Aaaaand I'm off....
I recently announced that I was going to start braving the traffic and cycle to work!! After now experiencing life as a helmet wearing commuter, the overall verdict is....I think I'm hooked! Don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t all been smooth cycling; there have been some mishaps along the way and elements of the experience that haven’t been quite as enjoyable. However, it's definitely done the trick of allowing me to fit exercise into my daily routine despite being super busy at work...and man have I been busy!!!
Pedal to the metal.....
So this is it!! My first journey to work on my bike!
My plan was to leave home early so I would have a nice quiet journey on my first day. Navigating was going to be difficult enough without also having to tackle tons of pedestrians and traffic! To be honest, navigating is not my strong point and, although I had a general idea of my route, I wasn’t entirely sure of it and definitely hadn’t committed it to memory. So I thought an earlier start would give me some leeway should I get totally lost along the way!
Unfortunately, despite reading online more than once that it’s best to get everything ready to go the night before your first cycle, I hadn’t been quite as organised as I’d planned, courtesy of a late night the day before and a subsequent hectic day at work. As a result, I had a mad rush trying to get all of my stuff together in the morning. All the faffing meant I finally set off later than I wanted to. I could already see there were a lot more people out and about than there would otherwise have been if I'd actually been organised as planned. Oh well!!
As I said, I was a little bit clueless about my route. I'd been super eager to start cycling to work (admittedly, it also happened to conveniently be the same time as my monthly season ticket for the tube expired!) so how to find my way there hadn't really crossed my mind. I hadn't purchased any sort of phone holder for the bike so that I could then use a map to guide me. "Ah well" I thought, positively/stupidly. I’d ridden a substantial part of the route with friends a few weeks back just for fun and thought I’d be fine. And I was….for the most part!
I got all togged up ready to leave. The weather was kind to me this morning - what more could I have asked for?! The majority of my ride is along a stretch of water so, if we're dishing out points, already for me this method of commuting was miles ahead of the smelly tube! However, parts of the journey are extremely narrow and there are a few precarious bridges to head under, so I had some hair raising moments along the way. It was also sooooooo frustrating when, despite ringing my bell until it could take no more, people just wouldn’t move out of the way! Consequently I'm not sure how much exercise I was actually getting, as there were a lot of stops and starts- it was slow going! I made a note to myself to research a less narrow, quieter route to try out next time.
As fully expected, I’d tried but failed to commit the route to memory, got utterly lost and as a result I added a bunch of time to my journey. Not quite what I'd envisaged from all of this!
Amateur tip one (although it's probably pretty obvious really when I think about it!)- don’t ride on the roads unless you either know exactly where you’re headed or alternatively you have some sort of map to hand throughout. As I didn’t fall into either category, I had to keep stopping, take my phone out of my bag, look at the map, try to commit it to memory (and fail by the way!), put my phone back in my bag and then get back on my way. Not only was it frustrating and added too much time to my journey, it was also probably pretty unsafe as I wasn't fully concentrating on what was going on around me.
Despite the extreme lack of sense of direction, you'll be pleased to know that I made it to the office in one piece! Ta-dah!!
I was busier at work than I've been for a few weeks, so that day I had to work a bit later, which actually panned out quite well as it meant the roads were that little bit quieter. If you do choose to start cycling, I would definitely recommend doing this for the first few journeys, It really helped and it's probably best that you avoid trying to find your way whilst simultaneously trying to deal with the road hazards at the height of rush hour!
I picked a slightly different route on my way home and came a cropper again with the lack of navigational equipment. Turns out writing directions in biro on the back of your arm doesn’t work!! Who knew?! My 40 minute journey ended up taking me 1 hour 15 minutes! Eek! A positive though is that, had my journey on the tube been delayed by the same amount of time, I would have been grouchy and irritable. Not so on the bike- I felt much more upbeat! I was just enjoying the ride and the fresh air. As a consequence I was also just getting even more exercise, which could never be a bad thing!!
First day done. Survived. Phew!!
Push, push, push…..
For my second day cycling (after a day’s break to ease achy legs and tight shoulders) the weather stayed kind to me. I could get used to this!! However, I'd had so many court deadlines to deal with and what with also starting cycling (obviously a shock to the body) I was already utterly knackered and stiff when I set out again.
Being more familiar with the general route into work did help, as it meant I could kick back and enjoy the ride a bit more. I also experimented with the route slightly, meaning it was quicker and quieter, and I avoided one of the only really busy roads I have to tackle. Amateur tip two - if you do decide to cycle, I’d recommend experimenting with the route you take, even if the first one you take seems okay. I still hadn’t found the perfect one at this stage but I soon would and I'd enjoy it even more once I did!
There were a couple of hair raising moments on my second day. Amateur tip 3- I know I sound a bit like Captain Safety when I say this but honestly make sure to research how to actually set up and maintain your bike before you head off. My tyre pressure was far too high so I was literally skating on ice with the bike and nearly skidded off it about three times into the water....which would've been a fab start to this new venture wouldn't it!!
Come rain or shine….
Reality hit on the third day. This was the real test of whether I was going to stick to this or not. As I was finishing up in the office after a looooong day, it absolutely chucked it down outside!! But I knew this cycling to work malarkey couldn’t all just be smooth sailing, so I had to brave it (although part of me did think about getting the tube and just ditching my bike at the office!).
Luckily I’d brought my rain coat with me! It turned out that really didn’t matter in this rain though, as I ended up looking like a drowned rat anyway (see pic). It honestly felt like the sky had purposely been saving this rain for a big crescendo, just in time for this week! The rain was so heavy that it was literally just dripping down my face into my eyes. I could feel it running down my back, not to mention everywhere else (and I mean everywhere...), and I was absolutely soaked. Nice! At least it happened on the way home I suppose!!
I’m sure I was just vibing off the endorphins that came from my first week of doing this commute but cycling in the rain was actually quite invigorating and refreshing, to a point. Plus, the warm shower I had when I got home was the.best.shower.ever!!! Verdict = not deterred in the slightest! In your face rain!
Route to work, tick!.....
By the end of the week I'd dabbled with various routes to and from work and I think I've now found the perfect one that I can do in about 30 minutes. It does involve the roads but, despite my previous apprehension, it's actually not too bad using the roads in London. There are so many cyclists and cycle lanes so that the traffic is much less intimidating than you would think. Also, there's almost a satisfying sense of camaraderie among the cyclists (well, most of them) which is nice to be a part of.
First week done. Survived.
What I’ve learnt so far…
So, what have I learnt so far from my experience cycling to work? Well, I've picked up the following pearls of wisdom:
1. Always have something to guide you, at least at first. Don’t rely on your memory or directions written on the back of your hand (unless maybe you have a photographic memory)....Trust me it just won’t work!!
2. Set up your bike properly. I'm sure there are loads of useful guides on Youtube that can help you out. If you know of or find any useful ones, give me a shout!
3. It might just be me because I tend to get issues with my shoulders and neck anyway (thanks to the desk job) but it's worth expecting your shoulders and neck to be tight tight tight after the first couple of days. I think it's the fact it was all new to me and at times slightly hair-raising that meant I was tensing my shoulders whilst riding. Whatever happens and whichever muscles feel sore or tight at first, I’d recommend stretching out after each day and maybe also using a foam roller or something similar if you have anything. Or, if it sounds more appealing (which I'm sure it will), you could always treat yourself to a massage or a nice bath!!
4. Invest in a good rain mac. See pic above....nuff said.
5. Push. Put your gears up high. Work that booty. Otherwise it'll defeat the object of this potentially being your only exercise for the day.
6. You’re likely to be so hungry all.the.time during that first week, particularly if you're also doing any other exercise. Get some healthy snacks to give you fuel for what you’re about to put your body through, if you follow tip 5 that is!
7. Get more sleep. You’ll need it.....again, unless you're not following tip 5!!
8. The fresh air and getting your blood pumping in the morning is awesome!
My first week of doing this commute has actually been a perfect week to try it out. Work has been very demanding, what with a few different cases I've been dealing with having court hearings and trials that I've had to prepare for. As a result, I've had no time to stop and breathe; I've been heading into the office early and leaving later and I've definitely had no time to do any exercise in the mornings or evenings before or after work. As you may know if you read my previous blog post, the purpose of cycling to work for me was to fit exercise into my day without having to find the time to do it outside/between my usual commute and my time in the office. Well, I certainly haven't had the time to do that lately but, as hoped, the cycling has meant that I've still been keeping fit!
If you have the opportunity to cycle I would highly recommend it! If you don’t have the opportunity to cycle, think of another form of exercise you could incorporate into your commute. It really does feel good knowing that some of my exercise is being taken care of during the time I would otherwise be sat on a train. As somebody who is time poor, if I don't have time to go to a class or do a workout, at least I now know that I'm getting some regular exercise every day without really having to think about it. Plus, bonus, cycling has allowed me to cut my commute down by about 15 minutes, giving me some more precious time to use morning and night. Who can say no to all of that!!
Let me know if you have any other tips for me that you’ve picked up whilst cycling, or let me know about any other ways you’ve discovered to commute to work or fit exercise into your busy day. I’d be really interested to hear from you!!