Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Long distance cycle commuting

Long distance? What constitutes long distance?

4 or 5 miles between home and work might seem plenty far enough to a non-cyclist. 10 miles each way is nothing unusual to a seasoned cyclist. It all depends on perspective.  My 41 mile round trip is probably at the upper end of what most cyclists would consider doing but even that doesn't come close to some mammoth commutes such as this once a week 144 mile round trip undertaken as part of training. I don't commute by bike every day as I'll sometimes work from home and occasionally do a combination of bike and train but at the present time I'm probably averaging 3, maybe 4, days per week.

I can tell from the look on numerous, non-cycling, work colleagues' faces when they first discover this that they consider me deranged but why would they?  All told, the drive to work, including finding a parking space etc would take 45 mins. And that's on a good day. It can be much longer.  Cycling takes around 90 mins and usually a bit less on the way home when I have the prevailing wind behind me. So I only need to set off 45 mins earlier and I'm integrating 3 hours of exercise on the days I do this. The fact that I'm a sweaty mess when I get there isn't a problem either. I'm lucky enough to work somewhere with brilliant showers.

Yes, they say, but what about the wet British weather? Well, that myth needs busting.  In England there are only 131 days per year where the total daily rainfall is >1mm. And that's for the whole of England. Its actually less than that for places east of the Pennines. So, the number of rainy commutes is MUCH lower than you would imagine. And anyway, as Billy Connolly once famously opined: 'there is no such thing as bad weather. Only the wrong clothes'. Or something like that.  Rain doesn't really bother me.  I will admit that I don't like cycling in high winds, when it is really cold/icy or permutations of rain/high winds/extreme cold but those days are few and far between and I don't feel guilty taking the train on days like that.

There are other considerations. Contending with traffic and wear & tear on the bike are two that are worthy of quick comment.

Cycling per se is NOT, I repeat NOT, a dangerous activity but whenever you mix it with traffic the risk of injury or worse can increase. This is especially true in the UK where, compared to, say, The Netherlands or Denmark, there is no significant cycling culture and relatively poor cycling infrastructure. However, by avoiding the busiest roads/routes, riding defensively, not putting myself in dangerous situations (e.g. filtering down the near side of vehicles), making myself very visible and so on I minimise these risks.  From time to time I encounter idiots who really shouldn't be behind the wheel of a vehicle and obviously the more you cycle the more likely this convergence will be. Thankfully they are a very small minority.

Choosing a bike suitable for long distance commuting is really important.  They get a lot of hammer.  Ideally I'd use my fixed gear bike cuts down the number of bits that need maintaining/replacing but my commute is a bit too hilly for this and so my old, battered tourer (Orbit Silver Medal) has been pressed in to service.  It's quick enough to get me there in a reasonable time, has mudguards that stop me getting splattered with spray and sh*t, pannier rack for luggage and no high end components that are guaranteed to wear out over the course of a winter. I also make sure I regularly check the condition of the brake blocks, wheel rims and tyres. On the subject of tyres, it's important to go for a compromise of low rolling resistance (easier over long distances) and puncture resistance. I like 28mm Schwalbe Marathons.

So, yes, my commute is long but I wouldn't give it up. For me it's a perfect distance. Long enough to give me time to ponder the day and I burn off LOADS of calories which ultimately means I don't have to worry about having an extra pint of an evening. Check. Mate.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Rob!! I never knew you were lurking here! I stumbled on you by accident. How did it go then your wee jaunt accross the penines??? Lets hope you didn't get saddle sore again.