10 things I have learnt so far after 1000 miles of commuting.

Yesterday evening on my regular cycle home from the station the cumulative total of miles cycled since I began 6 months ago ticked past the 1000th mile. In honour of this small milestone I thought I would note down 10 things I have learnt in the last 1000 miles.
1. Cycling is really enjoyable First and foremost the first thing I have learnt in the last 6 months is that cycling for me is really enjoyable and a great way to keep fit. I have a relatively busy schedule and finding time for exercise has always been a struggle. With most of my cycling taking place as part of my commute it has become integrated into my day. I also loathe running or jogging, it feels like it is destroying my knees, so being able to cycle makes keeping fit no longer a chore.

2. Learn to love hills. Okay so maybe love hills is a little strong but appreciate or enjoy is a start. The very first time I took my bike out on a trial run to see if the commute was feasible I nearly threw up when I got to the top of a particularly drawn out incline that is near the end of what is now my shortest commute route. I cycle around Hampshire in the south of England and whilst it is not a mountainous area by any stretch of the imagination it isn’t flat. So I have learned to enjoy or appreciate the hills along my route. One day I will try some proper hills.

3. I like cycling on clear, cold days My favourite rides so far have been on those clear sunny cold early mornings. These are the days which clear the mind and invigorate the soul. Even though I wear headphones I don’t normally have music switched on ( they are keeping my ear lobes warm), and those clear mornings are normally the ones where I have the clearest thoughts and work through solutions to the days challenges. By contrast, windy days are hard work and with the wind and the rain conspire against one then those rides are a bit of a slog!

4. Motorists generally give cyclists the room they need but there are a few too many exceptions. I generally ride in the early part of the morning commuting period between 6.30 and 7.30am and during the latter part of the evening rush hour after 7pm. During these periods I generally find that drivers are aware of and give me sufficient space on the road. As the road gets busier though it does become more noticeable that road users fight for every inch of space. In those rare occasions when I have cycled right in the middle of rush hour the experience is a lot more unpleasant. The instances of being cut up or brushed past are a lot more frequent as drivers try to “nip” past me. I wrote on here a few weeks back about a particular driver who didn’t seem to be particularly vigilant towards cyclists. I have been riding earlier in the day more recently but I encountered him again yesterday morning, so there are always exceptions that prove the rule.

20140313-174005.jpg5. You can never have enough lights. and I add to that reflective gear. My route takes me along unlit country A and B roads and into the lit streets of Winchester city centre. One of the first items I bought for the commute was a pair of half decent bright lights.  There are a plethora of decent,reasonably priced lighting sets on the market today and I opted for the Lezyne Macro/Micro pair as they offered decent levels of brightness to illuminate the road and me, in addition the USB charging was attractive and useful for me.   Over the last few months though I have added a couple of smaller rear flashing lights from CatsEye and an Aldi special which use CR2032 coin batteries. I also added a high vis slap strap to my helmet and extra reflective strips on my panniers.  So as vehicles approach me now on the dark roads they are confronted with an array of flashing rear lights and reflective strips.  Next step is probably a head/helmet front light to actually light up what I am looking at.

6. Tight clothing is worn for a reason. In conjunction with item 9 on this list, billowing jackets or trousers just don’t work on a bike.  As I mentioned in item 2, the hardest rides are when it is windy and clothing that catches the wind and creates drag makes a marked difference.  At the beginning of the winter I brought an Aldi special high visibility waterproof.  I purposely bought cheap to try and understand what I needed before I invested in more expensive waterproofs.  I made the mistake of buying a size to large, thinking that I would have layers on underneath during the cold winter months.  The reality has been somewhat different.  Most of the winter (granted it has been fairly mild {and wet}) I have needed a thin baselayer and a winter cycling top.  Anything more and I overheat.  Investing in a decent thin high wicking baselayer is worth it in the long run.  I have merino wool baselayers from icebreaker that I use for hiking and transfer well to cycling.  (haven’t had to use the trousers). The other early discovery I made (with help from LBS) was padded shorts, what a difference they made to the comfort of the ride. Enough said there.   I haven’t made the transition to full cycling bib/shorts, not sure the world is ready for me in head to toe lycra (especially as I have to travel on the train and walk through the station at either end of my journey) but the Endura HumVee shorts are excellent for preserving modesty and also tight enough to not billow in the wind.  I am thinking of trying them out as hiking shorts in the summer as they are so practical.

7. Cycling shoes with cleats make a huge difference and I mean a huge difference.  Changing the pedals to clip in on my hybrid bike and the addition of cleated cycling shoes helped me take up to 4 minutes off my shortest 9 mile commute in the early days of commuting.  I now complete that route about 9-10 minutes quicker than I did when I first attempted that trial ride back in August last year.  Obviously 1000 miles on I am fitter and more experienced but by far the largest single improvement in time came when I changed the pedals and shoes.

8. Cycling can be a very technical sport. The last point about shoes and pedals illustrates this next point that I have learnt.  Cycling can be a very technical sport, from the various types of cycling, road, cyclocross, MTB, Sportives, etc. to the science of nutrition & bike design.  At every level there are technical choices that can be made and this appeals to the inner geek in me. As a complete newbie to the sport, I have made changes along the way to improve my cycling experience.  These changes include altering my position on my bike, raising the saddle, inflating the tyres to higher pressures reducing rolling resistance, changing clothing, adding apps, sensors and the opportunities .  I have been using  the Strava mobile app for tracking mileage, route, heart rate and progress against the routes I regularly use.  With all of this I have not even scratched the surface in terms of all the possibilities.

9. I haven’t found waterproofs yet which don’t make me feel like boil in the bag rice! Despite what I have mentioned in the previous paragraphs I have yet to find specifically a waterproof jacket that doesn’t end up wetter on the inside of the jacket than the outside on a wet day.  I have even tried my old GoreTex walking jacket but that falls foul of item 6 being too loose and billowing in the wind.  So the search will keep going as I step up from commuting jackets to something a little more technical.

10. I want another bike for the summer months!  I currently use a hybrid bike which I bought a few years ago for family bike rides and general use and I really enjoy it.  It is extremely comfortable to ride and not too heavy on the road.  It is great for touring with the addition of the panniers I have and these have been particularly useful for carrying around my laptop bag, basic tools, spare inner tube and change of clothes when I have needed too.  Over time I have reduced down the amount of equipment I am carrying to such a point where I can shed the panniers and use just a small rucksack and change to a road bike for finer days and quicker journeys.

If you are a cyclist and use Strava you can follow me through this link


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