How To: Commute like a champ

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Ella columnist Verita Stewart fell in love with cycling when she started to commute to work three years ago. And like many before her, Verita’s love for cycling quickly took on a life as its own. Although Verita now races at the top level of the sport in Australia, she continues the daily commute that inspired it all. We could think of no better person to share her top ten tips for commuting.

When I moved to Melbourne just over three years ago I vowed to never drive my car again. I didn’t need to. I moved to central Melbourne, close to everything that I needed (apart from maybe the Apple store) including public transport, restaurants, supermarkets and bike shops. I soon discovered that I could ride to work quicker than taking public transport. And that was that. I bought an old steel frame road bike and officially joined the (Strava) commuter cup.

I was hooked on cycling. Before I knew it, I had joined Hawthorn Cycling Club and started to ride my bike on the weekend as well.

It wasn’t long before I made the decision to sell my car. This was followed by the old steel frame road bike being upgraded to an alloy Crux cyclocross bike. I was now a fully-fledged commuter.

I now ride to work, rain, hail or shine – avoiding public transport as much as possible. Not only did selling my car align with my personal environmental values, but it saved me over $3000 a year in running costs, along with my sanity (because who wants to sit in traffic for hours each day anyway).

I learnt quite quickly that to be an all condition super-commuter, you have to plan your trips and have the right gear. Otherwise it is as fun as being stuck in Punt Road peak hour traffic. Riding through Melbourne some days resembles one of the spring classic races – rain, wind, cobbles, potholes and obstacles. It is important to be prepared.

Here are my top 10 tips for commuting like a champ:

1. Plan the week ahead. Some people prefer to carry a day’s worth of clothing but I prefer to take a week’s worth at once. This means I only have to take a bag once a week. I use Mondays to carry the majority of my clothing and food for the week and take home the previous week’s clothing. By doing this I can go straight to work from training, without the need to take a bag on my training rides.

2. Dress well and be prepared for all conditions. You can commute in anything you want to, lycra, jeans, gym clothes. But a good rain and/or wind jacket is a must have, along with gloves, waterproof shoe covers, and arm and leg warmers. Dressing in layers is also a good idea. I often end up warmer than expected and strip layers off as I go.

3. Backpack or panniers? You will need something to carry your gear in, so make the decision whether you want to carry it on your back or put it in a pannier. Both options have pros and cons, but at the end of the day it is up to you. I choose to take a backpack.

4. Be seen. Having a good set of bright lights is key to commuting well. It allows you to be seen by others and for you to see where you are going. Wear colours to suit the occasion. If you are commuting in the dark, wear lighter colours to maximise your ability to be seen. Although not always the most fashionable, hi-vis clothing is an option. Believe it or not, there actually are some cool choices out there.

5. Protect your pants. There’s nothing worse than arriving at work with a wet butt, especially if you are commuting in jeans. Having mud guards fitted to your bike will prevent the awkward wet butt syndrome. My bike doesn’t allow for permanent guards, so I use an Ass saver. They’re a cool little removable fender, and I carry one around in my backpack just in case I get caught drinking piña coladas in the rain.

6. Be heard. Traditionally not the coolest of accessories, a bell is essential for the daily commuter. Remember to give a friendly ding to people you are passing or to alert pedestrians of your presence.

7. Avoid mechanicals. Make sure that you carry all your spares and all tools that are relevant for your bike. There is nothing more annoying than reaching into your spares kit to change a flat, to find you forgot to replace your spare tube after the last repair. Also, remember to service your bike regularly. This will decrease the likelihood of mechanicals on the road, and will also alert you when you need new tyres or break pads – which I find wear out relatively quickly.

8. Plan your route. Take some time to plan your route. There are some cool ways of getting around your city safely, using bike paths and lanes. I always check the “google maps” bike route function before I head out on a new route.

9. Lock it up. Invest in a good, sturdy lock and use it. It may be annoying to carry around, but not as annoying as having your bike stolen. Remember to park your bike in a visible, light area and preferably somewhere with a high volume of pedestrian traffic.

10. Play nice. The commuter cup can be tough at times, but remember to be polite to your fellow commuters. A friendly hello on passing does not go astray. Also, road rules are there for a reason. Follow them.

My final tip is to have a spare set of clothing at work for days where you just get caught out. There is nothing more awkward that having a meeting with your boss when you left your underwear at home!

Be confident and predictable out on the road, and enjoy the freedom that commuting by bike provides.

Your turn: Where do you commute? What are your tips and tricks for commuting like a champ? Let us know in the comments below.

About the author

The tagline to Verita Stewart’s personal blog reads: “Not a professional cyclist, yet” and it’s the “yet” that’s most telling. Verita is a Melbourne-based cyclist riding for Specialized Securitor. New to the sport, she’s quickly made the jump from commuting to recreational riding to racing.

She now juggles full-time work with full-time NRS racing and hopes to make the leap to the big-leagues sometime soon. Verita is full of stories and smiles and snark – and will bring all three to you on Ella. Follow Verita on twitter and instagram and strava.

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