Urban Cycling

23 Clever Hacks for a Better Bike Commute

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Cycling is a great way to get to work for so many reasons. Not only can it help you to cut costs as you’re not having to fork out for fuel or spend money on public transport, but it can also save you a lot of time. 

The days of getting stuck in rush hour traffic or waiting for delayed trains are gone and instead you can whizz to work on wheels. On top of this, you’re helping the environment by commuting via an emission free form of transport. 

It’s also great for your body and mind as riding to work will keep you fit, and boost your wellbeing at the start and end of your day. 

Maybe you’ve been commuting by bike for a while so you’re already aware of these benefits, or perhaps you’re about to start cycling to work. Either way, we’ve come up with a handy list of hacks to make your ride to and from work efficient, stylish and fun. 

1. Plan your route

Let’s start at the beginning of your journey. Being confident about which way you’re riding is key to not only arriving on time, but also enjoying your commute. Thankfully there are many free and useful tools to make this task simple and easy. 

The most well known and widely available is Google Maps. With a useful cycling option, once you enter your start and end point it will calculate your route and provide details such as distance and time, as well as alternative choices. 

If you’re looking for a cycling specific platform, Komoot offers more advanced information such as terrain but the free option is limited and you’ll need to sign up.  

The best option is to research your route and then do a practice ride on your day off to get used to commuting by bike and what your journey will be like.  

SOURCE: Canva.com

2. Do a maintenance check 

Before you set off, doing a quick maintenance check of your bike is important to identify any issues and get them sorted before you leave rather than discover them en route. The best way to do this is via an ABCD check as shown in this quick video

Each letter stands for a different part of your bike to check. A stands for Air so to check this you simply give your tyres a squeeze to make sure they feel firm like an apple rather than soft like a banana. This is to establish if you have a puncture, or if your tyre pressure is very low and they need pumping. 

Next up is B which is for brakes. Brakes differ on bikes but the universal test is to roll your bike backwards and press your left brake, and then roll it forward and press your right brake. On both occasions your bike should stop. If not, you’ve got an issue with your brakes. 

C is for chain. Here you’re looking for your chain to be a silver/grey colour and not orange as this means it is rusty and could come off or snap en route. You also want to listen for any unusual sounds so it’s a good idea to lift your bike if you can and rotate the pedals if you’re able to.

Finally D stands for direction. Grip your front wheel between your legs and try to move your handlebars from side to side. This check is to make sure your handlebars are tight and in line with your saddle so you don’t veer off when cycling.   

3. Stay dry

Everyone is keen not to get wet en route to and from work. Being soggy and damp is no fun but luckily there are plenty of hacks to stay dry. 

Firstly, investing in waterproof clothing will act as a good barrier to keep you dry. From ponchos to pannier bags, we’ve written plenty of reviews on the best waterproof gear

The usual priority is jackets and trousers but making sure your feet stay dry is also vital for a pleasant and squelch free work day. At Discerning Cyclist, we’re on top of your toes with this comprehensive breakdown of how to keep your feet dry and this list of the top 7 waterproof shoes.

SOURCE: Pexels.com

4. Carry some snacks

Depending on how long or hilly your commute is, you may find that you’re already peckish when you get to work or that you need a quick boost at the end of the day before you set off. 

Whether you have a preference for flapjacks, bananas or gel pouches, take a couple to work to help you to stay energised and ward off the temptation to eat your lunch at 11am! 

As with many of these hacks, make use of any storage space you have access to at work to top up your snack stash so you’ve got a constant supply on hand. 

5. Take duct tape & cable ties

If you’re not a serial killer, these may seem like an odd addition to your commute but they are a cheap and simple hack for those unexpected emergency problems that could happen. 

Duct tape in particular is an excellent hack as it is durable and waterproof, and cable ties are small and lightweight so easy to carry and store. 

If bits fall off your bike or you forget your lock, having some duct tape and a cable tie on hand will mean you can get to work in one piece, keep your bike secure and then better assess what needs to be done when you have more time and resources. 

6. Have a change of clothes

Even if you’re as prepared as you can be for different kinds of weather, there is still a slim risk that you could get caught out. 

Whether it’s a very sudden and sharp rain shower or a sweatier than anticipated ride, it’s always useful to have one spare change of clothes at your workplace just in case. Just don’t forget to take your wet ones home to dry and to replace your spare set! 

7. Use a wing mirror

This is my favourite hack as I wouldn’t be without my wing mirror. When cycling, it is important to look behind to check for pedestrians, cars and other road users. 

This consists of looking over your shoulder for a few seconds so you can clearly see what is around you. This can be challenging for some people, especially if you’re new to cycling or if you’re feeling a bit wobbly, but having a rearview mirror means it is much easier to do this. It gives you a constant view of what is happening behind you that you can check whenever you need to. 

They are cheap, vary in size and can be easily added to your bike to keep you safe during your commute. I’ve opted for a larger one as for me this is actually a 2 in 1 hack because as well as keeping me safe en route, I also use it to check my hair when I arrive at work!  

IMAGE CREDIT: Lucy Guiliano

8. Be puncture ready 

From broken glass to thorns, unfortunately punctures can happen while riding to work. They can be particularly pesky in causing an unwanted delay. Being prepared for punctures will mean you’re back en route quicker. 

The first step is to source a good quality and ideally also compact puncture repair kit, as well as a hand pump. These can be found online, or at bike shops, and usually consist of tyre levers, chalk/crayon for marking where the puncture is, glue and patches to cover the hole. Personally I also carry glueless patches so I don’t need to faff with glue and wait for it to dry. 

Next you’ll need to familiarise yourself with how to fix a puncture. This brief video runs you through the steps. It is also helpful to practice at home on the bike you use to commute (obviously just pretend you’ve got a puncture!) so you’re not taken by surprise if and when it happens en route.

If you’re not keen on roadside repair, another element of this hack would be to make sure you’re aware of if and where a bike shop is on your route, and to look up back up transport options so you could lock your bike, hop on public transport and deal with it later.  

9. Switch your saddle 

Most bikes come with a standard saddle. This might work for you, or you may find it uncomfortable while you’re riding. 

If the latter is the case, switching your saddle for a bike seat that is more suited to your body shape will make a big difference to your commuting experience.

As an example, I swapped mine out for the below Brooks B67 saddle which means my ride to work is smooth and comfortable. 

Thankfully we’ve explored saddle soreness and what to do about it, as well as compiling the best bike saddles for commuting to guide you through why saddle shapes, sizes and options.

IMAGE CREDIT: Lucy Guiliano

10. Get a pannier rack & bags

Different bags work for different people but a definite hack for a better bike commute is to let your bike do the work for you. 

Pannier racks are a great solution for carrying your packed lunch, laptop and more on your commute. Shifting the weight from your back means you’re more mobile, and less likely to develop those infamous sweat patches.

Maybe your bike is already fitted with a pannier rack or perhaps you’ll need to buy and attach one (you’ll need to check compatibility with your bike). Either way, they are really easy to use by using straps or bungee cords to attach your belongings or pannier bags to stow your stuff.  

11. Wear gloves

When you cycle, your hands are one of the most exposed parts of your body. You may think you only need to wear gloves when it is cold, but they provide protection from the elements all year round.

Personally I’m a big fan of Loffi gloves for my commute as not only are they designed with cyclists in mind, but they also bring a reflective smile to your fellow commuters. They also do summer and winter versions, as well as inner liners so you can adapt your gloves accordingly.

I also have some heated Sealskinz cycling gloves which are probably the best hack for the very cold commuting days as they keep my whole hand warm right down to the tips of my fingers. 

IMAGE CREDIT: Lucy Guiliano

12. Stretch before riding 

You might be in a rush to get out of the house, or keen to get home after a busy day, but stretching before jumping on your bike can help to avoid injury and will make your bike commute easier. 

This is particularly helpful if you have a sedentary job as your body will be grateful for a quick warm up to ease the transition of going from sitting to cycling 

This useful video talks you how to quickly make sure you’re good to go in just five minutes: 

13. Find a good bell

Although it may seem like an obvious hack, a bell is essential for helping you to share space with other road users. Having a bell that can be easily used and heard means you’re keeping yourself and everyone else safe and aware of your presence. 

This is particularly important if your commute is in a busy city where not everyone is paying attention, including dogs! 

A lot of bikes now come with bells but if you find yourself without one then simply saying ‘Passing on your right/left’ or offering some indication of you being there still goes a long way in making your ride to work smooth. 

14. Scope out cycle parking

These hacks focus primarily on preparing for riding, and your commute, but what happens at the end is also important. You’ll need somewhere safe, accessible and secure to store your bike and any kit during the day. 

Many workplaces now have specific cycle stands or storage for this exact purpose so take a look, or ask your HR department if you have one. 

Alternatively there may be local provision you can use in the form of pay as you go secure units like those provided by organisations like SpokeSafe

15. Get a seat cover

We tend to focus on waterproof clothing but you’re in constant contact with your saddle when you ride. If you’ve had to leave your bike outside in the rain all day that means an unfortunately located wet patch awaits you…

Acquiring a cover for your bike seat is invaluable in avoiding this, and also keeping your saddle in tip top condition as repeated exposure to rain can cause damage over time. I got mine for free in a bike goody bag, but you can get some snazzy ones if you’d like to be dry and also colourful. 

To reach peak hack, you could even just use a spare shower cap that you can stow under your saddle for those rainy days. 

16. Carry a spare inner tube

We’ve covered spare clothing, but carrying spare parts for your bike is also a hack to keep you moving. Don’t worry, we’re not suggesting having a second seat post in your office. Instead the number one spare you should carry is an inner tube. 

This is the tube that goes inside your tyre. Following our advice to be puncture prepared, having another inner tube means you can skip the repair process and pop your new tube straight in. 

When you buy them they are usually folded down so are compact and easy to store. You could even keep one at work too. Just make sure you buy the right size for your bike.  

SOURCE: Canva.com

17. Use USB lights

If you’re commuting throughout the year, it is likely you’ll be riding in the dark at some point. Lights are therefore essential to make sure you can see, and be seen. 

There are many different options out there but a handy hack is to go for USB lights. This is because they can be easily charged while you’re at work so you don’t have to worry about dead batteries mid ride. 

They are also much cheaper so if you accidentally misplace or lose them, replacements are not going to break the bank. 

18. Stay hydrated

Just like our advice to have snacks on hand, staying hydrated is also important – particularly if your commute is in warm or strenuous conditions. 

The key with your drink of choice is for it to be accessible on your commute. It won’t be much use stashed deep in a pannier bag or backpack so investing in a bag with a water bottle holder, or a water bottle cage to fix to your bike frame, is a good hack to keep it on hand so you can have a sip at a red traffic light if need be. 

19. Use your gears

Gears are there to help you to cycle efficiently and smoothly. Depending on your type and model of bike, you may or may not have gears. 

If you do, making sure you use your gears will be to your advantage in making your commute easier. 

The first step is therefore to understand more about your gears and how they work. We’ve put together this insightful guide for you to find out more about using your gears. 

Once you’re in the know, the next step is to apply your knowledge. This is particularly relevant if you have a hilly commute so we’re also on hand to help with these three tips on how to cycle uphill.  

SOURCE: Unsplash.com

20. Add mudguards

No-one wants to turn up at work with mud splattered up their back! Even if it hasn’t been raining and you manage to dodge puddles, your tyres will still pick up dirt from the ground. 

Mudguards are a simple and effective way of keeping clean on your commute. They cover your tyres to keep all the gunk away from you. You can go for permanent ones that remain attached to your bike at all times, or clip on options for those like these from the jovially named brand Ass Savers that you can quickly pop on if you know you’ve got a wet commute coming up. 

21. Carry wipes

Sadly on some days even with mudguards and other measures, you may find that sneaky spot of grease or oil on your trousers.

Having wipes either on you when you ride, or at work, will help you to immediately have a go at removing any stains or at least stop them from setting in until you can properly address them when you’re back at home.

We went into more depth about what kind of wipes work best, and also how to get bike oil and grease out your clothes, in this article

22. Find your go to lock

Keeping your bike secure while you’re at work is key for your peace of mind. Even if your workplace has specific cycle parking, unless you’re able to keep your bike within eyeshot you’ll need to lock it.

Although there are some light locks on the market, the most secure options tend to be heavier and are not always ideal for carrying on your commute.

A hack to make sure your bike is still secure is to invest in a couple of locks. Allocate one as your chosen lock for work and then leave it there so you don’t have to ferry it back and forth on your ride.

23. Be Visible

We mentioned the importance of using lights so you can see and be seen, but it is also useful to be visible at all times of day. 

The best way to achieve this is to wear clothing and accessories that are reflective. Fear not as this doesn’t mean you need to sacrifice style for a hi vis vest! 

In fact, many brands combine style with visibility. We’ve put together the best urban cycling clothing brands for you to check out. 

A subtle addition alongside clothing is reflective bands which you can use on your lower legs or arms to increase visibility. Mine are attached via velcro and even have built-in lights! 

IMAGE CREDIT: Lucy Guiliano

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