On ya bike!

Kate Belcher of Revolution Tours runs you through some tips for bike commuting.

Happy New Year from the team at Revolution Tours. We hope 2016 has been a goodie so far. 

I was reading an article on the Top 10 New Years resolutions and saw that the most popular resolution was to 'get fit'.  I have been really unfit and really fit and I know which one I prefer!  The fittest I've ever been was when I commuted by bike to work every day. It was an easy 30 minute ride each way but consistency was the key and I saw results really quickly (very important for this Gen X'er). It does take a little bit of effort to start your bike commuting career so I've put together a little 'starter guide for bike commuting' to help you on your way.

First things first:  If you don't already own one, get a bike!  If you do own a bike make sure it's ride-ready.  Your local bike shop will perform a routine bike service for you for a reasonable price.  If you don't own a bike and you're not sure if you want to splash out and buy one, have a look on Trademe, eBay or check out your local community notice boards and local papers for second hand bikes for sale.  You can often find bikes that are in pretty good condition - they just need a bit of TLC to get back out there.  You'll also need a bike helmet, lock, front and back lights, hi-vis top/jacket, wet weather gear.

Make sure you know how to change a tube should you get a flat tyre. Tools you'll need to have with you every time you ride include:  Bike pump, tyre levers, spare tube, puncture repair kit.  Have a look at Youtube for videos on how to change a tyre.  Some bike shops run courses on how to do simple bike maintenance so ask at your local.  Bike shop people are really enthusiastic about all things bike so don't be shy!

Learning some basic bike mechanics can be a bit daunting, but I promise you once you learn to change a bike tyre your confidence will be skyhigh!  Oh and don't fall into the 'Oh I'll know how to change a tyre when I need to' trap like I did.  It ends in sitting on the side of the road for an hour waiting for a very expensive taxi ride. Lesson learned the hard way.

Plan your route:  The route you ride may not be the same as the one you drive; you may have to take a bit of a longer route or you may, like I did, find some sneaky little short cuts (awesome!).  I found these sneaky shortcuts after about a week of riding and seeing the same person overtake me, disappear, then re-appear a few hundred metres ahead.  Have a look on Google Maps to plan your route, talk to your co-workers, friends, family or be bold and ask cyclists stopped at traffic lights.

Ride your route: Do this on a day you're not working so you can take your time and not stress about being late.  Time yourself so you know how long roughly the ride will take you.

Get your gear organised:  Pack all your gear the night before so you're not racing around getting organised in the morning.  A little OCD tip - don't zip your bag up until you have everything you need in there.  I started this little rule with myself after I forgot to pack my black stocking - very cold, white legs on show mid winter at work wasn't my best look!

The gear you'll need:

  • All your bike gear (helmet, lock, front and back lights, hi-vis top, jacket) plus the following......
    • Pannier bags (on the side of your bike).  By far the easiest way to carry all your belongings.  A back pack will do if you can't get hold of pannier bags however backpacks make you very sweaty very quickly.
    • Your clean work clothes, rolled neatly so they're not too creased and placed in a separate bag so they stay clean.  I would pack my entire week's worth of work clothes in my bag on Sunday night, ready for Monday morning and hang them up at work so I didn't need to worry about packing work clothes every night. (I think I had a nightmare about arriving at work without my uniform and having to wear my sweaty cycling gear all day.
    • Towel and toiletries.  Hopefully your work place has a shower.  Ideally they'll also have lockers to store your toiletries so you don't have to carry those each day.  I would keep my toiletries at work - it's amazing how quickly all that weight adds up when you're cycling with it and how much easier it is without it. 
    • A drink bottle filled with lovely icy cold water. An absolute must if you want to arrive non-tomato face.  I got into the routine of drinking at every traffic light stop.  If I was unlucky I'd also have to wait a few minutes for a train to pass but it was a great chance to have a drink and get my breath back.
    • Fresh cycling clothes for the journey home and a bag for your sweaty cycling gear. If your ride is short you probably won't get too sweaty and won't need fresh clothes for the ride home.  I would sometimes stop off at the supermarket (OK and the red wine shop too!) on my way home so I'd always want fresh clothes.
    • A keychain for your bike lock key.  You'll be locking and unlocking your bike a lot so having it on a keychain makes it much easier to find.
    • Dry shampoo:  Don't forget this one ladies!  My hairdresser who was also a keen cyclist got me onto this and I owe her big time!  She suggested wearing your hair off your neck when cycling (a low side pony or low side bun are best) to minimise sweaty hair. You'll still get a bit sweaty so spray the sweaty areas with dry shampoo and rub in. It takes away the sweat, adds volume and smells lovely too.  I've worked my way through quite a few different brands of dry shampoo and have found you don't have to spend a lot for good results, supermarket brands are just as good as the more expensive ones.
    • Wet wipes/make up remover wipes. It may just be me but I always end up with bike grease everywhere.  Make up remover wipes remove bike grease better than they do makeup. Very handy if you get a flat tyre and end up with greasy hands.

Leave enough time to allow for a flat tyre change.  I rode to work every day for nine months and fortunately only had one flat tyre.  The extra twenty minutes I allowed every morning in case of disaster was normally my coffee time, my little reward for being so awesome!

A little tip for arriving to work in style:  Cruise to work at a leisurely pace then make up for it on the ride home.  I would take my time in the morning to minimise tomato-face-ness but then put in a bit more effort on the way home.

Remember your road rules:  You still have to stop at red lights, give way and indicate.  Don't be that cyclist - you know the type I'm talking about!

Ride confidently yet cautiously: Ride in the correct lane position, use clear signals to other road users, and check that other road users understand your intentions. This two way communication system is key to your safety and confidence.

So, there you have it. Bike Commuting 101. Hopefully that has you inspired to maybe start riding to work. Even one day a week is brilliant.  The physical and mental health benefits of commuter cycling are huge- it really is the easiest way to improve your cycling and overall fitness. Having 30 minutes of 'me' time before and after work apparently made me a much nice co-worker and wife.  It was also really cool seeing the same commuters every morning and being part of a little 'commuter gang'.

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