Britain is slowly going back to the office. Understandably, many have reservations about using the bus, train, tram or Tube, so perhaps it’s no wonder that cycle shops have been inundated and Boris Johnson has predicted a “new golden age for cycling”. If you are nervously contemplating making the switch to two wheels, here’s our beginner’s guide to commuting by bicycle. The bike
Forget how cool it looks. The key is to pick one designed to cope with the worst of Britain’s weather and potholes. “I love road bikes and mountain bikes, but they’re not practical for the average commuter,” says Terry Green of Brixton Cycles in south London.
He recommends sit-up-and-beg Dutch-style bicycles, where the top tube of the frame is dipped so you don’t have to swing your leg over the saddle. It can be ridden whether you are wearing a suit, skirt or dress. “You want to get from A to B with as little faff as possible,” Green adds. These days, sit-up-and-begs are often as light as so-called hybrids, although this cross between a sleek road machine and a mountain bike may be a better choice if you have a hilly ride, because they usually have more gears.
New bikes can cost as little as £100 but whatever you spend, looking after your bike properly will reduce costs in the long term.
Electric bikes are the ultimate way to avoid getting sweaty. Cheaper models will run for between 20 and 35 miles on a single charge. Prices start at about £430.Get the kit
There’s no need for full Tour de France Lycra. The essentials are a helmet that fits properly, lights, a lock, mudguards and some basic tools.
Dynamo-powered lights are great for commuters, because they charge as you cycle. Also available are USB lights that last a few days between charges.
Mudguards will keep you dry and protect your bike. You can buy clip-on ones but by far the most effective types are those that bolt to the frame.
A basic tool kit should include tyre levers, an inner tube, a puncture repair kit and a hand-pump. It’s not that hard to fix a puncture (YouTube can help).
Always pack a waterproof, and padded shorts will be a good investment if you plan on riding longer distances. They can be picked up from about £20.
Consider investing in a rack above your front or rear wheel and some waterproof pannier bags — handy for spare clothes and your laptop, now offices are discouraging use of shared computers. Plan your route
Don’t be tempted to pick the shortest route, as this will usually be the busiest option, with lots of traffic; the website cyclestreets can help you find a quieter alternative.
Try riding the route at a weekend when the roads are quieter and there’s no danger of being late for work. On Monday, leave plenty of time for that first ride in traffic. If a colleague lives locally, suggest you ride together. It’s worth looking up where the bicycle shops are along your route, just in case you suffer a mechanical hitch.Rules of the road
It sounds counterintuitive, but the safest riders are the ones that don’t hug the kerb to avoid cars or hang back at the traffic lights. On narrow lanes, or where you are passing parked cars, adopt what is known as the “primary road position”: in the centre of your lane, where you are most likely to be seen. Only adopt the “secondary road position” — at least 18in from the kerb — on roads where it is safe for cars to overtake. Hugging the kerb is not as safe as it seems, as it encourages drivers to try to squeeze past you.
At traffic lights, wait in front of cars where possible and under no circumstances wait to the left of a lorry or other large vehicle. If you are waiting directly in front of a lorry, make eye contact with the driver to ensure he or she has seen you.
While many cyclists claim saintly status, some can be a hazard, especially if they are weaving around or jumping red lights. The cycling world has a word for these unpredictable, oblivious riders: “choppers.” The best way to deal with a chopper is to give them plenty of room.
If you want to overtake a slower rider, take a look behind to make sure other cyclists aren’t planning the same thing, and signal your intention. Also look out for “nodders” — so-called because the effort of cycling causes them to rock from side to side. They tend to barge in front of everybody at the traffic lights, only to set off at a granny-like pace. Accept these fellow riders as part of the commute. They may be preferable to the maskless commuters coughing on the train. Looking good
Pack your work clothes the night before, to reduce the chances of forgetting your socks or tights or worse. If you wear a suit, consider leaving the jacket at work. If you wear a formal shirt every day, invest in a shirt carrier (as business travellers do) to prevent it from getting wrinkled. If your workplace has showers, work out exactly what you will need: a towel, a bag for the wet towel, soap and so on.
Some commuters may point out that cycling is more dangerous than getting the train. Even without the cars and lorries zooming by, pedestrians are now more likely than ever to step into the road as they try to keep their distance from others. But many believe the benefits of cycling — it’s healthy, fun, cheap and environmentally friendly — far outweigh the small increase in risk. And the virus will find it hard to keep up.