On cycle commuting, working from home, and mental health

During Mental Health Awareness Week 2020 I wrote a piece for online cycling magazine notinthepeloton:

https://www.notinthepeloton.com/post/cycle-commute-v-wfh

Starting them young

To make the most of the COVID-19 lock down, I decided it would be a good idea to teach my son how to ride his bike without stabiliser wheels. The community hall car park is locked and empty, so makes the perfect practice area.

After initially trying to keep him focused on where he is going by himself, I soon realised that his urge to be destructive could be used for the greater good here… I told him to use his bike to crush the cones, which worked like magic. He was so busy thinking about crushing cones, he forget to think about cycling. This way, he rode for close to an hour with minimal support and had great fun.

It took a few attempts, but it looks like he’s now got it. Time to buy him a new bike… #ProudDadMoment

Some observations after cycle commuting for the past year

In March 2019 I started commuting to work by bicycle regularly, building up slowly from once a week to now 4-5 days a week. During the past 12 months and riding about 2000 km, I have learned and observed a number of things which I feel are worth sharing. I have listed them below in no particular order.

My commuting/club riding/all purpose bike. 2019 Giant Contend 1. Lovely bike, very comfortable.
  1. Not all motorists are dangerous lunatics out to kill cyclists
    Contrary to what seems to the the prevailing opinion among those who commute by bicycle, I found that on the whole, most drivers are fairly considerate and realise cyclists are vulnerable road users. I have had many an occasion where cars stopped to let me enter onto a main road, or where they stayed behind me patiently until they could overtake safely. These drivers will always get a thank you from me. Ofcourse, there are the few rotten apples who think they are more important than anyone else (not just cyclists) and have cut be off or performed a dangerous overtake. One of them lost an expensive wing mirror because of this as they did not leave me an escape route after cutting across me… it was crashing into the curb or into the mirror, I chose the latter.
  2. Rain is annoying, but not for the reason you think
    Having cycled through the winter, I have dealt with a fair share of rain. Although riding on a nice sunny day is always better, rain is really not that bad if you dress accordingly: a good waterproof jacket, and a change of clothes at work/at home make it very manageable. The one thing that is very annoying though is visibility. As someone who needs glasses on a daily basis, I have learned that rain drops on glasses in the dark are very annoying. They prevent you from seeing what is ahead, and any headlight coming towards you will effectively blind you for a few seconds. If anyone knows of a good solution please do let me know.
  3. Winter is hard on bikes, very hard
    I have had to up my maintenance game significantly during the November – January period. The combination of wet weather, crud on roads, gritting salt and oily lubricants are incredibly tough on any moving parts. Both front and rear wheel hubs have had to have a full service after 6 months from new, and a full drivetrain deep clean is a weekly affair instead of a monthly one during the summer. Additionally, caliper brakes require a weekly decrudding as everything sticks to them. On the plus side, I have gotten a lot quicker at doing the weekly maintenance, and used it as an excuse to buy a decent set of bike tools.
Maintenance is a key skill if you want to save some money… and is also best taught early!
  1. Clothing is key, and layering is the secret
    During colder months, it is tempting to go for thick jackets and warm jerseys. However, I found that during my 45-50 min on the bike I get quite sweaty, so using multiple thinner layers is more effective. As a side-note, I have found that cycling clothing can be quite expensive, but that there are really good value items from cheaper brands that do very well too. My favourite brand for clothing at the moment is Triban (a mid-range Decathlon brand), which I find does really good value for money jerseys, jackets and tights. Slightly more expensive is DHB, which is still fairly good value for money. Cycling kit doesn’t need to be expensive, but I feel that paying a bit extra for a good quality jacket and scrimping a bit on a jersey works better than the other way around.
  2. Cycling improves both physical and mental health
    I have noticed that when I cycle to work, I arrive less stressed, and when I cycle home from work, I am more relaxed when I get home. More importantly, my family have noticed too, which encourages me even more to jump on the bike when the weather is less than ideal. My mental health has seem improvements since I started cycling, probably because riding for 2 hours a day gives me time to unwind, and I don’t have the luxury to be distracted by work-related thoughts when riding. Physically I feel fitter, although I have a few minor bike related niggles that started playing up. However, these should be easily solved by having a look at my position on the bike, so I will be looking for a professional bike fit over the next few weeks. It is not cheap, but as I spend 8-10 hours each week in the saddle, I think it is important that I am comfortable…

There are ofcourse other lessens learned, such as “falling off hurts, even at slow speeds”, but the above were some of the more regular thoughts I have had about my cycling commute. My 2020 goal is to complete the Cycling Weekly 5000 mile challenge, and to complete my first 100 km ride over the summer, hopefully commuting by bike will help me achieve these goals. Anyway, enough ramblings for now. Thanks for reading, and watch out for the next post.