Commuting or Shopping by Bike
The fuel crisis of 2021 and the emphasis on climate change mitigation brought into sharp focus by extreme weather events and the recent COP26 conference in Glasgow have prompted many to consider what their options are for getting to work/school/shops/Mum's without using a car. Public transport is notably thin on the ground, and you may be reluctant to use what there is if you are potentially vulnerable to Covid. While you may not want to commute all the time by bike, doing it some of the time reduces your dependence on fossil fuel and does at least a bit to reduce your CO2 footprint. So, how do you do it?
Any bike will do. It doesn't have to be a special kind of bike, just something you can get on and ride. It might help if it some sort of weather protection, some luggage capacity, and almost certainly some lights, but none of these need to be expensive or difficult to source. Most importantly, you don't need to go out and get a special bike for commuting!
We worry about this a lot when we talk about utility cycling or 'active travel' (as commuting by bike is called these days), but there really is no need to. Firstly, you don't have to ride when the weather's horrible! It's great if you can, but it's perfectly ok to turn to the car if the weather makes it too difficult. Secondly, in Suffolk we live in the driest part of UK. Rain is actually not that common an event. So you should still be able to ride more often than not, even if you aren't fully prepped for the wet. Cold is perhaps more of an issue, and you do need to think about how you're going to dress.
If your destination has showers and a changing area, and you're a bit of a fitness buff, by all means go ahead and treat your commute as part of your fitness training. In fact, you probably do already, so I'm not going to address you any more (we love you really, but we probably already see you on Sunday morning rides in the middle of winter so we don't need to teach you stuff here!). For the rest of us, utility cycling should be about getting on the bike in normal clothes, getting where you need to go, and getting on with your day. It's not about getting hot and sweaty! So don't plan your ride to be fast; plan to go at a pace that allows you to get straight on with your tasks as soon as you get off the bike.
The clothes you wear can help hugely here; jeans and heavy clothing are probably not ideal to ride in. Obviously it may be you need something warm for the ride, but make it loose layers you can shed when you get where you're going. The layers that are closest to your body should be flexible and well-ventilated so that you can move without unnecessary restriction. The outer layers can offer the rain protection you might want, and it's well worth the top layer being something easily visible to drivers such as hi-viz, or bright colours. Warm gloves are a must - they don't have to be specific (and expensive) cycling gloves; many shops offer waterproof, lined gloves at this time of year. A cap or woolly hat that can fit under your helmet is also a good idea.
It may be well worth fitting your bike with mudguards. Roads tend to stay wet in winter, and mudguards can prevent all that moisture being sprayed up at you. Many bikes have fittings that accept fixed mudguards (which cost around £30 a set), but, even if yours hasn't, there are mudguards that can be fitted to any bike with the help of zip-ties or similar.
A rucksack is great for most purposes, but if you need to carry stuff, and you have a reasonably long ride to your destination (say over 5 miles) you might prefer luggage that fits to your bike rather than to you. The recent trend of 'bike-packing' has resulted in lots of soft luggage that can be strapped to any bike. It can be expensive, but there are some cheaper options out there. You may prefer, if you have the fittings on your bike, to have a rack and pannier system, which allows a considerable amount of luggage to be carried. While the more expensive examples may be waterproof, a judicious use of plastic bags can keep your belongings dry even in the cheapest luggage!
Lights are pretty much essential at this time of year, and you can spend a fortune - but you don't have to. A study of Amazon or eBay will reveal a host of lights that will do the job perfectly well at a price you can stomach. Obviously, the roads that you use will dictate just how good the lights you use need to be, but anything bright and flashing will be fine in town (and they must be red at the back and white at the front, and not any other colours or arrangements). If you need to ride in the countryside, you'll need a front light that can illuminate the road ahead of you and for this there are very powerful torches available that come with handlebar or helmet mounts. If you do go for something very bright, please get one with the option to easily dim the beam - these very bright lights can be a real problem for other road users.
It's no good getting where you're going and finding that you have nowhere to secure your bike, or no lock to secure it with. You may be lucky and have access to secure parking, but most of us will need to lock our bikes to something. In the High Street area of Hadleigh, we have teamed up with the Town and County councils to provide excellent parking racks, but you still need a lock to secure your bike. Again, you can spend a fortune, but any cable, chain or D-lock will help. Your lock should secure both the wheels and the frame to the parking device, but advice about this is contained in the user manuals of most locks.
You may feel a bit discouraged by the amount of traffic on the route that you normally use to drive to wherever you go, but a quick study of local maps will normally show that there are quieter options you can take. In Hadleigh, there is a small network of shared bike/pedestrian routes, but even outside town there are a myriad of quiet lanes that will give you a much more pleasant experience than using the A or B roads. Use Strava or RideWithGPS to see where other cyclists ride; there's strength and protection in numbers, and riding on routes where drivers expect to see cyclists can really help.
So, why not try it? As I say, you don't have to do it every day - any bike commuting will help you use less fuel and put out less CO2. Riding instead of taking the car will help your fitness and mental health too. Get someone else to ride with you on your first couple of times if you're a bit nervous, and if you don't have anyone close to you who can do that, put out a post on our Facebook page and ask for company - someone may well be able to help.
For more advice, go to CyclingUK's commuting pages.
This article is (c) Tim Collins 2022. Please contact the site admin to quote or reprint.
One of the cycle parking racks in Hadleigh provided by HCC, Hadleigh Town Council and Suffolk County Council
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