The joy of commuting

Tips for long rides to the office

I've renewed my on-off love affair with bike commuting in the last couple of weeks.

My commute is about 30km each way, so it's not a trivial undertaking. I've always liked a long commute though. If you can get organised, it's the easiest way to build a big chunk of bike riding into your life, at a time when you'd be travelling to and from work anyway. And for many people bike commuting is quicker than any other way of getting from home to work.

Over the years I've discovered a few ways to make a long commute easier to include in your life, and learnt some handy traffic skills.

Choose your route carefully. Major roads are quick, but all that traffic thundering past you gets soul-destroying after a while. On the other hand, meandering through back streets can feel like you are getting nowhere fast. The constant junctions (the most hazardous road features for cyclist) could mean you're at greater risk than on a stretch of A road. I mix medium-sized arterial roads with back streets and one of Sydney's few non-awful bike paths. If you're interested, you can see my route on Bikely.

Get organised with clothes. I use public transport once a week to bring in a week's supply of clean clothes and take home dirty ones. I am lucky that I don't have to wear a suit and freshly pressed shirts but if I did, I'd throw them at a local laundry. Bike commuting would no longer save me money, but I'd still be getting my fix.

Fast is safe. The most common situation in which cyclists and motor vehicles come into conflict is when a rider joins the roadway unexpectedly. The riders who I see popping on and off kerbs are, it has to be said, usually slow-moving folks on mountain bikes who are trying to keep moving and keep out of the way of the traffic. But they'd actually be safer if they were in the traffic stream and moving with it.

Trust nobody, but be trustworthy. If you behave like traffic - ride on the road, obey lights, signal clearly and generally behave predictably - you substantially reduce your risk of an accident. At the same time, you have to ride as if everyone else on the road is about to do something dumb, and be ready to get the hell out of the way when they do. That means, for example, not assuming that a signaling car will actually make the signaled manoeuvre until you see its wheels turning.

Avoid the door zone. Stay far enough from parked cars that you will not hit an unexpectedly opened door at 25km/h. That means taking and using what Cycling Plus & BikeRadar writer Richard Peace calls the 'primary position', in the middle of the lane. That's where you should be anyway, if practicable, but it's even more essential on roads full of parked cars. (Check out the links on the right to more of Richard's urban riding wisdom.)

Relax and enjoy. It's easy to get caught up in the urban drama of commuting and to forget that one of the reasons you do it is because it's an excuse to ride bike. And you enjoy riding your bike, right?

Staying relaxed is also a good way to stay out of trouble. I used to work with a guy who seemed to be constantly looking for reasons to get angry when he rode. He got into altercations with motorists on a weekly basis. Over the same distance I had hassles far less frequently.

Now, I'm not saying I'm a paragon of calm and reasonableness because if I claimed that, the laughter of my friends and colleagues would cause the Earth to wobble on its axis. But I kerb my hot-headedness on the bike because there's no pointing getting into conflict with someone in a steel box. You're out-gunned. Ride away and ride another day.

Finally, try not to be too smug. There's a certain satisfaction that comes with bike commuting. I've clocked up almost 500km of riding in the last couple of weeks, just getting to work and back. I am trying very hard not to a self-satisfied git about it, but I'm failing. I'm getting fitter, losing weight, saving money and riding my bike. What's not to feel pleased about?

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