A mamil’s man’s guide to commuting to work on a cycle

When I used to live closer to work I would walk in, and a couple of times a week I would run home to stay fit. But when my daughter came along we needed a bit more space. Brighton is like London by the sea and property is crazily expensive, so it was time to move out of town. We now live in a small town called Shoreham by Sea and we love it. But getting to work became a lot trickier. Parking in Brighton costs around £27 per day! And the bus wasn't flexible enough when I was working late. So I was left with one choice - on my bike! It was a no brainer really. I like to run and keep fit, so how hard can it be…

I have a hybrid bike, half off road and half just zooming about. Perfect! So off I went. My route, around 6 miles, takes me though Shoreham and Southwick and then on to the cycle path number 2 to Brighton, which takes me across the locks at Shoreham harbour. There is always something interesting happening down there.

The people who manage the cycle paths are a charity called Sustrans - Britain's sustainable transport network - and you can find out about them here.

Shoreham harbour: me and other cyclist waiting for the lock to open.

I started at the beginning of the summer and was having a great time, into work in around 40 minutes, getting fit and sleeping well. Then the autumn came. Cycling on a coastal path has its downfalls. At first I thought my brakes were jammed on or something was wrong with my gears? And then I realised it’s just the wind. Man, when you get a good head wind it really zaps your speed and energy. Then I see this guy go flying past me with superhero speed and power, how did he do that in this wind? In the meantime I was quickly realising that cotton is not the best material to wear. It soaks up the rain and acts like sandpaper against anything sensitive. Time to do some research - off to the interwebs!

So it turns out that two thirds of the energy you put into the pedals is used to fight the air you are riding though, and the rest makes you go. So if you have, say, a 10 mph head wind you have to work a lot harder just to keep up a normal speed. I quickly discovered that clothing creates lots of drag. So baggy jeans or a flapping open hoodie were bad news. And then there was the bike. On mine I sit upright and have chunky tires, all of this also steals precious energy. And when you are on your ride home looking forward to some dinner after a hard day’s work, you need all the energy you can get.

Science, in a chart!  Image credit: Science Learning Hub

New bike time. So it turns out I can get a bike though work, via the cycle to work scheme. You save the VAT and pay the company back though your wages without paying any tax on it, including safety gear, like helmets (I always wear one) and high vis clothing, Fab!

I went to my local bike shop and had a chat about what I had learnt. There was a bit of a glazed over look saying we heard all this before, and I was a bit late to the party, but they were very helpful and got me sorted in no time. So now I have a shiny new lightweight racing bike whose super thin tyres have mental pressure (I had to buy a special pump).

Oh yes and then there’s the question of the clothing. Well it can only be one thing. Lycra, yep Lycra! But you know what, I don’t care. The clothing is designed to do a job, not look good. Well some people do, but I don’t, I look like a middle aged man in Lycra (Mamil). But it doesn’t flap in the wind, it doesn’t rub and it dries really quickly. If you arrive wet in the morning it's dry by the time you go home. You just need to find somewhere to hang it at work without getting complaints.

You can find out about the Cyclescheme here.


New Bike, note the rear mudguard.

There is also a more serious side to my folly, in the shape of the environment and the reduced amount of carbon I'm releasing into the atmosphere. I didn't start out on an eco mission but cycling soon changes your way of thinking about eco issues and the environment. I'm no scientist but I can see I'm now only filling up my car with fuel every 4-6 weeks. And when I do drive I really appreciate the huge amount of energy contained in every drop of petrol. I mean, when you have been battling home hungry, with crazy winds in your face, jumping in a car and pressing the gas pedal suddenly has a whole new magic! 

 Image credit: By Ruben de Rijcke

Some of the regulars I would say hi to in the morning, cycling with me or going the other way, noted the new bike and clothing. One guy I chat to, called Ian, recommended the clip on cycle shoes. The sort of professional looking ones where you have to have special shoes. The reason is this: you get to use your legs to pull up the pedal as well as pushing down. So I got some.

It was very weird at first, not being able to lift off your foot from the pedals, and there were a few scary moments when I came to a stop. You have to twist your foot to the side to release.  But after a while you get used to it and start to feel so connected to the bike, especially when standing up to get more power.

New Pedals and cycling shoes

With all my new kit and hard learned knowledge I challenged myself to ride every day to work! It went well. I lost weight and got faster. I got some really good lights, two on the front and one on the back for the winter. With a bit of wind behind me I was getting home in 20 minutes. But the best bit is the view of the sea and the fresh air. Arriving to work fizzing and relaxed is great, with a route to work free from traffic lights and with very little traffic on the few 'proper' roads I use. It’s the only way to travel.

Leave a comment below or ask a question. I'm no expert or pro rider but I'm happy to share what I have learnt. In the meantime, here's wishing you happy and safe riding!