What’s your excuse not to cycle to work?

I once thought about cycling to work, this would have been sometime around 2009 and before my heart attack, I was living close to Heathrow airport and working in Central London approximately 20 – 25 miles away.

The thought occurred to me on one of my morning commutes – a short drive of about 2 miles to Hatton Cross tube station, park the car, jump on the Piccadilly line tube to Hammersmith, walk to the Hammersmith and City Line (just enough time for a Starbucks Double Tall Latte and cigarette) for another tube ride into Central London (going home was the reverse including yet another visit to Starbucks) – the thought lasted the time it took me to park the car and walk into the tube station. It consisted of the following points:

  1. I live too far away, so it isn’t really an option, what are you thinking
  2. The roads in London are far too busy and dangerous to cycle on
  3. I’ll get all hot and sweaty, there’s no showers at work
  4. Not enough time, I’ll be late.
  5. It’s cold this morning, imagine cycling in this…

Thought dismissed as completely impracticable, although with hindsight they aren’t valid reasons not to cycle to work and are just excuses, the lot of them…..

Fast forward five years, post heart attack, it’s now 2014 and I’m still working in Central London once or twice a week, but now I’m living 120 miles away in Worcestershire. By this time I had been cycling for three years, fully addicted to it and looking at increasing my time in the saddle. Then I got an email at work saying that the company had signed up to the Cycle To Work Scheme, the website had a big banner with “Save up to 42% on a new bike!” emblazoned across it.  It’s wasn’t long before that lost thought from 2009 resurfaced, You could cycle to work? After all you always need a new bike – except this time I really did live too far away.

As a cyclist and recovered heart patient, I took the time to find the solutions to all of the excuses on my list and started cycling to work.  If I can find a solution living 120 miles away from my place of work, I’m sure you can to.  You don’t need to be cycling in everyday of the week, twice a week will bring the health benefits – try it you might actually enjoy it and end up a regular commuting cyclist.

Life’s too short for regrets and if onlys, but if I did make a list of them dismissing that cycle to work thought in 2009 would certainly be towards the top – just take a minute to think about the health benefits 30 to 45 minutes of cycling a day would have made to my fitness and health, would I have had a heart attack at the age of 38?

As the saying goes – “Where there’s a will there’s a way” – if you really want to do something you will find the time and the means to do it.

Solutions to the Excuses: – 

1 – I live too far away?

Having moved to the Midlands my journey to work was slightly different now, but it still consisted of a short drive to a train station and tube journey across London.

Cycling the entire distance was obviously completely impracticable and out of the question, but I could ride to and from the stations removing the car and tube from my journey.

That was distance resolved, although it presented another problem with bikes on the train. My normal train would only take a few bikes and it was generally full each day, I ran the risk of getting to the station and not being able to get the bike in the carriage.  I had seen other commuters carrying folding bikes onto the train and their small sixteen inch wheels are a regular sight on the streets of London.   I’ve always been fascinated by the Brompton bicycle, especially watching other commuters folding them in seconds from a full bike to small neat square package.

Decision made I got myself a Brompton on the cycle to work scheme.

Folded Brompton
My Folded Brompton Bicycle

I can already hear the excuses starting – “That’s fine for you, I don’t travel by train to work, I have to drive in” – Well, I’ve thought about this one too and have a solution.  In fact, I even used it myself for six months.  The trains into London were getting expensive, I found it much cheaper (and surprisingly quicker somedays) to drive into London, park outside the congestion zone and cycle the last 3 miles to the office.  Admittedly the Brompton does make it easier to get a bike into the boot of a car.

If you are serious about wanting to cycle to work (you’ve read this far, so I take it you are) look at your current journey, could you park 3 to 5 miles away from work and cycle the last little bit?  As you get stronger and fitter you can start parking further away and cycle more of it, you might even end up cycling the entire distance.  You will also find that you start saving money, the further out of town you go the cheaper the parking charges will be and you will also be using less fuel.

2. City roads are too busy to cycle on.  

Once you take the plunge you’ll find it’s not that much different than anywhere else you ride, but the key is to find the quieter roads, cycle paths and lanes.

Take Oxford Street as an example, it’s packed with buses, taxi’s, pedestrians and set after set of traffic lights.  It was the most direct for me so I’ve cycled it many times and it’s certainly doable, although you do need your wits about you.  If you take the roads that run parallel to it, you will find there’s much less traffic making it so much easier. As you can see from the two Strava rides below, the quieter roads extended my commute by less than a quarter of a mile and just over a minute.

Oxford Street - 3 miles 19 minutes
Oxford Street – 3.2 miles in 19 minutes 28 seconds
Side Roads - 3 miles 21 minutes
Side Roads Parallel to Oxford Street  – 3.4 miles in 21 minutes 37 seconds

If you don’t know the area that well, take a look at a map from Ordnance Survey, check the route on a day off to make sure it’s suitable – you don’t want to find yourself cycling down a muddy bridleway on your way to work, coming home is a different story!

OS Shop

3. I’ll get all hot and sweaty, there’s no showers at work

The key here is to cycle at a slower pace, after all you are commuting to work and not racing for that PB (Personal Best) or KOM (King Of the Mountain) on a Strava segment.  Easing off the pace will still increase your heart rate and be beneficial to your health, you just don’t build up a sweat.  Take advantage of the time, it’s less stressful than driving and gives you time to clear your thoughts before you get to work, take the time and enjoy the ride.

Plan your week in advance, carry a change of clothes with you or perhaps drive to work on Monday with your clothes for the week, cycle Tuesday to Thursday and then drive back in on the Friday to collect your kit.  If you do carry your clothes try to avoid a rucksack on your back and opt for a bike that can carry your bag for you. Doing so stops you getting hot and sweaty behind the rucksack.

You could also try products such as Muc-Off’s Dry Shower that you can use to freshen up when you get to work if you can’t get a shower, you’ll smell of coconut for the day, but that is preferable to the alternative.

Speak to your colleagues and employer, if you can sell the benefits of cycling to work you might be able to convince them to install a shower. If they have signed up to a Cycle to Work scheme they probably already know the benefits a cycling workforce will bring them and may have already thought of adding showers. They might just need someone to show them there’s an actual need for them to do it.

4. Not enough time – I’ll be late

In my case, this just wasn’t an issue.  It was actually quicker for me to cycle the 3 miles through Central London than to take public transport.

One afternoon a colleague said that he could get from the office in Holborn to London Waterloo train station before me by taking the bus.  Unfortunately it was a day that I didn’t have my bike with me, not a problem I said I’ll use a Boris Bike instead (a public hire scheme for bikes in London introduced by the Mayor Boris Johnson). I was a member of the scheme and had my access token with me – challenge accepted! We both left the office by the main entrance at exactly the same time, he headed off in the direction of the 521 bus whilst I walked to the nearest Boris Bike dock in a road behind the office.

I didn’t do anything differently from normal and seven and a half minutes later I was docking my bike at Waterloo and texting my colleague to say I’ve arrived – I quickly got a text back saying that he was just about to cross the Thames and that he couldn’t believe I was already at the station. An easy win for me and the bike.

Office to Waterloo on a Boris Bike
Office to Waterloo on a Boris Bike

You will find taking the quieter side roads and cycle paths will avoid most of the rush hour traffic, if you do come across queuing traffic you can normally easily pass it on a bike anyway.

Having said that, you may find that it does take a little longer by bike, if it does the easy answer to this is to get up earlier!  You will better for it in the long run.

5. It’s cold this morning, imagine cycling in this… 

I’ve cycled in almost every type of weather there is, snow, rain, hail, sun, wind and even -3 degrees celsius at 3am in the morning on an overnight 100 mile charity cycle ride.  I can say with confidence that there’s no such thing as the wrong type of weather, just the wrong type of clothing.

Cycling in the Rain
Absolutely soaked to the skin, but loving it! – (Sportive Photo Ltd)

Investing in various types of clothing is money well spent.  The real tip is to wear layers, get a decent baselayer that will keep you warm and then add layers depending on what the weather is doing that day, such as a waterproof jacket if it’s raining.

A cycling adage springs to mind – dress for the ride and not the car park – by that I mean think about what the weather is going to be like once you’ve warmed up and into the ride itself, wrapping up at the start might make you far too hot later on.

I now love riding in the colder weather, it’s amazing how soon you warm up once you start exercising.  If you’re still cold, you’re not pedalling hard enough!

Now let me ask that first question again,  What’s your excuse not to cycle to work?   Tell me in the comments below or on Twitter and I’ll find a solution to it for you!

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REVIEW: – Orfos Flares Bike Lights

Orfos Flares are some of the brightest bike lights I’ve owned, if you want to be visible whilst riding in the dark these are the lights for you.

They are made up of half watt Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) encased in a clear reflective fully waterproof housing providing 360 degrees visibility.  It has a single press button that controls the three functions (On/Off, Mode Selection and Brightness).

Orfos Flares - 360 Degrees Visibility
Orfos Flares – 360 Degrees Visibility

Specifications: –

  • Modes – Solid, Pulse, Flash and Strobe
  • Size – 73.5mm x 23.5mm x 28.5mm
  • Lumens* – Red 500 / White 300
  • Rechargeable – Yes, via Micro USB (cable supplied)
  • Battery Life – 24 hours on LOW / 90 Minutes on FULL
  • Mounting System – Magnet and Cable Ties
  • Weight** – Red 86g / White 81g / Magnet (mount) 107g
  • Waterproof – Yes 100%
  • Price – $119 each or $229 for a pair with 4 mounts

I initially saw these flares on KickStarter and immediately backed the project, my pair of flares were some of the first to arrive in Europe in March 2015, so I’ve been using them for the last six months now.

Orfos Flare
Orfos Flare

The mounting system is simple and fuss free, it’s essentially an extremely strong magnet attached to the bike with three cable ties.  This system means there’s no more fumbling with clips and brackets to release the lights especially in gloved hands and is brilliant for transferring the lights between bikes.

Orfos Flare attached to Seatpost
Magnetic mounting system.

For steel frames there is no need to use the cable ties, I’ve found this to be extremely useful on my Brompton, the entire mount is removable so it does not impede the folding process like most other mounting systems.

Mounting on a steel frame without the cable ties
Mounting on a Brompton (steel frame) without the cable ties

They need to be mounted vertically as this ensures the best magnetic holding strength, in the horizontal position the mounts are very susceptible to impact shocks and the flare can easily become detached.  When mounted vertically this will not be an issue for you, I’ve fitted them to my mountain bike and rode a few local trails with jumps and they didn’t move at all.

However, it does restrict where you can mount the flares.  The manual does not specify a preferred mounting position, although with the vertical mounting requirement the only real feasible position for the front flare is the head tube. Like most bikes my head tube isn’t perpendicular to the ground and leans back at an angle of 74 degrees.  This results in the flare being angled up too much and even on the low setting I’ve had several cars flash me, this means they can definitely see me but I am probably dazzling them.

There needs to be some way of dipping the beam as without it I’m reluctant to ride dazzling on coming traffic.  My current solution is to use a cheap bar extender rotated through ninety degrees, I don’t like the look of it but it works.  I’m thinking of gluing a Go Pro mount to the top of the magnet so that I can attach it to a K-Edge handle bar mount instead.  I’ll post a follow-up if I do this!  It would be good if Orfos could look into some form of official bar mount as an optional accessory.

IMG_3859

The single button makes them very easy to use, the first press turns them on, subsequent quick presses cycle through the modes (Solid, Pulse, Flash and Strobe) pressing for half a second cycles through the brightness settings (Low, Medium and High) and to turn off you press and hold for three seconds.

Although, a disadvantage of this single button process is that I have found that I often end up changing modes by accident when trying to lower the brightness settings, which can be a little frustrating at times as you have to cycle through them to get back to the mode you want.

Recharging is as simple as connecting the supplied Micro USB cable to any powered USB port, making it remarkably easy to charge, no need for separate chargers. Just ninety minutes can give you a whole day of light on the low setting.  When the battery needs recharging the flare will switch to low power mode, this is a slow flash on the lowest brightest setting and will give you thirty minutes of light before switching off.

The white front flare gives off enough illumination that it can easily light up a small room, as seen in the picture below of my kitchen, the only light source is the Flare magnetically attached to the metal cooker hood.  Whilst I haven’t been camping since a child I can see that this would make an excellent tent light or for other activities such as fell walking where an all round light is required.  The magnetic mounting system also means that you can easily attach it to fabric by putting the magnet one side and the flare the other.

Kitchen Illuminated only by the Orfos Flare on full
Kitchen Illuminated only by the Orfos Flare on full

Overall they are an exceptional set of lights, they are expensive but worth it, especially when you think of the all round visibility they give you (please do take a look at the two videos above to see the lights in action).   I deliberately took the photos and videos from the side to show the level of visibility, how many other lights have you seen that can do that?

I am extremely happy with them and would recommend them every time.

Hopefully this review has made you think about your lighting needs now that the nights (in the UK at least) are getting longer. Please be safe and be seen.

Orfos flares are available direct from the manufacturers website

* Lumen – is the SI unit of measurement for the brightness of luminous flux (light) which is roughly equivalent to the amount of light/strength of a single candle flame.

** Weight – Figures stated are my measurements, manufacture website states 90g

UPDATE – 16th October 2015

I made the new mount for the front flare by joining a go pro tripod adapter to the top of the supplied Orfos magnet with cable ties and Sugru to make a secure and durable connection.  It withstands vibrations whilst out on the road and is strong enough that you can still pull the flare off the magnet.  Total cost of the mount about £4 in parts and 30 minutes to put to together.

Sugru / Go Pro Mount
Sugru / Go Pro Mount

UPDATE 2nd March 2016

Following up on a comment from Rob, the video below shows the rear flare on pulse in the daylight.  It is difficult to get an accurate representation of the light during the day as the camera exposure settings make the flare look dimmer than it actually is.

To further help gauge the brightest of the flare during the day, the video below is a selection of common rear lights (all with new batteries) from left to right Cateye TL-LD130/150, Camden Gear XML T-6, Orfos Flare, Lezyne Femto and Cateye TL-LD260