I always like to say that I don’t “train”, I just “ride”, and a vast majority of my riding is commuting to and from work. While it is hardly the controlled environment for working to a fully prepared training plan, you are carrying a backpack, and dealing with traffic, it can work. Of course it depends what sort of rider you are. As an endurance mountain biker, it works for me, as a criterium racer, not quite so much. I have put together a list of the advantages, and disadvantages of regular cycle commuting, based on my experience as a 5 day a week commuter and with a full commute distance of 28K for 3 of the last 4 years.
Some of the advantages of cycle commuting:
- It saves me money – I figure I save at least $30 a day on fuel, running costs, parking (which I get to spend on fun cycling stuff).
- It saves me time – My 1 hour ride takes me a minimum of 45 minutes and a lot more in traffic, so it only “costs” me a maximum of 30 minutes to get in 2hrs of riding each day.
- It’s good for the environment and economy – Cycling is much more efficient than driving. A recent study found the economy benefits by more than $21 for every cyclist that rides 20 minutes to work and back.
- It’s good for the mind and body – The ride home is a good chance to clear the mind from the day just gone, and its how I stay fit and keep my body used to spending time on a bike.
- No timetable – I’ve never missed my bike, or had my bike not show up, and my commute time is regular, give or take ten minutes.
Of course there are some things that are not ideal:
- Less recovery time – Riding twice a day gives you less time for recovery between rides, and 5 days of long commutes can really tire you. You have to listen to your body. Cruise, shorten the commute or even catch the bus if you feel fatigued. Stretching and rollers also help enormously.
- No specificity – Unless you are really disciplined, it is very hard to work on a training plan. ie no sprinting(unless you count trying to make that green light), no intervals (unless you count the bit between red lights), and usually no climbing.
- Dealing with traffic – As a cyclist, you probably already adept at dealing with impatient/ignorant drivers, but it does helps to have a thick skin. It might take a while to refine your route, but you can usually find a way that has minimal traffic or more bike friendly roads.
I realise that cycle commuting will not work for everyone. If you need your car for work, or are regularly taking work home, it is difficult.
Some other tips to make commuting easier:
- You need to be organised and/or creative – Many commuters have a regular day that they take their clean laundry to work for the week. If I want to ride without a backpack on a day, I take my food and clothes the day before. Some days I drive partway because I need my car after work to drop off or pick up my children before or after school.
- End of Trip Facilities – Obviously having good end of trip facilities makes a massive difference to how easy or difficult it is to regularly commute. In a Queensland summer, a shower is a minimum, a locker and somewhere safe to store your bike also make things much easier.
- Having the right gear – The adage “there is no such thing as bad riding weather, just bad riding gear” applies to commuting as much as any other type of riding. So having the right clothing, backpack and lights are essential, but not more than most cyclist already own.
- Alternate Route – Many cycling paths are along waterways that can get flooded in the wet season. This is particularly difficult if you managed to get to work in the morning, but can’t get home in the evening, so have an alternative worked out.
- Work out a schedule – It is easier to be a regular commuter than say once a month, so try to work out a schedule that allows commuting more regularly.
I also often hear the excuse that my commute is too short for it to be worthwhile, but I always argue, that it is easier to make your commute longer than to make it shorter. In an ideal world, I would have a short commute and do a long “training” ride in the morning, and only have a short ride back in the evening. My commute is not short, but this is essentially what I have been doing for the last couple of weeks with an eye on entering the 53rd running of the Grafton to Inverell Cycle Classic. The fantastic weather of late has allowed me to “take the long way” to work a couple of times a week.
For me, taking the long way to work usually involves some climbing to Mt Nebo. Either the shorter but much steeper PEI Rd to Mt Glorious, or the longer route through the Gap. My “program” is to alternate a day of regular commuting with a day that includes a longer ride. This will be my first Grafton to Inverell, and at over 220km it will be my longest road race (I have done MTB races longer), but I am still very apprehensive about racing this kind of distance, with a one hour climb at the 80k mark. I expect that calibre of riders at this event will be extremely high, and many of them will have a lot more experience at this type of race, and in particular this race, so I expect this to be quite a learning experience. With a week to go, I will definitely be riding a bit less this week, but try to keep some intensity so my body doesn’t forget how to hurt. Wish me luck.