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Here are 14 things they don't tell you about commuting

Commuting to your place of work or study is immensely satisfying and there are lots of positives, from the obvious health benefits to beating public transport delays and queues and the freedom it provides. But there are a few things people don’t tell you about commuting.

- 23 of the best commuting bikes — hybrids, tourers, folders and more that'll get you to the office with minimal fuss

1. The weather isn’t always on your side

Commuting is lovely when it’s a fine spring morning and the daffodils are out and you’ve got a light breeze on your back and a lovely blue sky to admire. But the weather won’t always be this picture postcard of perfection and there will be times when you’ll be battling howling winds and horizontal rain and endless hours of darkness which will test your mental fortitude.

Bike commuting (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 Dave Atkinson:Flickr) 04

2. Punctures! (and other mechanicals)

The great thing about commuting by bike is you’re in complete control of how long it takes you, so you can generally time your commute to the minute. However, there’s nothing worse than the cruel blow of a major mechanical or puncture to ruin your commute. You’ll arrive at the office even sweatier, flustered, hands covered in grime and late!

3. Red lights are SO annoying

If you’re a law-abiding cyclist, then traffic lights will be the bane of your life because they rob you of all of your momentum and it takes considerable effort to get back up to speed. There’s nothing like getting a nice run of green traffic lights to put a smile on your face and save you a few seconds or minutes, but some days it can feel like you are constantly stopping at every light. I don’t think I ever got a full green run along the embankment when I used to live in London!

4. Being shoaled

The second annoying thing to stopping at every traffic light is getting shoaled at the lights. Shoaling is a term that describes that moment when you’ve stopped at the lights only for other cyclists to come along and stop in front of you. They’re queue jumping basically, and that's just not sporting.

Bike commuting (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 Dave Atkinson:Flickr) 01

5. Other road users

Ever seen an angry commuting cyclist and wondered what’s got their goat? It’s probably because they’ve been cut up for the 50th time that morning by a bus, taxi, lorry, car or even another cyclist. Cities and towns are congested places and lots of people using too few roads and it can get a bit stressful as everyone is trying to get to work as quickly as possible. Tempers will fray.

6. Getting sweaty and smelly before a day sitting at the desk

This one totally depends on the length of your commute, if it’s short you might not work up a sweat. But if it’s a reasonable distance and you’re going quite fast you are going to get sweaty. Obviously you could ride at a slower speed to avoid getting a sweat on, but all commuting cyclists know you ride at terminal velocity.

Which leads to the problem of how to avoid stinking out the office all day. If you’re very lucky, your office will have a lovely hot shower and you can freshen up before a day sat at your desk. But often that shower can be out of order, or there’s always a queue, or there just isn’t an office. Which means you have to get creative with freshening up and learn how valuable baby wipes, dry shower wash and body spray is.

Bike commuting (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 Dave Atkinson:Flickr) 02

7. You’ll forget your underwear at least once

Forgetting some vital bit of clothing is a rite of passage for cycle commuters. So our best advice is to pack some emergency clothing at the bottom of your desk drawer just for that time when you will inevitably forget some of your clothing. Or if you're organised you take all your clothes into the office on one day you're not cycling to avoid this. Which leads us to...

8. Carrying stuff is a bane

Where commuting differs from weekend cycling is that you’ll need to carry stuff. Laptops, shoes, spare clothes, lunch and other essentials all need to be transported to and from the office, and whether you do it with a backpack (what way bad back leads) or with panniers, you’ll feel bogged down by the extra weight. Just think of it as extra training. Or do as some organised people do and bring all the clothing they’ll need for the week on one day, so they can travel light for the rest of the week.

Iamrunbox Backpack Pro.jpg

9. Getting sucked into commuter racing

Commuting can be a relaxing time to unwind from a stressful day at the office, or it can be highly toxic lactic acid inducing race all the way home. It’s frighteningly easy to find yourself gradually upping the pace to keep up with faster cyclists around you, and before you know it you’re smashing along the ride at 40kph trying not to let a gap open up. Great for training, not great for your hair.

10. It can be expensive

One of the great things about commuting is that it’s often a lot cheaper in the long run than other forms of commuting. If you're facing a short commute you can likely get away with just wearing normal clothes and shoes. But if it’s a long distance commute you might want to embrace the typical Lyrca and special shoes outfit that cyclists wear, which if you don’t already own is an investment you’re going to need to make. Plus, you might need to factor in essentials like a helmet, lights, spare tubes, tools and a pump, helmet possibly.

Then there are the consumables. Commute daily and you’ll wear out tyres, brake pads, chains and other mechanical parts on your bike.

Specialized Sirrus Comp Disc 2014 hybrid/road/touring/commuting bike with hydraulic disc brakes

11. Remembering to charge your lights

Uh oh! You’ve wheeled your bike out onto the street and your lights won’t turn on. We’ve all been there, forgetting to charge our lights or forgetting the USB cable needed to charge them up at the office desk.

12. You’ll be hungry all the time

Cycling to the office can really get your metabolism going and it’s not uncommon to find yourself hungry all the time, especially if you commute daily and over a reasonable distance.

Food - 4 (1).jpg

13. Soggy cycle kit for the ride home

Ever pulled on a pair of wet padded cycling shorts? It’s a horrible horrible thing to do. It can happen if you’ve got soaked riding into the office in the morning and obviously your kit hasn’t properly dried out for the ride home. It’s enough to make the entire ride home misery. Mudguards and good waterproof clothing help here.

14. Close passes

We don't want to put you off, but unfortunately close passes are a risk that all cycling commuters face. For the past couple of years road.cc has been running a Near Miss of the Day, and it’s about making a point about driving standards and the lack of consideration for vulnerable road users on UK roads. Some police forces have been campaigning close pass initiatives to increase awareness amongst road users, and in a recent update, rule163 of the Highway Code states that when passing cyclists, drivers should give "as much room as you would when overtaking a car".

- How to choose the right bike camera

David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.

40 comments

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StuInNorway [327 posts] 7 months ago
1 like

Nr 1 : Weather - Particularly wind direction. For some reason here I almost always get a wind from the North-ish heading home, which turns to come from Southerly for cycling to work the following day (Need a van for work, so commuting has to be planned, taking bike to work, then doing a reverse evening-morning trip) . .  you can guess I live North of work...

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hawkinspeter [4258 posts] 7 months ago
2 likes

Mmmmm! Chocolate Path!

(Now I'm hungry)

 

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ktache [2224 posts] 7 months ago
2 likes

There's evil in that one's cold, dead eyes.

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Jack Osbourne snr [780 posts] 7 months ago
0 likes

My current commute is about 10 miles each way.

As with my old job, I do have access to showers, but they are so poor, it takes too much time to actually be worthwhile.

A few years ago, I tried something that worked surprisingly well, and I still use to this day:

  • Shower first, before your commute.
  •  Apply a mixture of Sudacrem and chamois cream to the armpits. I have found the Strip chammy cream to be the best in this use. Decathlon stuff is okay, but the Assos stuff is best kept for its designed purpose.
  • Once at work, apply deodorant or not as you see fit. I don't, and don't find any issues with BO.
  • Make sure you wash your clothes as soon as you get home. 

Washing your clothes before they dry out and therefore inhibiting bacterial ingress into the fibres makes a huge difference. If you don't, you are going to have an eager culture of bacteria ready to transfer to your skin and make you stink before lunch next time you wear that jersey.

Another thing to watch out for is, even if you have a short commute, DO NOT be tempted to re-wear cycling shorts day after day. Sooner or later, you will end up with an infection that might be difficult to explain to the other half when he/she finds you rubbing Canesten into various bits of your genitals.

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hawkinspeter [4258 posts] 7 months ago
7 likes
ktache wrote:

There's evil in that one's cold, dead eyes.

Eat a snickers comrade, you're capitalist when you're hungry

 

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Stratman [174 posts] 7 months ago
3 likes

Few things I’ve found:

  • spare socks and spare gloves really help for that (surprisingly rare, even in Derbyshire) time when you need to put damp gear back on
  • a set of backup ‘be seen’ battery power lights in case you’ve forgotten to charge (or better still get a dynamo hub - I’ve just gone through my first winter with mine, and it’s excellent)
  • I use panniers, which helps for carrying laptop and work, and I can pick up a bit of shopping too.

I’m lucky in that I work for a large company; there’s a laundry and dry cleaning service from the office so my shirts and suit stay there, as do my shoes, which makes life much easier.

 

ps I agree with ktache about that squirrel

 

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Awavey [667 posts] 7 months ago
0 likes
StuInNorway wrote:

Nr 1 : Weather - Particularly wind direction. For some reason here I almost always get a wind from the North-ish heading home, which turns to come from Southerly for cycling to work the following day (Need a van for work, so commuting has to be planned, taking bike to work, then doing a reverse evening-morning trip) . .  you can guess I live North of work...

ditto except I live to the west from my workplace, and the wind is always from the East in the morning,and reverses just in time for the ride home  2  someone once tried to explain it to me as its something to do with air & ground temperature affecting things, all I know is it can be a right royal  pain & some days are just really tough, and you get off your bike at the end and think how and why was that so bad as it doesnt look or feel that windy anymore, and its just youve had it on you the whole way and the faster you try to go, the bigger the impact it has on you.

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ktache [2224 posts] 7 months ago
1 like

I've always found that showering when I get up, fresh top on  the way in, clean T shirt at work, hang up top, wear now dried top on the way home.  For me it's enough.  I do sweat quite a lot, Mitchum has worked for me to reduce odour.  

Seeing that we  have a relatively wet climate, and I may get a bit damp, I very rarely get soaking wet.

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Organon [355 posts] 7 months ago
2 likes

My commute is only 7.4km, so I try to 'run cold' by accepting I don't have time to freeze but dress a bit lighter. It means I don't get sweaty as arriving early to shower, and getting an empty shower is almost impossible. Save the extra layer for the long ride home. Check the weather forecast and dress for the temperature = have lots of lovely kit.

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EddyBerckx [723 posts] 7 months ago
6 likes

Red lights are great for fitness. Constantly blasting away from them to get your road position sorted then slowing down 200 yards later is almost a form.of interval training.

Some of the red light jumping Muppets I know who think they're fast are not...at least partially because they don't get the benefit of this extra training.

Also strong headwinds: also great for training. I got no sympathy for the fools who constantly moan about them on the weekend club ride. Harden up and embrace them!  3

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brooksby [5178 posts] 7 months ago
4 likes

But I'm hungry all the time anyway!

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bikeman01 [124 posts] 7 months ago
2 likes

"rule163 of the Highway Code states that when passing cyclists, drivers should give "as much room as you would when overtaking a car"

What does that even mean? Move to the opposite carriage way or leave about 18 inches?

It makes no sense so stop giving it legitimacy by quoting this nonsensical statement.

 

 

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quiff [214 posts] 7 months ago
4 likes

Here's a glass half-full version of some of these, dealing with some of the misconceptions that put people off trying it:

1. It doesn't rain that much - It may surprise you how little you'll get rained on during your commute. Obviously it depends where exactly you are, but I'd say that commuting five days a week, I only get properly soaked 2 or 3 times a year.

2. Punctures aren't that frequent -  (or they don't have to be). Ok, on a road bike with 25 or 28mm tyres it's going to happen occasionally, and when it does it's a pain. But if you're just commuting (or can get a second bike to commute on) then whack some Schwalbe Marathon Plus or equivalent on it. I've only had one puncture in 5 years of commutes on mine (and that was a six inch nail that gave the tyre an entry and exit wound).

6. It's no sweatier than the alternative - ok, depends what your alternative is, but I genuinely find being crammed into a tube train in rush hour leaves me sweatier (and angrier) than my breezy ride to work.   

10. It can be significantly cheaper than the alternatives - when I baulk at the cost of an occasional service, new parts or clothes, my wife reminds me how much a season ticket would cost. And it would be less fun.          

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Duncann [1491 posts] 7 months ago
0 likes
quiff wrote:

whack some Schwalbe Marathon Plus or equivalent on it      

+1, or even +2.

Apart from virtually eliminating punctures, fat M+ make my lighter weekend bike (still usually shod with Durano Plus!) feel much better.

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EddyBerckx [723 posts] 7 months ago
1 like
Duncann wrote:
quiff wrote:

whack some Schwalbe Marathon Plus or equivalent on it      

+1, or even +2.

Apart from virtually eliminating punctures, fat M+ make my lighter weekend bike (still usually shod with Durano Plus!) feel much better.

 

Once you've regained the use of your fingers after installing them...they reward you by sucking all the joy out of cycling!  1

 

It is highly dependant on the length of your commute, how much effort you put in (chilled out or fast) and the road/paths you ride on though. They are a great choice for potentially many.

 

I did write one off after 900 miles though...in the cold and rain. Thank f**k I was 20 minutes walk from home as the horror of trying to fix one of these at the side of the road...*shiver*.

 

 

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mitchibob [7 posts] 7 months ago
3 likes

Doesn't matter which direction the clouds are moving, or the arrows are pointing on the forecast, if it's windy in London, it's always a headwind!

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Duncann [1491 posts] 7 months ago
0 likes
StoopidUserName wrote:

Once you've regained the use of your fingers after installing them...

They can be pigs to fit if you don't have the technique... despite years of doing it my own way with other tyres, I still learned a few tips from Spa Cycles' video about M+ fitting - www.youtube.com/watch?v=-XUFVrl0UT4

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John Smith [275 posts] 7 months ago
1 like

4. Being shoaled

 

It always seems to be the slow people that do this. I don’t mind when it’s someone reasonable quick, but it always seems to be someone on a rusty supermarket BSO or a student on a sit-up and beg 3 speed (Oxford...) that wobbles to the front, normally past everyone who knows what they are doing, and cross the stop line everyone else is lined up at, or line up down the cycle path stopping anyone from using the ASL box.

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mattsccm [431 posts] 7 months ago
2 likes

Traffic lights cannot be a pain as they are part of the journey. 

Having said that I see nonelaugh as I do 1/2 mile  of road , 9 miles of gravel and 1 mile of dead quiet single track road which is avoided by cars because of the pot holes. Retrun is reverse but I stick an extra 5 to 10 miles of gravel in.

Ony down side is that sweaty kit doesn't dry unless it can go outside as some dimwit decied that a school with only ceiling mounted ground source heating was a good idea. 

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Awavey [667 posts] 7 months ago
3 likes
mattsccm wrote:

Traffic lights cannot be a pain as they are part of the journey. 

I actually appreciate them as a chance to recover and rest abit sometimes, the bit Im less keen on is other than pedestrian islands they are the next biggest source of close pass,must get in front or just down right dangerous overtakes I encounter on my commutes. Even if the traffic light is red, even if you are in prime approaching it, someone always just sees the tiniest space in front of you and will try to get there.

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jerome [81 posts] 7 months ago
4 likes

0. Pedestrians are VERY dangerous, unpredictable. Just touching one of them will take you off the bike faster then desired.

For others, take the upside:

1. Rain -> fewer cyclists
2. Punctures -> never had one with Marathon's, and now tubeless
3. Red lights -> light rims, light tires (hence tubeless or less than 20" wheels)
4. Shoaled -> that's life, go your way
6. Sweaty -> I take my shower in the evening. Once you're used to it, it is just as fine as in the morning or even better. Use that time for strechting exercises. Ride average speed (breath with nose) and change top at work.
7. You definitely need a full spare dress-up for the time you ride into dog shit and get some on your trousers. It ... happens.
10. Expensive -> No way. Buy cheap sport clothes and combine them to achieve the desired cold/rain resistance. OK I do have a 20£ merinos base layer for when it is REALLY cold.
10 bis. You NEED an outside thermometer!
11. Lights -> dynamo hub
12. Hungry -> eat more fibers (oak, beans, vegetables) towards keto diet, but not full keto
13. Way back -> I do it in my office clothes.

99. Commuting by bike -> what else?

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BIGWATTS [16 posts] 7 months ago
2 likes

Dead light batteries?  The answer is simple! A dynamo hub!  No need to charge them up, and as a bonus, the front light is often a better formed beam that doesn't dazzle others (e.g. B&M or Schmidt) while throwing light further than more expensive 'brighter' battery-powered lights.

Getting annoyed with shoalers just means you're not enjoying smoking them enough with your Watts

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BIGWATTS [16 posts] 7 months ago
2 likes

Even the mighty Marathon Plus is still no match for freshly trimmed hawthorn hedges.  And they turn any bike into a tank in treacle.

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Jem PT [231 posts] 3 weeks ago
0 likes
BIGWATTS wrote:

Dead light batteries?  The answer is simple! A dynamo hub! 

 

Definitely the best box I ticked on my commuter Brompton!

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Boatsie [538 posts] 3 weeks ago
2 likes

I'm getting old or unco or something.
Used to commute winter starts 0500 hours 20-25 km from home on 23mm and didn't have issues.
Then a couple years ago 28mm without issues until a cold stormy day.. Stuff changing flats.
Now similar to Schwalbe Marathon Plus; Lifeline Armour commuter. Yay. Non yet. Nearing a couple of years.

Punctures suck because they've nearly always happened on wet and miserable days/nights.

Summer I get told I smell sometimes. Instead I carry my shirt during summer in the rucksack or panniers and long ride home instead.
Other pros are tools found in gutters. Lead weights, hammer, ratchet spanner, Allen keys, just cruising at 25 in the night allows plenty of visual time.

It's worth it, today I locked the door, grabbed my bag, realized I'm late, opened the door, put bike inside, closed door and drove. Who cares. Feels better after riding though.

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LastBoyScout [648 posts] 3 weeks ago
2 likes

5/15 - finding some stranger sat 2cm from your back wheel. This isn't a race, sportive or club ride, you haven't announced yourself, have no idea where I'm going and it's just plain dangerous. Bet you wouldn't do that if we were both in cars (and it's illegal), so don't do it on a bike.

And yes, I've had had some idiot crash into the back of me while cycling to work and nearly got himself run over by a car when he fell off.

16 - Chasing someone else down who turns off just before you pass them.

7/8 - leave clothes and stuff at work on the days when I have to drive in and change them over the following week.

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hobbeldehoy [44 posts] 3 weeks ago
2 likes

The increased risk while commuting shouldn't be ignored. Cycling in dark, cold mornings presents all sorts of risks. Half awake motorists trying to see through misted windows while trying to avoid being late presents a major risk to the cyclist. Dodging buses and pedestrians emerging from everywhere. Icy, untreated roads . Poorly lit roads. Badly designed road systems which fail to consider the need of cyclists. I'm sure there's many more risks. I've endured them all in the past but haven't needed to do it for years now. Cycle commuting is a high risk sport, much higher than other forms of cycling. 

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zzk [65 posts] 3 weeks ago
2 likes

The risks are real and idiots abound and many simply have no sense of spatial awareness. Ride carefully and embrace all that commuting throws at you; the sun, the rain, the wind and the freedom. 

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nicmason [62 posts] 3 weeks ago
1 like
John Smith wrote:

4. Being shoaled

 

It always seems to be the slow people that do this. I don’t mind when it’s someone reasonable quick, but it always seems to be someone on a rusty supermarket BSO or a student on a sit-up and beg 3 speed (Oxford...) that wobbles to the front, normally past everyone who knows what they are doing, and cross the stop line everyone else is lined up at, or line up down the cycle path stopping anyone from using the ASL box.

 

Or quite frequently mr speedy who then spend several seconds twatting about trying to get his foot clippped back into his pedal as he swerves about randomly. V helpful.

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nicmason [62 posts] 3 weeks ago
1 like
John Smith wrote:

4. Being shoaled

 

It always seems to be the slow people that do this. I don’t mind when it’s someone reasonable quick, but it always seems to be someone on a rusty supermarket BSO or a student on a sit-up and beg 3 speed (Oxford...) that wobbles to the front, normally past everyone who knows what they are doing, and cross the stop line everyone else is lined up at, or line up down the cycle path stopping anyone from using the ASL box.

 

Or quite frequently mr speedy who then spend several seconds twatting about trying to get his foot clippped back into his pedal as he swerves about randomly. V helpful.

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