Thinking Of Cycling To Work?

Here at CAMWEST, some of us have been cycling to work for a long time and have experienced the good and bad things about daily riding. If you intend to ride to work on a ‘four seasons’ basis then you will need more than a bike and a helmet. Here is a list of things we think you will need.

A good puncture repair kit
If you get a flat on the way to work you need to be able to change it quickly and confidently. Tyre spoons if your tyres need them, a spare tube of the correct size, and a good pump. Practice at home with the equipment you intend to carry. This will show you if you have all you need to change a tube for real on the way to work. [A suggestion from Nick — buy a large tube of glue, or check your small tube regularly to ensure that it hasn’t dried out.]
Another spare tube
Nothing worse than getting another flat on the way home on the same stretch of glass covered pathway as the morning flat tyre. Ever had a double flat coming home from work? I have! Often glass is in the same area week after week; learn where these spots are and find ways around them if possible.
At least two spare tubes at home
If you’re working 9 to 5 and riding an hour each way that’s 8 AM–6 PM taken care of, so getting more tubes or repairing old ones is a weekend job, so you’ll need enough tubes at home to get you through a full week.
Headlight and tail light
You won’t be legal, or safe, after sunset without lights, even on a cycle path. Most big department stores carry a range of inexpensive lights, or the bike shops have the good ones. If the headlight is battery powered you will need rechargeable batteries and a charger. The best lights come with these as part of the package and this can be cost effective. Keep an eye on the advertised sunset times so you know when you will need your lights and when you won’t. The generator type lights can be convenient as you just turn them on whenever you need them, but they draw a bit of power from your legs.
Water bottle
You wouldn’t do a weekend ride without water, don’t ride to work without a decent one, and have a drink when you get there and before you leave. On one memorable hot day I refilled by water bottle 6 times on an 8 km trip. It was 45 degrees!
Back pack or large luggage rack
This is not a picnic, so you’ll need to carry all the gear you’ll need during the day. This probably includes a packed lunch, mobile phone, bike accessories like pump and lights, rain jacket, shorts and other sundry items, as well as anything you might bring home from work. I find a decent medium sized comfortable backpack with a waterproof section an absolute necessity when commuting year round. [Note from Nick — I find it easier to let the bike carry the weight, and have a single pannier bag, with lots of plastic bags to protect my clothes in the rain.]
Cold, wet and dark?  You need
the right gear.Rain Jacket
If you plan to ride year round then sooner or later the sky will drench you. As with lights, you can choose a department store type that might be useful in other pursuits, or a bike shop variety made specifically for cycling. Don’t skimp on this item, there’s nothing worse than arriving at work looking and feeling like a drowned cat. Have the jacket hanging in the wardrobe waiting to go. If you wake up and it’s raining you need to have a clothing plan already in place. Don’t be a fair weather rider either. If you have the right gear arranged beforehand there’s no reason why you can’t happily ride in the rain. [Nick — I find it more comfortable to be cool in a summer shower than roasted in the heat!]
Rain shorts
When it rains there are two tactics: keep your back side dry, or let it get wet. Keeping it dry will require expensive waterproof bike knicks, or you can choose board shorts and just let them get wet. If you choose this option, remember to pack a small towel, dry undies and socks in a water proof bag in your back pack. In the summer I usually choose the ‘let it get wet’ option. Once I spotted a rider in a summer storm riding in board shorts and helmet, nothing else!
Warm long pants
In winter it can get cold, as well as dark and wet. During May, June and July it’s much more comfortable riding in something warm and cosy. Again choose from the department store, or go to the bike clothing. Of course you get what you pay for, but the trick is to have pants that are set aside as your winter long option.
At 7 AM in winter, cruising at 20 kph to work, it’s cold, very cold, and you need every piece of skin covered, including your face. The locals in my area are no longer afraid of the masked man that glides past on icy mornings in June.
Clothing plan
Not many employers will let you wear your riding clothes at work. Maybe you are that lucky, but most aren’t. I usually carry clean clothes in my backpack each day, and leave my business shoes under the desk. Though I don’t have a locker, my employer does have a change room so I don’t have to get changed in the toilets. You’ll need to work out with your employer where you can get changed and store your gear.
Bike storage and site access
You will need to work out beforehand where you and your employer agree that you can store your bike during the day. If you work in an industrial site your employer might put limits on how you can access this area, such as not riding in areas used by heavy vehicles or forklifts.
Plan and learn your route
Nothing worse than being late for work because you got lost. Bike routes can vary significantly from the equivalent car routes, and you don’t have a street directory on the seat beside you. Work out exactly how you plan to get there, and even test it out on the weekend before you commit to the ride to work. Once you’ve done it for a week your brain will remember it forever.
Not negotiable. Enough said.
You won’t survive the winter without a warm set of gloves. The experts also suggest light gloves year round to protect your hands from the elements. I have 3 different sets of gloves and choose depending on the temperature. Sometimes in those ‘shoulder’ seasons I carry gloves of different thermal range with me.
Sunglasses for the summer of course, but also consider clear glasses or goggles for eye protection when the sun isn’t shining. I’m lucky, I need my glasses to see anyway, but if you’re eyesight’s fine, think about keeping it that way. A lump of road grit in your eye at 20 kph is not good fun.
Bright coloured shirt
If you want to be safe then you need to be seen. Get something really bright like a high visibility day glow orange or yellow shirt to wear. Even on a bike path you will usually have to make road crossings and if you make an error of judgement a motorist can possibly avoid an accident if they can see you easily and quickly.

With proper planning and the right gear and equipment there is no reason why you can’t safely and enjoyably ride to and from work 5 days a week, 52 weeks of the year, regardless of the weather conditions. I have commuted in weather varying from a 45 degree heatwave to a winter rain storm and freezing point temperatures. I know people that ride to night shifts at 2 AM. You are limited only by your own lack of perseverance and organisation.

— Mark Robson
10 November 2006

A note from Nick Urbanik — I have just started commuting between Granville and my new job at Chatswood, along the Parramatta Valley Cycleway, and I love it! I am getting fit, strong and healthy, and at work I feel like I can do anything! I'll write a little about my experiences soon.