Cycling has boomed in the UK over the past decade. More people than ever are leaving the car at home, partly to save some money and partly to get some exercise. In London, for example, there was an increase of more than 80 per cent in the number of cyclists between 2000 and 2008. It might not always seem appealing first thing in the morning, but cycling to and from work can form a convenient part of your triathlon training because it's simply part of your day.
But take care out there. The most recent statistics from the Department for Transport show that 136 cyclists were killed on Britain's roads in 2007, with more than a quarter of those killed or seriously injured under the age of 20. These tips will help you maximise the benefits and convenience of cycling, stay safe and become fitter into the bargain.
Know your distance
If the distance between your home and your place of work is too great to cycle, combine the bike with public transport. If you work around the corner, add in some detours to explore new routes. However, if you work from home, you've no excuse whatsoever: get on your bike.
Chose the safest route, even if it is not necessarily the shortest or fastest one. "The safety factor is massively important," says Steve Lumley (www.thetriathloncoach.com). "Most trips are likely to be urban in nature so riding hard and fast in traffic isn't clever, particularly for less experienced riders."
Choose your weapon
Buy a bike that suits you. You don't need the latest, most exciting, colourful or expensive bike. "I commute on my cyclo-cross bike," says Lumley. "It's more robust and safer in urban environments, and I can also go off-road when possible - along canal towpaths, for example."
Suit your own needs
You may be lucky enough to have a quiet route to work that allows you to blast along from time to time but if not, Lumley says, "I'd recommend using commuting as a recovery ride - keeping it easy helps you recover from harder rides and runs. And it's safer and less stressful. Also, focusing on pedalling technique or cadence work is possible while commuting. Limit the gearing and spin away. A single-speed bike could help you here."
Lighten the load
Leave your lock attached to the rack where you park your bike, and stock your workplace locker or drawer with extra shoes and clothing in case of emergency. If you must pack an outfit, roll up your clothes, rather than stuff them into your bag. Rolled-up clothes take up less space and they don't become wrinkled.
If there are no showers at work, or if you don't always have time to properly clean up, keep some deodorant and baby wipes in your desk. Leave early in the morning and ride at an easier pace to stay cool and dry. Ride home at a faster pace if you want a more intense workout.
Be seen to be seen
In addition to the head and tail lights that you should already own, buy some sort of green light. RL Policar from bikecommuters.com says, "Studies have show that green is the colour the human brain responds to quickest. I use a Down Low Glow from rockthebike.com."
Watch the clocks
When British summertime ends, cyclists have to contend with frosty, dark mornings and poor light in the evenings. "The Department for Transport should make more easily digestible information available for road-safety charities about the risks to cyclists when the clocks change in autumn," says Penny Knight from Leigh Day & Co solicitors, who are experts in cycling- and sports-injury claims.
The number of cyclists killed or badly injured fell from 2000 and 2004 but rose slightly between 2004 and 2007. Knight describes the figures as "shocking, at a time when we are being encouraged to get on our bikes". Wear reflective clothing, keep your lights clean and be careful in traffic.
Stay cool in winter
"Store your bike in a garage, if you have one," says Stephen Regenold from www.thegearjunkie.com. "A room-temperature bike in new snow can cause ice to form on brakes and gears more easily." Also, keep your chain and cassette lubricated."
Make the most of the ride to work
These bike-based drills can help make your journey from home to work among the most useful training you will do all day
If your commute is punctuated by lots of holdups, junctions and traffic lights, introduce an interval-training element. Work hard but do it safely.
- Warm up gradually for 5-10 minutes before you start, and likewise warm down for 5-10 minutes at a gentle pace before you arrive at work. This will help flush any lactic acid from your muscles before that all-important 9am meeting.
- Cycle at 80-90 per cent of maximum effort for 1-2 minutes after every holdup – if it’s safe to do so – then recover until the next set of lights. Vary your high- and low-intensity bursts to suit your journey.
If you have a relatively clear run to work, break your journey into 1-2K chunks and try to maintain as consistent a pace as traffic and conditions allow.
- Warm up for the first and last 1-2K of each trip, depending on how far you have to travel.
- Maintain a measured pace for the middle chunk of your trip. You can make this an easy or hard effort, but either way you will learn how to pace yourself, which will be handy in race conditions.
- Keep a log of your times so you can monitor improvements as you become fitter – but don’t forget to vary your route and throw in some detours as your time improves.
Rules of the road
A few cyclists bending or breaking the rules give us all a bad reputation. The do’s and don’ts on the road are a combination of law and common sense.
- Stop at red lights. You’d be amazed how many cyclists are unaware that by jumping traffic lights they are breaking the law. You could face a fine of up to £2,500 if you get caught by a police officer who’s having a bad day, although you’re more likely to be given a good ticking off or handed a £30 fixed penalty notice. Or both.
- Don’t stop on yellow boxes. You are as likely as any driver is to be told off for this because you are probably causing an obstruction.
- Don’t weave in and out of traffic. It’s dangerous and stupid, frankly. It’s better to wait for traffic to move than to end up under the wheels of a car or lorry whose driver didn’t see you until it was far too late. Also, you could potentially be prosecuted for obstructing motorists.
- Know your Highway Code. We’re not preaching – we just want you to a) not be arrested and b) not be killed. According to the Road Traffic Act 1988 you won’t necessarily be prosecuted for flouting some sections of the Code, but you open up yourself to the possibility if the police deem you to be cycling in an unsafe manner.
- Don’t drink and ride. Section 30 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 says, “It is an offence for a person to ride a cycle on a road or other public place when unfit to ride through drink or drugs.” The law in this area is not as strictly enforced with cyclists as it is for drivers, but any more than a unit or two of alcohol before you sit on the saddle will affect your performance and impair your judgement.
- Shut your mouth. You are not breaking the law by talking on a mobile phone while cycling, but you could be pulled over by the police for not paying due care and attention – and besides, it’s a daft thing to do.