Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Sod the tubes get on yer bike...

Have you been um-ing and ah-ing about whether or not to start cycling to work? Well, this week's Tube strike could be the perfect chance for you to strike out on the bike. From 9pm on Tuesday (4th Feb) to the morning of 7th Feb, there are MAJOR disruptions on the Tube lines and although there are still some services running I think it's fair to say getting about by Tube is going to be a pain in the ass. Check TFL's websites for details.

But let's try and look on this as a positive... maybe what looks to be a right royal pain in the ass, could be the kick up the ass that you need to get on your bike! So here's a little bit of advice if you are thinking of joining the burgeoning bike community this week but are not quite sure where to begin...

Get your bike sorted
If you have a bike but it's not had much TLC for a while, dust it off and do a quick A, B, C, D check.

A = air (check wheels are pumped); B = bakes (check they still work); C = chain (check it doesn't make any weird noises when the pedals are turning); D = direction (check the handlebars are straight).

If you don't have a bike, or your bike is beyond repair, give the Boris Bikes a go. Although I prefer to use my own bike when I can, I often use a Boris bike when I am in town. They are easy to ride and so blinkin handy. You don't need to sign up for membership, you can simply put your credit card in the terminal and get a bike released, and if you use the bike for 30 mins or less you don't get charged at all!

Pace yourself
If you've not been in the saddle for a while I would not advise taking on a 10-mile commute into Central London. A good idea is to cycle part of the way. Devise a route where you can start with a gentle ride of a couple of miles and pick up public transport the rest of the way. As someone who lives in Chiswick and works in Shoreditch (and doesn't always fancy a 11-mile commute, taking on the Old Street Roundabout) I've been doing this for years and swear by it.

Plan your route
Make sure you plan your route, don't just set off and hope for the best. Getting lost on your way to work can be really stressful. Have a look at the cycling directions on Google Maps the night before and use your GPS on your phone while en route. Just be sure to use an Incredible Bike Band so you can keep both hands firmly on the handlebars while you're cycling.

If you want to find a bike buddy, someone who does the same route as you, check out I Bike London's "Bike the Strike" campaign. Mark is hooking up ride leaders with newbie cyclists through twitter. A brilliant idea!

Safety first
If you are nervous about cycling on the roads, maybe think about having a lesson. A lot of London boroughs offer free or subsided training. Fill out this form to see what your borough offers (Ealing, Hackney and Lewisham are three I know do). I have done two of these training sessions, one when I very first started cycling in London, and a more advanced session when I started writing my book. Both were invaluable. A few key things to remember are: keep a metre between you and parked cars to avoids getting hit by car doors; do not go on the inside of a bus or HGV; if you feel unsure about a junction or situation, stop at a safe point in the road, get off your bike and push on the pavement. Don't get yourself in a panic. Also swat up on your highway code, especially if you don't drive.

Want more advice?
I spent a lot of last year writing a book to help women overcome the common barriers that cycling presents. The book is called The Girls Bicycle Handbook and comes out on 3rd April 2014. I delve quite deeply into cycle safety and the logistics of cycling to work, along with maintenance and, of course, what to wear on your bike! The book is available to pre-order and I will be featuring snippets of advice from the book on my blog over the next two months. So keep checking in and follow me on Facebook and Twitter for more updates.

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