Spring has arrived! There will probably be more and more of us commuting by bike to and from work now, which is terrific. It is also why we thought we’d catch up with Chris. You don’t know Chris in person, probably, but you sure do know his work. He's our resident creative guru. He’s also a bike commuting addict, and here he shares some pointers for those who are new to the commuting world…
How long have you been riding for?
I’ve pretty much ridden all my life but it was in 2005 that I started to ride every day. I was getting ready to move overseas at the time, so I sold my car early. I’d been doing a bit of mountain bike riding so it made sense to just take the MTB to work and back. It was convenient, it was good exercise, and it was fun.
So why do you commute now?
My wife - who is also a cyclist -, and I want to be a one-car household. We want to leave a lighter footprint on the environment but we also want to stay healthy. So commuting by bike makes sense.
How often do you commute each week?
I commute every week day. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I do training before the commute. I usually squeeze in just shy of 44km before I head to work. Sundays I do a big ride unless it’s crits season, in which case I race every Sunday.
What distance do you commute?
30km in total – a neat 15km each way.
What gear do you wear when you commute?
I stick to road cycling kit. I layer up for winter – I prefer to have multiple layers that I can strip back rather than wearing thermal base layers.
What commuting path do you take?
I actually commute on the road for most of my work journey. I am on North Rd (Melbourne, Bayside) for the most part, and then I turn onto the beach run until St Kilda. If I get to St Kilda and it’s after 7am, then I take the commuter path to avoid the heavier traffic that starts about this time.
What’s great about my journey is that if you want that ‘ahhh’ moment, you can take Beach Rd. It’s a more relaxed pace, you’ve got the terrific coastal view; it’s great. If I need to get to point A fast, or I need to do a bit more training, then I stick to the road.
How to start commuting – 6 tips from Chris.
1/ Understand your bike as well as you can
The more you ride; the more comfortable you become. The more comfortable you are; the safer rider you become for yourself and those around you.
2/ Properly kit out your bike – and yourself
Lights are mandatory on all bikes in Australia. So you need a flashing red light for the rear and a white light for the front. Both need to be visible from 200m away. I am big on lights, not so much for my own visibility but to make sure I stand out as much as possible to other road users around me. My lights work on USBs so I basically have USB cables at work and at home, and plug the lights in wherever I am. I usually get four days out of them before they need a re-charge.
Pack spares – spare tube, spare canisters, a pump, some levers etc. I also carry tweezers so I can extract any glass or whatever embeds itself into my tyre. I put all these odds and ends – including my house keys – into the spare water bottle on my bike.
I’m not one for panniers or bike baskets – they wouldn’t exactly work with my bike! I prefer a backpack for carrying things like spare clothes. Get one made for mountain hiking so you have the chest straps, as these help stop it moving around once you roll out.
A mud guard is not going near my bike, but it could be really handy for some commuters, especially those who only have a short distance to travel and therefore don’t need to change clothes when they get to work.
Colourful kit is another way to stand out. There are some awesome designs out there now that enable you to, for example, get a helmet, bar tape, gloves and shoes all in the single fluro colour. Great stuff!
3/Find a path that works for you
There are usually many ways to go from point A to point B, that’s just one of the things that makes riding such a pleasure. Spend a Sunday cruising around on your bike and sussing out the best route for you. Do it on a Sunday when traffic is lighter and you can absorb a lot more information about what’s around you. Time yourself so you can work back and make sure you’re up and ready to leave home at the right time. Revisit the route on Strava, or Google Maps, or Map My Ride, and really familiarise yourself with it.
4/ Understand how the traffic works for that route
This you can only do with experience, and it’s not going to happen on that Sunday reccy ride. Once you start commuting, be very away of how the drivers operate in that area. As an example – I have an agreement with work that enables me to start earlier than normal so I can finish earlier than normal. I do this because I know that before 5pm, my path is usually used by motorists who are a bit more aware of what’s happening around them. After 5pm, and the road is full of more motorists who are intent on just getting home, or who are frustrated and pushing to get where they want to go.
5/ Ride like you’re everyone who’s using the road
By this I mean ride like you’re the cyclist, the motorist in front of you, the motorist ahead of you, the pedestrian waiting at the green lights; everyone. Don’t assume anything when it comes to human behaviour. That pedestrian might accidentally drop the lead to their dog, who could then suddenly run into your path. That car in front of you might have someone in the passenger seat who is about to jump out and dash over to pick up some take away, but not look before they open the door. The more familiar you are with your bike and your route, the more you can concentrate on all the variables outside of your control that are around you.
6/ Plan your pack
I usually have a work wardrobe at work. On a straight commuter day I will come in with a backpack full of everything I’ll need for the next few days, including a fresh towel etc. Toiletries I already have stored here. Then I tend to have a bunch of musettes (sling bags made for cyclists) in my locker. I will usually put a used load of washing in that and ride it home each day for the washing machine.
It’s great here as we have not only the locker storage but full showering facilities. Talking to the guys in my bunch I think this is becoming more common around the city. Lockers, bike storage and showering facilities are almost now the norm, which is great.