Wondering how to get more time on your bike? Leonie Doyle shares some commuting tips for Canberra bike riders.
Whether you’re a weekend warrior or just coasting along with the kids, have you considered riding to work?
Several years ago, after a fifteen-year hiatus, I started cycling again. At first, I just pedaled around on the weekend and never contemplated commuting by bike. It seemed logistically impossible given all the clothing, toiletries and other paraphernalia required by a female in an office job.
Then a friend pointed out that it was a good way to clock up the kilometres while doing what you have to do anyway (i.e. traveling to work) so I agreed to give it a go. Just once, on a Friday.
I’m pleased to admit that one Friday soon became every Friday, and from there it was a slippery slope to every second day, which inevitably led to a daily habit.
That first trial run was seven years, three bikes, tens of thousands of kilometres and (not that we’re counting) millions of calories ago.
Right now, cycling is my first and natural choice for getting to work. It beats driving and traffic and parking and paying. It beats waiting for buses, standing like sardines listening to bad radio and getting coughed on. My commute is close to a 30km round trip and I work four days, so that plus a ride to the gym on weekends gets me about 120km per week.
It is sometimes – okay, often – an effort to climb on the saddle right after breakfast. But the rewards are real. Cycling frees the mind. I get so much thinking, dreaming and composing done while engaged in active travel on my bike or on foot. I have lost count of the number of times that my ride home has cured a screen-induced headache by filling my lungs with air and my muscles with distraction. It’s a little space between the pressures of work and the demands of home.
Of course, I wouldn’t begin in the dead of a Canberra winter if I were you. In winter the days are short and it can be bitterly cold and miserably foggy and the paths can even ice over. (As I write this, preparing to head out, it’s minus three outside.)
Summer cycling is carefree and minimalist. Winter cycling calls for full coverage. I wear three layers on top and long pants below plus serious socks, beanie and gloves. (You might also need shoe covers but I have ditched them as my feet seem to cope.) All this thermal layering is bulky and burdensome. There are autumn gloves and winter gloves and sometimes I carry both because of temperature variations. I carry two pairs of eyewear – sunglasses in the morning and clear lenses at night. Then there are the lights. Two in front (ideally one on the handlebar and one on the helmet) and two at rear (one on the seat post and one on the backpack) all of which require removing and charging at regular intervals. In short, I recommend waiting until you have the daylight and weather gods on your side.
Now a word on those logistical barriers. For cycle commuting, you do need some sort of bathroom to shower, dress and do face and hair in. In summer it’s essential because if you put in any effort at all you will sweat. In winter a hot shower thaws out frozen limbs and is a sweet reward.
I am fortunate. My work offers secure bike parking (I leave my bike lock there) and a decent bathroom with showers. I have been lucky enough to get hold of a locker to keep toiletries, shoes and spare items of clothing in, but this need not be a prerequisite. If I didn’t have one I would just keep it all in a cardboard box under the bench. Towel stays in the locker room and gets switched out when ripe. My makeup and cosmetics regimen is simple but having duplicate sets at work and home means I don’t have to transport it.
So what goes in the backpack that travels to and fro? The clothing I’m planning to wear that day (including underwear; don’t forget underwear; I have; it’s not good), my wallet, keys, phone, lunch and other small personal items. I don’t carry rain gear unless I’m sure it’s going to rain because I like to tempt fate in that way and sometimes fate teaches me a lesson. Work shoes stay at work, as does a sweater, jacket and scarf because it’s just not possible to pack an entire wardrobe every day.
Carrying your outfit on your back does limit choices – I confess that I don’t iron, hardly ever accessorize and can’t remember the last time I wore boots – but if you only have to carry the base layer of an ensemble it’s fine. Active commuting has taught me that a flimsy silk dress works just as well in winter as in summer because you can layer up.
So there you have it. Ride, park, lock, transform yourself into an office fairy and go!
There are times when riding to work is really challenging – the heavy bag, the legs that say no, the head wind and stinging rain, the creeping sweat of a heatwave, the traumatising near misses and irate pedestrians.
When I need a break from all that I take the bus to work and walk or jog part of the way home. I have seen a male cyclist with a week’s worth of ironed shirts on his back but it’s probably easier to leave the bike at home that day.
But cycle commuting is grand. Arriving at work having taken your time and done some exercise means you start your day energised and raring to go. If you’re a cyclist, you probably already understand that coffee tastes better after a ride.
And leaving work under your own steam is a huge boost for your mental health and physical happiness because, from the minute you put on your play clothes, you’re on your own time and your own terms.
What’s not to love about that?