Getting started with cycle commuting

Here are our suggestions for what we think is the minimum you need to get started with commuting by cycle, and a few pointers for next steps after that. It’s only a guide though: enjoy the journey and concentrate on finding the solutions that work for you.

This guide is written with people who are new to regular cycle use in mind. It assumes a commute of maybe 3-5 miles between Lancaster town centre and the Bailrigg campus.

  • Acquire a cycle that’s in decent working order that mostly fits you
  • Buy a lock, lights, and a helmet if you’re choosing to use one (these are generally best bought from new, especially helmets)
  • Sort out a way of keeping your belongings dry (this could be a cover for a rucksack, a roll-top drybag to go inside your bag or a waterproof bag or pannier)
  • Look at the clothes you’ve got and figure out what will work best on the bike. Synthetic fabrics can be less sweaty than cotton. Try to avoid long, loose clothes that can get caught in the chain or the wheels (although there are various strategies for getting skirts and trouser legs out of the way). Keep in mind that things like big coats that keep you toasty when you’re walking might make you too hot when you’re riding on the bike – experiment! JoyRiders London have done a video looking at different clothing options and considerations.
  • Gradually get your body used to being on the bike. It might take a few rides. Make use of your pedestrian mode whenever you need to (for example if you don’t feel safe at a junction or if you can’t quite get up a hill yet).
  • Get used to riding on the road. JoyRiders London have a riding skills videos playlist, and it would be good to familiarise yourself with concepts such as ‘primary position’, ‘secondary position’ and ‘the door zone’.
  • Learn how to lock your bike effectively.
  • Figure out your routes (Lancaster district cycling and walking route map, Open Cycle Map). Maybe do a test run on a Sunday when the roads are quieter and you don’t have fixed time constraints to work to.
  • Get used to riding at different times of day and in different weather. In Lancaster, in the winter it can be dark by 4pm, so it’s inevitable you’ll be riding in the dark at some point and rain is pretty much a certainty!
  • Get the hang of linking the commute up to whatever’s at the other end of the journey. What do you do with damp clothes? Where can you get changed if you need to? (There are showers on campus, but these are closed because of the pandemic so spacious toilet cubicles might be the thing to seek out. Your college may have changing rooms.). How much time do you need to leave for the journey and faffing with stuff? Where is the closest/most secure/most sheltered cycle parking for your destination?
  • Get familiar with what the legal requirements are for cycling in the UK. This is particularly relevant if you’re an international student. CyclingUK has a nice overview.
  • Get to know where your local bike shops are. Lancaster also has a few mobile bike mechanics.
  • Check out the Lancaster University Cycle Club campaigns and activities (and let them know if there’s something different you’d like for them to be doing!)
  • Sign up to the Everyday Superpowers mailing list and get involved to learn skills and build your support network (most activities we run will be for trans people, non-binary people and allied women).
  • The university has a cyclists mailing list for occasional announcements of interest to people who cycle to the University (you currently need to be on campus or connected via the VPN to access it) and a Teams group Grp-Cyclists “to facilitate discussion regarding improving conditions for people who cycle to and from Lancaster University”.
  • If you feel you’d benefit from some company on the commute, ask around to see if you can coordinate with friends or colleagues. Persuade your housemates to cycle commute too!

Suggested next steps

Once you get started and settle into the new routines you will better understand what – if anything – you need to improve. This process is iterative and will continue as your skills, ambition and experience grow. Probable next steps might include:

  • Addressing any pain points. This might involve adjusting the fit of the bike, experimenting with different saddles, adding mudgurds, changing how you carry stuff or buying clothing such as waterproofs or gloves. You’ll know what to prioritise at this stage – enjoy reinvesting the money you would have spent on carparking or bus tickets!
  • You might benefit from some riding skills sessions to get your confidence up or to give you some strategies for riding on the road with motorised traffic.
  • Learn how to look after your bike. We can help with this – keep an eye on our events and workshops.
  • Go on some organised group rides to learn more routes around the area, meet new people and gradually increase the distance you’re comfy on the bike for. British Cycling’s Let’s Ride website lists group rides, and there are also some women’s ride groups such as Breeze and Lancaster Women’s Cycle Group.
  • Organisations such as CyclingUK offer services such as insurance and advocacy. They also host an online forum, which could be a useful place to pick up secondhand items or to ask for advice.
  • There are also an increasing number of networks for Black, Asian, Muslim, LGBTQ+ and disabled cyclists. These can be a good source of moral support, inclusive events and practical know-how for those who are not yet well represented within the UK’s quite narrow mainstream cycling cultures. Rides and meet-ups might be restricted during the pandemic, but that might also mean that online meetings become accessible because geographical location isn’t an issue.

The foundation for cycle commuting will also work well for other practical tasks like grocery shopping, as well as cycling for mental/physical health, so you might find your riding branching out in different directions.

We’re here to help where we can – talk to us and let us know what would help you!