Tips for replacing a car trip with a bike

Congratulations! I’m thrilled that you’ve decided to try riding a bicycle once a week. It might be because it’s a new year and you’ve resolved to get a little fitter. Or you’re in a new stage in your life and you want to try something different. Whatever your motivation, choosing a bike rather than a car for that commute to work, the shops, child care or whatever you need to do, it will make a difference. It will make a difference to your mood and wellbeing, and it will make a difference to how your see your neighbourhood. Because you will be moving outside at around 20 km/h, you’re going to hear, see, smell, and feel more things than when you’re moving at 60, or 80, or whatever speed you normally drive. 

If you make it a habit, it will also make a difference to your purse/wallet. You will be saving money by paying less for dinosaur juice that your car will burn, and by paying less for a spot to store said car while it recovers from burning that dinosaur juice. Ssssh, sleepy car.

Bicycle route signage in Canberra, Jan 2022

Preparation matters

This section is for anyone who has not already ridden to their workplace/shops/child care centre etc. I recommend you scope the route via online maps – but expect Google Maps will suggest you ride in traffic. Please don’t. Can you ride the route on a weekend? That way, you’ll be less stressed on the day you ride because you’ll be slightly more familiar with the route. Understand there will be more traffic on a weekday.
If your city/town has bike paths, use those as much as possible, or footpaths, rather than the laughable sparkly painted lines on roads. Yes, drivers may still hit you on a footpath as they’re leaving/entering a property, but they will be moving slower than when they’re beside you on a road. Your chances of survival are far higher if that driver’s doing 30km/h than if they’re doing 60 km/h.

The C1 bicycle route through Lyneham, ACT.

Where will you secure your bike once you reach the destination? If you don’t have a cage or store room, try to lock it as close to the entrance of your destination as possible. Take two locks. Lock both to your frame and wheels, and something fixed, like this

Bike repair station at Kambri, Australian National University, Canberra.

If you’re riding to work, can you shower there, or nearby? How will you get your clothes to work? If you drive on a Monday, for example, take Tuesday’s clothes along so they aren’t creased in your bag. Take a towel, toiletries, and a pair of old rubber thongs if you have them – some showers may not have been used or cleaned in a while. You may need to clean it yourself. It will be worth it, because you’ll feel refreshed before you start work.

Carrying stuff

If your bicycle has a rear rack for panniers, or a basket, use it. It’s far more pleasant to have wind circulating freely around your back than if you’re wearing a backpack. Of course, if you’re shopping and have neither panniers nor basket, you’ll need your backpack. (Maybe you’ll like riding so much that you’ll get a cargo bike if you can afford it).

My Christiania Model 2 cargo bike, a long john type, after shopping at the Belconnen Fresh Markets.

My Rover cape by Cleverhood, and unisex over pants from Decathlon. The overpants also cover my shoes.

Wear comfortable clothes and shoes. Wear gloves in the colder months.

But what if rain is forecast? Prepare for it, and embrace it. I ride in the rain with this Cleverhood rover cape, introduced to it thanks to the excellent War on Cars podcast, and these unisex overpants from Decathlon. In warmer months, I’ll use the Cleverhood and wear polyester boardshorts and sandals.
If you don’t want a cape, try a rain jacket that has plenty of side openings or vents under the arms. Like this

I’ve also learned the hard way that you should take a spare change of underwear and socks, and leave them at work.

Take a drink bottle, sunglasses, and sunscreen. If it’s the northern hemisphere as you read this in January, you’ll need lights, too. A small pump and patch repair kit is a bonus, especially if your route lacks a bicycle repair station or bike shop.

Bicycle repair sign in Lyneham, ACT, Jan 2022.

To recap: Take small steps. This is not a race. This is a chance to better understand your neighbourhood, to use all your senses during a trip, and to get exercise without noticing you’re getting exercise.

I am keen to know how you feel at the end of a trip. Let me know in the comments, or tweet me @parislord

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