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Video: How to start commuting by bike when you have a short trip across town

Here are our eight top tips to make commuting by bike easy

If you’ve had to make changes to the way you get to work recently then you might have considered giving cycling a go. For short urban commutes, cycling is a great way to save money, cut the time that you actually spend commuting and even get some regular exercise.

But it can be a little confusing when you first get started. What do you really need to get started and how do you deal with rainy days? We’ve got eight great tips for getting started.

You’ll need a bike

Moped riders and cyclist in Amsterdam (picture credit Mikael Colville-Andersen)

Seeing as we’re focussing on short distances here, any bike will do and you really don’t need anything fancy. Grab the one out of the shed or hit the local classifieds to get something that won’t break the bank. Whatever you use, remember to check the brakes and gears work properly and pump the tyres up.

Read more: The best commuting bikes

Given the choice, we’d pick something with an upright riding position as it is comfortable and allows you to easily scan the road ahead. For rainy rides, mudguard mounts are a gamechanger and a rack for panniers opens your bike up to grocery shopping too.

Some waterproofs will be helpful

Rapha Lightweight Commuter Jacket Womens

When I said that this is a summer’s day in the UK, I wasn’t joking. But we’re not the only country where the rain falls and the wind blows. It rains in the Netherlands quite a bit, yet they do far more cycle commuting miles than here.

Read more: The best waterproof cycling jackets

A good waterproof jacket will help. One with a hood will keep your head dry, though you’ll need to check that the hood moves with you as you turn your head, otherwise, it can restrict your visibility. If you get something that looks casual, then it’ll look fine off the bike too, should you be heading for a post-work shandy.

2020 Proviz REFLECT360 Men's Waterproof Trousers.jpg

The height of fashion has to be these waterproof over trousers. Ok, they look terrible, but my legs stay dry, even in the most torrential rain and you only need to wear them when it’s really chucking it down. That said, there are parts of even the UK where it is surprisingly dry and if it’s properly miserable out, then there’s always the bus.

Lights are the purchase your mother wants you to make

2020 Bookman Urban Visibility Block front and rear light.jpg

While the evenings are still light, you can get away without using lights, but we’d still recommend getting a set as they add to your visibility, even during the day.

Read more: The best front lights for cycling — 40-light beam comparison plus how-to-choose guide

Come the winter, when commute time happens in the dark, they’re a legal requirement but if your commute takes place under street lights then you just need something to be seen by.

Planning a route


It can be tempting to take the roads that you’d use to drive to work, but often the back roads can be more direct and quieter. Even if they add a little distance, they can be far more pleasant to ride on.

To find your new route, you can use route building tools like Komoot and Strava, or Google has a cycle setting for its directions. Once you’ve got a basic route figured out, don’t be afraid to change sections of it if you feel like there’s a junction that is always trouble, or you want to avoid a certain road.

Cyclists at traffic lights (©Toby Jacobs)

Infrastructure for cyclists is improving bit by bit, so if it fits into your route, try it out, but don’t feel obliged to use it, you have every right to be on the road.

What to wear

e-bike riding in city - via shimano.PNG

For short commutes some of us, myself included, can cycle in the clothes that we’re going to be wearing for the day. Others might be required to wear a uniform, or clothes that aren’t practical for cycling so if this is you, you could ride to work in casual wear and either take clothes in a backpack or leave workwear at work.

Read more: The best casual cycling commuter wear – check out our buyer’s guide

A great tip is to take a bag of clothes in on Monday morning and then take it home for washing on Friday night. That leaves you with a lighter load for the rest of the week and also helps to ensure that you never forget your work clothes.

We’ve got a great guide to the best casual cycle commuting clothes which you can find by clicking up here but realistically, you’ve probably already got some suitable stuff.

What to keep at work

Regardless of whether you’ll be riding in your work clothes, keeping some spares at work is a great way to ensure that you don’t get caught out.

A spare pair of shoes, some socks and a set of underwear are always handy should you get soaked on a particularly rainy day. After this, bits and pieces to make yourself presentable are always recommended.

A toilet bag with your essentials, some deodorant and a small towel should cover most rides in and can be used in the loo should your place of work not have showers.

If you’re riding at an easy pace then you may not even need this. The more you ride in, the easier it becomes, you might even get a bit quicker as you go.

If you do get a bit hot then a quick tip is to cool down a bit when you get to your destination before changing. You can do this by removing your jacket as you walk from your bike into the office, or catch your breath while you lock up your bike.

Lock it up

Locked bike
Read more: Bike locks: how to choose and use the best lock to protect your bike

Speaking of which, if you’ve got to leave your bike outside then, unfortunately, you’ll need to secure it. A good-quality lock is worth investing in. You can either take it with you, mounting it on your bike frame, or pop it in a rucksack. Alternatively, if you’re leaving your bike in the same spot each day then you may be able to leave the lock at work. It’ll save you lugging it around and give you easy access when you need it.

A quick clean now and again

Like a car, your bike needs a bit of a clean every now and again. You can use normal dish soap for the frame and brakes, but the chain and gears will need something a little stronger. A spray-on degreaser is great as you can spray, scrub then rinse on a Sunday afternoon. Just remember to dry the chain a bit before putting fresh oil on. Doing this every couple of weeks will help to prevent wear though eventually the important bits, like brake pads, tyres and the chain will need replacing. But by then, you should have saved loads on fares and fuel, making the repairs relatively cheap!

Currently, the Government is offering a free £50 voucher to help you get your bike roadworthy. We have all the details about what this covers and how to claim one here.

So there you have eight of our best tips for making getting started with cycle commuting as easy as possible. Where do you go from here? Well, we have loads of commuting advice articles for you to read at your leisure.

Should you want to add power to your commute then an eBike is the way to go, they’re certainly very useful in a hilly area like here in Bath. Our sister site eBikeTips has an article with recommendations on the best eBikes for commuting, including the one I’m riding in the video.

Have a great tip for those looking to start commuting by bike? Leave them in the comments below.

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