Since moving the Netherlands I have ramped up my cycle commute and now cycle to work every day.
There are many reasons why I decided to do this and there have been many positive benefits from choosing to cycle to work. Some of those benefits involve lowering travel costs, saving money and my overall health.
There is no doubt in my mind, cycling is one of the most popular forms of alternative commuting and the health benefits of commuting by bike are pretty positive all round. It is also fun and there are significant benefits for the environment, as well.
However, cycling into work can also have its drawbacks with inclement weather, inevitable time constraints, and the occasional technical difficulty making your cycle commute somewhat challenging at times.
Motivating yourself on a daily basis to get up early and head out on the bike can often be tricky, some might say insane, but for me and many others out there it is common daily practice.
Maintaining focus and continually remind yourself why you have chosen to commute to work should always be at the forefront of your mind. Thinking this way is not easy, but it always provides a significant grounding point for you to come back to, each time you encounter days where you don’t feel like riding and perhaps would rather stay in bed.
It is also important to remind yourself of the many health benefits and the positive influences cycling can have on your body. Since I made the decision to cycle to work some 3 years ago, I have lost weight, trimming up and conditioning my body. My cardio has always been good, but it has significantly improved from a regular approach. I am continually active, I eat well and feel happy to fuel my endeavours with a healthy diet and lifestyle.
In addition, to the benefits of cycling and eating well, stress levels are lower and I personally find it the perfect way to help regulate my thoughts and mindset away from the challenge and demands of the workplace.
Establishing a regular routine and getting regular exercise in before a day at work can help you to establish and maintain a clear mind and allow you to focus your brain so that you arrive at work motivated and ready to get on with the job in hand. Not only does it allow for a good start and end to the day, it also gives you a little “me time” time before and after work where you can literally be in your own thoughts, without being distracted by others.
Personally, this is what I look forward to most, the chance to unwind and feel free.
The Environmental impact
Cycling to work is your own unique way of helping to improve the environment. Being one less car on the road and being on your bike-to-work routine is helping the environment and if more people would follow your lead, then the negative impacts of air and noise pollution would greatly be reduced.
As we know, fewer cars on the road means fewer emissions and less wear and tear. Living in the Netherlands certainly makes you realise just how many people do cycle each day. It is incredibly motivating seeing many young and old, outside on their bikes completing the simplest of journeys.
Of course, the cycling infrastructure here is first class and it naturally lends itself to a wonderful environment to cycle in, but in reality there is actually nothing stopping anyone, anywhere in the world from getting on a bike and completing the journey on a bike.
Your choice of gear
I like my gear, just like the next man, but the saying ‘all the gear and no idea’ can be said for any hobby or pastime. Some of the funniest moments I have seen have been when the ‘cyclists’ are beaten by the ‘pretenders’.
With that said and always being a ‘pretender’ and I feel you don’t necessarily need to have the latest and most expensive gear to be a happy and successful cycle commuter. Nevertheless, we all know that extremely poor equipment can be less reliable, a hindrance and ultimately it can lead to a string of problems or challenges.
From my own experience, you do need to have a reliable bike. One that works, is reliable and one that has suitable equipment to help make the ride successful on a daily basis. For example comfy seat, gears that shift up and down, together with brakes that work.
On my commuter bike I have opted for rear panniers, instead of carrying my rucksack. They are needed as I tend to carry a lot back and forth to work. They also significantly reduce weight distribution and they allow me to carry enough equipment in case of a puncture, together with warm and waterproof clothing if the weather changes, which it always does.
I also try to track my routes with the use of my Strava account and my trusty Wahoo Elemnt Bolt.
Always vary your route
One of the significant challenges faced by any commuter is the boredom factor. The fact you are going to be doing something everyday and over a big distance (maybe) can become somewhat tedious to some.
If truth be known I also get bored, after all I am only human and doing the same thing everyday can encourage negative thoughts. As a result, variety is definitely the spice of life and varying your routes will help. As many cycle commuters know, your shortest route is not always the best route.
Luckily, for me the Netherlands has designated and well sign posted cycle paths, which are beautifully designed, maintained and perfect for all types of cyclists. The are safe, segregated from other modes of traffic and a real pleasure to cycle on.
In another context, it is vitally important to find the right route and this can often lead to taking a longer route, in order to avoid a potentially dangerous road, junction or poorly maintained surface.
Aside from ensuring that your safety is of paramount importance, when out on the bike it is also very important that enjoyment is high on the list. A scenic route can make the whole difference between something that is hard work and something that is a lot of fun.
Where possible I always try to vary my route in order to incorporate the scenic spots, make it a little longer on days when the weather is good or shorten it, if I need to get home.
In essence, your commute should be a pleasurable experience and one that you do continually enjoy. It should leave you to want more and more, a chance to enjoy some ‘me’ time and reap the benefits of the effort you put into it.
Planning is essential
Finally, and one of the most important aspect of any cycle commute, is to be well planned. I have often learnt the hard way, but now recognise that planning ahead is the key to success.
Life is unpredictable and the daily commute can also be that way. It might seem like each day rolls into one, but a sudden downpour, puncture or mechanical failure can often ruin your day.
As much as possible, plan ahead, especially using the night before your commute as a crucial time to check over things and have everything prepared.
I have learnt to:
Check the weather and select appropriate clothes. I don’t like feeling cold and I am not partial to getting too wet.
Plan your food, from what you eat before you set off, to what you eat at the end of the ride. I opt for oats accompanying fruit. It is prepared overnight and ready in the fridge.
Drink water, stay hydrated and stave off that lethargic feeling. I always drink a litre of water before I set off and numerous 1 litre bottles throughout the day.
Plan your route around any road or bike path closures and also the weather. The wind can be horrible, it can also be your friend.
Check over the bike, clean it and service it regularly. Don’t always assume it will be ok, it often never is.
My last point is also important and one that many people overlook. Be careful over travel times and don’t underestimate how long it will take you to get up, get started and reach your destination.
My own experience tells me that this is something I have worked at over time and I probably now have it done to a fine art.
Commuting by bike might be that you need to leave a little earlier and your journey might not always take the same amount of time, so be sure to allow for these possibilities or eventualities within your daily commute.
It might sound obvious, but be warned nothing is quite what it seems and it is true that time waits for no man.
Commuting to work by bike is a great way to live your life and for me it has certainly altered a lot of aspects in my life, for the better.
Yes, it is tough and yes it is not for everyone, but it will certainly change the way you look, think and appreciate things a little more.
Not only that, you are also not alone. There are many other inspirational people doing exactly the same as you are and it really motivates you and inspires you to follow the same path.
There are many stories to be told about adventures on a bike, all you need to do is stop saying, start doing, get out there and start writing your own.