience and know-how.
If you have been commuting for a while you have probably figured out your own strategies and workarounds for these common cycling commute issues. If you are just getting started or want to make a change, here are a few small changes can make a big difference to how comfortable your bike commute is.
1. Check your tyre pressure
While some riders like to check their pressure before every ride, as long as you cover a pressure check once a week you should be fine. Tyres can lose a lot of air if the temperature changes drastically so you are best to keep your bike inside when you can, to minimise the amount of work you need to do.
While there is no such thing as perfect tyre pressure start with the recommended PSI for your tyre based on the number printed on the side wall and experiment from there to find your comfort zone. A lot of it will have to do with how well serviced the roads you are riding are. If you run through a lot of potholes or are carrying a large amount of weight then don’t risk it, go with a high pressure.2. Oil your chain
Cycling is only cheaper if you don’t have to constantly spend money on repairing your bike. Running a dry chain is a sure way to ruin your transmission and make your cycle less effective.
Luckily a clean-up, oil and safety check are easy for anyone to do. If you don’t feel confident then it’s cheap enough to drop in for a service. Ask the mechanic at the bike shop for a chain cleaning and oiling demo and pick up some bike chain lubricant while you are there.
3. Do a safety check
Before you set out make sure your bike is going to be able to go the distance. This is as simple as making sure the main components are secure and locked in place. It takes you less than a minute.
- Brake cables and pads
- Quick-release wheel lever
- Saddle bags
If possible do a check the night before or go over your bike thoroughly once a week so that you have time to spare to make any adjustments needed to secure bolts in place.
4. Ride in the right gear
A lot of people are commuting via fixies these days so you don’t necessarily have a lot of control over the amount of resistance you are facing, but you can still control the pace of your feet. You want a speed (cadence) that is comfortable and relaxed. Think ahead to the road and approach what comes next with smarts. If you are coming up to a hill, quicken your pace (or lower your gear) to make it easier before you get to the climb. If you are coming up to stopped traffic, lower your gears to make taking off again easier.
The faster you spin your legs the less energy you put out, but you need to find the balance to also move forward effectively.
5. Make sure your bike fit is exact.
If your bike is not set up to match your body shape you risk injury or soreness as well as less power and less comfort on the bike. Check your saddle height, handlebar height and frame size to make sure you have the right fit for the best way forward. Keep in mind you may need different seat heights for different shoes if you wear different brands or styles when you are cycling.
A quick but non-scientific way for a beginner to find an acceptable saddle height is to raise the saddle until there’s a slight bend in the leg while at the bottom of the pedal stroke. This should be measured while the ball of a rider’s foot is positioned over the centre of the corresponding pedal axle.
6. Plan ahead
It may sound obvious, but thinking about what you take with you on your ride can be the difference between enjoying or enduring cycling.
Poor preparation prevents proper performance, someone once said, and they were right. It may sound obvious, but thinking about what you take with you on your ride can be the difference between enjoying or enduring cycling.
Always have the kit with you to repair a puncture and tighten anything that is likely to come loose. It’s also advisable to have the tools with you to fix a broken chain. Some may consider this overkill, but on longer rides it’s advisable to also carry a replacement derailleur hanger.
The second part of ride preparation should involve your clothing. Leaving the house with a bad choice of clothing and you’re going to wish you never left at all. By wearing multiple, lighter layers you’ll give yourself more flexibility for changing weather conditions.
If visibility is questionable then don’t forget to pack your lights and try to avoid wearing too much black clothing if possible.
Finally, running out of energy is never fun so be sure to keep yourself adequately fuelled before and during your ride. Homemade alternatives to expensive energy foods are a good idea. Check out our article on cheaper homemade sports nutrition alternatives.
7. Ride defensively
When on the road, ride with confidence rather than cockiness. As cyclists we’re among the most vulnerable road users around. Fact. This doesn’t mean that we should be afraid but it definitely does mean that we should be careful.
Make sure you are seen before you commit to a move that could potentially take you off your bike. Take as much space as you need when you need it.
Assume that car will pull out and make sure you can stop if it does — its occupants aren’t the ones that’ll end up injured in the event of an accident.
Riding to work and feeling better for it? That’s freedom!