Tips for Commuting by Bike

Cycling Oxford

Commuting by bike can be great way to get to work- beat the traffic jam, save money, get some free exercise and contribute to better air quality. The hardest thing is often starting, but once, you’ve got used to cycling to work, you won’t want to go back. These are tips for commuting, I have learnt from the past 10 years.

Practise Basic Manoeuvres.

Cycling Oxford
Looking over shoulder to move into outside lane.

There are certain manoeuvres which are important for defensive cycling. One important move is the ability to look over your right shoulder before turning right. If you can do moves like this you will have more confidence and be a better cyclist.

Give Yourself Space

Don’t forget cyclists have a right to be on the road. Don’t feel obliged to cycle in the gutter right by the edge. If you cycle a couple of feet from edge of road, you are actually more visible to motorists. It also gives you more room for manoeuvre, e.g. overtaking parked cars. Sometimes cars will just have to wait a few seconds to overtake you. (give cyclists room)

Anticipate Bad Driving

Never expect other road users to do what they are supposed to, you will soon be frustrated. Be careful at junctions and roundabouts where motorists may fail to signal or see cyclists. Also be wary of motorists signalling left when you are turning right. Motorists may have forgotten to turn off their signal and not actually turn left.

  • Cycling requires common sense, and the ability to predict possible dangers.

Avoid Dangerous Manoeuvres

Cycling Oxford

Don’t try to squeeze through here!

One of the most dangerous manoeuvres is squeezing along the inside of a heavy goods vehicle. This is quite a common cause of serious accidents as you can easily be invisible to the driver. When they turn left they can drag a cyclist underneath. See: Cycle Safety

  • You always have to be careful when cycling on the inside of cars. For example, a car may stop to allow another car to turn right. The cars may easily forget or be unaware a cyclist could be coming on the inside lane.

Puncture Proof Tyres. One of the best investments for a commuting bike is to buy puncture resistant tyres, I like using Armadillo tyres. They are not completely puncture proof. But, since I have ridden them in the past three years, the number of punctures has dramatically fallen. The tyres also last for a long time.

Choose Your Route Carefully.

Cycle Paths
A good cycle path makes cycling much more enjoyable.

The best route by car, may not be the best by bike. Choose a route you will enjoy cycling even if it involves a longer detour around busy road junctions. For example, I often take a more scenic way to cycle to town. It might take an extra few minutes, but is much more pleasant and less stressful.

Be Visible.

Cycling Oxford

You don’t have to wear fluorescent jackets and look like a ‘real’ cyclist. But when it is dark and dim, they do stand out and make you more visible than otherwise. At night it is essential to have good lights (not just small feeble lights covered by your coat. Many motorists have difficulty seeing cyclists. Of course, they should pay more attention, but we only have control over what we do. In dim conditions, it pays to be highly visible.

Plan Ahead

If you leave yourself an extra five minutes to cycle to work, it means you don’t feel pressured to cycle through red lights / on pavement. It also means you can take it just a little easier up hills so when you arrive at work, you are not all hot and sweaty.

Avoid Over Confidence

There is an important balance between confidence and over-confidence. It is good to be confident to cycle in the road where you are supposed to. It is dangerous to become over-confident and risk manoeuvres which are potentially dangerous.

Cooling Off

If you commute along way, you may well want a shower at the end of the ride. But, what can you do if your workplace has no intention of offering shower facilities?
Have layers to take off. Unless it is very hot, you can cycle to work in a T-shirt and get changed at work. Allow a little extra time, so you don’t have to do an interval session up the hill. If you take it easy and take off clothes when you get hot and have a quick wash on arrival. And, you can’t beat a bit of deodorant. Well, no one has said anything to me in ten years….

Be Considerate to Other Road Users

Quite a few people on our roads have tremendous impatience. However, you will not enjoy commuting if you ride impatiently and inconsiderately. Always ride in a considerate way. A little patience will make cycling more enjoyable. Don’t ride on pavements. If I use shared cycle paths, I tend to go much slower than usual as old ladies can easily get frightened by cyclists. (To be honest, I try to avoid shared cycle paths, except for short distances)

Dealing With Road Rage

It is the nature of cycling on roads that you will have ‘unfortunate’ experiences with bad drivers. Often it is those drivers who do the wrong thing that will end up shouting at you – as if it is your fault for having the audacity to be on the road at all. Don’t get mad, don’t feel guilty. Just concentrate on doing the right thing and enjoying your ride. There is a saying that if you refuse a ‘gift’ it remains with the person giving. So when people try to give me their rage, I just refuse it and let them suffer the consequences of their own anger and frustration. But, I don’t want to go there so I don’t get embroiled. – How To Deal with Road Rage

Make Yourself Known

On some occasions, I will shout at drivers, this is usually when they are using a mobile phone, not looking where they are going and driving straight towards me. (this is very rare) but, don’t have any inhibitions to shout and wake them up!

Panniers / Basket

It is not pleasant to cycle with a heavy rucksack. It also makes it difficult to look over your shoulder. If you get a good basket and / or panniers you will be able to carry your shopping and increase the usefulness of your bike.

Don’t Worry

Cycling is perceived as a dangerous activity. However, in practice it is less dangerous than people may fear. The slight chance of being involved in serious injury, should be set against the health benefits of moderate exercise.

Enjoy It!

Cycling can be difficult, bad driving, cold weather e.t.c. But, it can also be good fun. Driving into city centres at peak times stuck in traffic jams is pretty joyless; cycling gives you greater freedom. see: How to enjoy cycling

Best Commuting Bike

If you think how much you save on petrol, rail fares, parking charges, you should feel happy to buy a good quality bike. Even a budget of £300-£400 gives you the chance to get a good commuting bike. There are really quite a few choices, for long distance commute, I would definitely veer towards more racing type bikes. For shorter distances, you have a greater choice and could choose some of the vintage 1 or 3 speed classic bikes.

Commuting in the Rain

Rain isn’t the end of commuting. With the right wet weather gear, you can still cycle without too much inconvenience. It just takes an extra few minutes to put on all the waterproof trousers and jackets. Cycling Rain Gear



10 Responses to Tips for Commuting by Bike

  1. Andy Corkill August 17, 2012 at 2:47 pm #

    Liked your blog, totally agree with most of it. I commute 9 miles every day and the only addition I have made is a whistle on my messenger bag. I only put it into my mouth for the busy sections of road through town, but it gets through to cars and lorry’s!

    Check out my commuting “stuff” on

  2. Giles P September 16, 2011 at 9:15 am #

    Good sensible advice to give people confidence to commute safely. Dave Cherling makes a fundamental and vital comment, I have found likewise.

  3. Dave Cherling August 22, 2010 at 9:11 pm #

    Don’t forget “Never assume other road users know what they’re doing”. Thats saved my life a few times.

  4. BillG March 26, 2009 at 4:34 pm #

    Great site and plenty of good tips.

    I would recommend a couple of cycling lessons for anyone returning to cycling.

    As regards Dudley’s comment, a helmet will not protect you from a collision involving a car or an HGV.

    The majority of EU standard helmets are designed to withstand an impact of 12-15 KM p/hour involving no third party.

    If you look at helmet manufacturers websites you will read a lot about ventilation, weight and comfort but very little about the amount of protection they offer.

    The American SNEL rating offers a better level of protection but they will still not protect you from a 3rd party incident.

    Wear a helmet if you choose to, but make it an educated choice.

  5. Dudley January 27, 2009 at 5:18 pm #

    it is outrageous to suggest that you shouldn’t wear a helmet ‘if you dont want to’

    how asinine a comment.

    Granted, you do not need to get all spandex-ed up, but to suggest the helmet is an optional accessory, and it shouldn’t be worn due to embarrassment is ridiculous in the extreme!

    This on the same page that talks about getting inside HGV’s and cars forgetting where you are.

  6. magicroundabout October 11, 2008 at 9:24 am #

    Good tips! And well done for encouraging folk to cycle safely and legally.

    I’d recommend reading John Franklin’s book, Cyclecraft. An excellent guide to both learning to cycle on the road, and advanced skills for staying safe around other vehicles.


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