For me taking part was a no-brainer as I am a regularly commute by bike right throughout the year, but the challenge was to pass on some of my experience to fellow challengers via the websites blog.
Over the month I posted a few blog entries and got some nice feedback from the organisers and challengers alike so I though that although the challenge has now ended I would pull them altogether here...so here goes:
We all know that there are significant benefits to cycling (improved health, good for the environment, cheap efficient form of transport etc), but it can be a daunting task to get your bike out and actually start using it to get from A to B.
It is easy for people who don't do it to over estimate the difficulties of everyday cycling. However, statistically cycle travel is pretty safe and those statistics include many whose riding style relies on others taking care of them. If you are vigilant you are very safe indeed.
If you can start, stop and steer reliably, look behind over either shoulder while riding and give authoritive hand signals then you're ready to enjoy practical travel by bike. Not sure, then find a safe place to practise and check these skills on traffic-free routes or sites near home.
Don’t ride in the gutter – by riding about a metre away from the kerb, you make yourself more obvious to other road users. If you can be seen, then you’re safe. Everyone on the road looks where they are going and where they expect traffic to be. Traffic is less able to squeeze past you, and is more likely to over take you properly. The space to your left keeps you out of the way of drain covers and roadside debris. It also serves as a buffer against careless pedestrians or vehicles creeping out of side roads and driveways. Always scan ahead for any possible hazards and monitor the situation behind with quick glances over your shoulder. Don’t rely on other peoples signals.
Before any change of position, always look behind. When there’s traffic around you will need to signal your intention and negotiate with other road users. Make eye contact and keep sideways movements gradual. Before any move or turn, take another look over your shoulder just to be sure. At junctions or overtaking parked cars get into position early. For example, to turn right from a major road into a minor one, first look behind and signal right. Check behind again and when it’s safe to do so, cross the left carriage way to ride just left of the centre-line of the road. Start this process early so you resolve any conflicts with following traffic before you get to the turning point. Initially some major junctions can seem intimidating, you can walk around them; it won’t add much time. Try watching other cyclists negotiating the junction, or similar ones.
Problems and punctures:
Road surfaces vary and can sometimes be very poor. Look out for tram/train lines at level crossings, drain covers, and shinny tarmac sealing lines; when wet these are all very slippery. Potholes are less of a problem, either move out in advance – checking behind first – or rise up and under weight the bike and roll through it; it’s safer than swerving out. Punctures happen, very rarely but they do happen. A moderately tough tyre, properly inflated, will shrug off broken glass and small thorns. Carry a pump, a spare innertube or two and some tools to fit it. If you can’t fix a puncture, then learn, and take a mobile and £10 for an emergency taxi. A good lock is also useful if you need to leave your bike, but lock it where it’s visible so if someone tries to tamper with it then they might be seen.
Cycling at night:
Obviously you need a good set of lights, front and rear. Always carry a set of back up lights in case your primary ones fail for any reason. In the dark it is more key to be wearing items of clothing with some sort of reflective detailing which makes you noticed in other road users lights. If your commute takes you down dark country lanes, like mine, where inconsiderate road users might dazzle you with high beams and rob you of your night vision then try these little tricks. Look down at the road just in front of your front wheel, this works well if you have a peak on your helmet or a cycling cap under it that will shield the beam, and you can also close one eye whilst they pass to help readjust your vision when they have gone, used by the Pros in the Tour when going through tunnels down mountain passes. Be careful to avoid the natural instinct of being drawn toward the light, stop if you have to.
Make sure you wear appropriate clothing, flappy trouser legs or skirts can easily get caught and snagged in chains or spokes. Use the layering technique to ensure you stay warm; start with a base layer (preferably a wicking one to help move sweat away from the skin), a mid-layer to trap air and keep in the warmth, and an outer shell layer that is appropriate for the conditions (waterproof, windproof, both). As legs will be pedalling they will manage to keep warm with less protection, but a good pair of short will protect your derriere and improve comfort. Cycling longs or ¾ quarter length tights are advisable in low temperatures to keep the knees warm. Extremities like fingers and toes will thank you for doubling up with inner gloves and extra socks when the mercury takes a nose dive. Also make sure that outer garments are bright and reflective, especially in low light conditions, and don’t forget to keep them clean as a viz-jacket is not so visible if the back is covered in road spray.
If you need to transport items on your commute then the best place is in a set of panniers, especially if the items are heavy. Distributing the load between two is much better than loading in one single pannier. Pannier help keep you centre of gravity low and don’t put pressure on your back like a rucksack does, though lighter weights can be easily managed in a backpack. Don’t hang bags or other items from handlebars as they will easily swing into the front wheel and propel you over the top!
Finally ... The Bike:
Make sure it is road worthy, and that the brakes operate effectively before embarking on a trip. Keeping tyres inflated to the correct pressure will help the bike roll more easily, and less susceptible to impact punctures. Wider tyres help to improve comfort, and tyres with an appropriate semi-slick tread will have much less rolling resistance than a tractor-like mountain bike tyre if you are riding on the road or cycle paths. A good set of mudguards is essential in the winter months to keep road spray of you and your bike, and any of your friends that choose to ride with you. A weekly check of brake and gear cables, tyres and a little lube of the chain should help to keep things running smoothly.
But above all else, enjoy the trip.