How to start cycling to work

What if I told you there was a magic pill that would make you healthier physically and mentally as well as saving you money. By taking it, you’ll also be saving the planet and if you’re a Socialist, help the NHS. It could also get you to work quicker.

If you could, would you buy that pill?

That pill can be cycling to work.

Do you see a cyclist whizz past you as you sit in your car in a traffic jam? Have you been waiting at a pedestrian cross on your way to the train and seen a cyclist with a glint in their eye as you contemplate standing with your face in someone armpit on the delayed 07:32 to Waterloo?

You can change that!

Your first thought about cycling to work is probably “That’s not me. Better just to stick with the train”.

The first challenge is to believe that it’s possible. You only need a small amount of kit to try it.

The second challenge is to actually give it a go. Get some stuff together and off you go. So what do you need?

The Bike

Cannondale Bike

You don’t need to invest straight off the bat. Is there a bike at home? Maybe your kid’s mountain bike they left when they went to University. Can you borrow one? There the bike owner’s equation N + 1. N = your current number of bicycles. +1 = the number of bikes you need to have a happy fulfilled life. Therefore, most cyclists have more than one bike. They are also very precious about them but it can do no harm in asking if you can borrow a friend’s for a trial. They’re always willing to bring another one into the flock.

If you think this idea is a go’er, buy a second-hand bike. I sold my previous bike for £100 on Gumtree, to a guy who was new to London and wanted to save on train fares. There are plenty of bikes on Gumtree (Craigslist), but please be aware there can be stolen bikes for sale. If you’re going to buy a bike and equipment check out the Bike to Work Scheme. It’s a tax-free benefit through your employer. You pay nothing upfront and the payments are taken tax efficiently from your salary.

Check the condition of any bike before you ride it, particularly the tyres that can degrade and brakes that are important. If you’re unsure of anything, google it, there are ample numbers of YouTube videos on bike maintenance. An independent bike shop will also help you out.

If you live in London, Glasgow, Cambridge, Manchester or Brighton or one of the other 20 towns and cities in the UK that have bike share schemes, why not try it out to give cycling to work a go.

San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Dallas, Chicago, Chattanooga, Washington DC or some place called New York also have bike share schemes.

Other important gear

A quality helmet is essential, as are a good set of lights if you’re riding in the dark.

Your hands can get cold quickly so gloves are indispensable. You probably have a usable pair kicking around to start out with.

A small amount of maintenance kit is needed – a spare inner tube, a set of tyres levers, and a small pump will be needed for your bag.

A rucksack/backpack to carry all your stuff including your super healthy lunch.

To keep your bike safe, a lock is vital.

The rest of what you wear can be made up from stuff you already have, before you take the leap to lycra.

Your work set-up

To make it easier, getting your set up at work is crucial. So you don’t have to carry it every day or risk the chance of forgetting it, you need a stash of gear at work. Below is a list to get you started or thinking-

  • Leave your shoes at work
  • Emergency pants and socks
  • A change of clothes (work shirts etc)
  • Towel
  • Shower gel
  • Deodorant
  • Moisturiser
  • Extra spare inner tube
  • Hairbrush
  • Makeup
  • Wet wipes and dry shampoo (if no showers)

I have previously written a more detailed post about what you need to start cycling.

Doing it

Take some time to think about your route. Go and take a look at it. Test it out. Take it slow on your first day and give yourself plenty of time. Try the Cyclestreets app  which gives you different routing modes (faster or quieter). There are also plenty of other apps that will map your commute.

In London, you can order free printed guides showing cycle routes

I used to commute between Teddington and Epsom (10 miles) in South West London. If you drive the route, it’s A roads all the way and lots of dual carriageways. Once I tried it, I found that I was only on the A road for a couple of hundred metres and just had to cross the A road twice. There was even a bike route through a tricky roundabout shown below.

Tolworth Roundabout Cyclepath
Tolworth Roundabout Cyclepath

Go your own way

You can go any speed you like. Some go fast, some take their time. I tend to flit between the two depending on my energy levels. Don’t be intimidated by moron drivers or cyclists. If anyone one says anything about road tax, tell ’em to stick it.

Road tax has not existed since 1937. What is known as “Road Tax” is actually Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) and is linked the vehicle emissions. This is a tax on cars/emissions, not roads. The money from it goes to the central treasury and does not directly pay for road improvements. You’re probably also a driver, so pay VED and I guess, pay your regular taxes too, which actually pay for roads.

There’s no doubt there will be some level of trepidation, but once you’re happy with your route you’ll gain some confidence, your anticipation will improve with experience as will your speed as you get stronger and fitter.

Sometimes it’s a bit windy and sometimes it rains, but not as often as you think. I won’t kid you, headwinds suck and rain is not so pleasant, but you feel a bit of a badass and my god it makes the sunny days all the more amazing.


There’s plenty of life advice telling you to “Do what you love”.  A lot of the time this is impractical and therefore not the best advice. However, cycling is one of the times the advice rings true.

Raleigh Strika XL bike
Raleigh Strika XL bike

One birthday, I got a Raleigh Strika XL. I’m not sure what age I was, maybe 6. It had a speedo and milometer on it. By the time the day was through, I‘d done 26 miles on that bike. I wasn’t allowed off my road with was luckily a loop. I estimate the loop is 800m. That means I went around the block 52 times.

I was a skinny kid but ate like a horse. I never stopped moving. It wasn’t exercising. It was playing. The two things can be very similar.

Money, health and sunny days

Cycling to work is not convenient for everyone. Starting a commute of over 20 miles each way is going to be pushing it. Your perception can change though. I didn’t think cycling to work was convenient when I lived in Birmingham and had a commute of 4 miles. My bus pass was £12 a week and it all worked very nicely. I moved to London and my train journey cost around £6.50 a day. The new 10-mile commute on the bike suddenly didn’t seem so far. I got a bike on the Bike to Work scheme which paid for itself in less than 20 weeks.

A recent study analysing data from 250,000 people over 5 years showed that those who cycled to and from work had a 45% lower risk of developing cancer and a 46% lower risk of heart disease, compared to a non-active commute. Overall, the study found that commuters who cycled were associated with a 41% lower risk of premature death. There’s your magic pill!

There’s not much arguing with those figures. If someone offered you that pill, you’d give it some serious consideration. Cycling to work is not as simple as taking a pill. There’s some up-front cost that can be kept down when you’re starting out. There’s some messing around with carrying 2 sets of clothes around and showering at work. But, as with many things in life, you just have to take the plunge, give it a try and see if it takes.

Think about the sunny days, the endorphins, being in control, no trains, no traffic jams, better health, saving the planet, sleeping better and just looking really cool on your bike!

My post about the other benefits of cycling to work can be found here.

Happy Riding!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *