Vulpine’s managing director Jonathan Baker, writes own how to and not to enjoy commuting and stay safe. A great introduction for anyone thinking of starting this Spring. But has he got it right?
Hello, I’m Jonathan, the person who Vulpine’s founder Nick Hussey has asked to run Vulpine, while he does all the fun stuff. I’ve been here 4 weeks, so I thought it was about time I introduced myself and write a blog.
I’ve been a cycling commuter since I worked in Nottingham and raced on weekends as a teen. Now I cycle commute in London, for sanity’s sake more than anything.
Now is the time most new commuters begin cycling. It can be intimidating at first, but it shouldn’t be. Here are my frequently asked questions and answers on how to get the most from being a bike commuter. I hope they help. But it really is as simple as you want it to be.
What type of bike is right for me?
The right bike is the right bike for you. Don’t feel intimidated into getting what you ‘should’ get, according to friends or colleagues. Get what you prefer.
For speed, a road bike with drop bars will prove handy if you want to ride into the country on weekends. Equally a fat tyred mountain bike is just as valid, as it’s so comfy, but you’ll be slower.
If you’re pressing me for an answer, I’d suggest a hybrid, with faster wheels but flat bars, is the ideal first bike commute choice. Or, if you’re crossing the streams and coming from afar on a train, a folding bike like a Brompton.
Just makes sure it fits you.
How much should I spend?
I’d buy new, perhaps on the Cycle To Work Scheme, which will save you maybe a few hundred pounds. Buying secondhand, if you’re unsure, is a minefield. Buy from good bike shop and use their fit advice and post-purchase support. It’s worth it.
But how much? Well, again, its up to you. But sub £300 is putting you in a space where you get sub standard parts. My personal sweetspot for a first bike is £600-£800. But you’ll want a better one after 6 months…
What accessories do I need?
A mini pump.
A spare tube.
Stick it all in a seat pack.
Front and rear lights (more below).
Do I need a helmet?
That’s up to you. The Vulpine stance, which I share with Nick, is that helmets are a personal choice. Read more about how Nick thinks the Helmet Debate shouldn’t be a debate, here.
What about clip-in shoes and pedals for commuting?
If you’re up for it, sure, they’ll make you more efficient and comfortable. But if you’re just starting out, go with ordinary footwear and you can upgrade later. Jools talked about this very subject.
What do I need to wear?
Surprisingly, coming from the leaders in commuter cycling apparel, the simple answer is wear what you like.
If you want to wear the same clothes as you rode in, for work and socialising, then take a look at our wares. They prevent odours, are fast drying, very breathable. Essentially, they are technical garments that look ‘normal’ to non-cyclists. Enabling you to ride, work and socialise in the same kit.
I’d begin with a rain jacket such as our Harrington Rain Jacket, which can be used all year round.
If you’re riding over 5 miles, we have created merino wool underwear with a slim pad in, for comfort in the saddle.
Then a soft against-skin top, to prevent your commuter-glow from turning into smells later. Go for pure merino wool, dri-release or silk.
I’ll leave it at that. But we create solutions to just about everything.
If you don’t mind carrying spare clothing and having a shower at work, you can go for racing cycling gear, such as our road range with Sir Chris Hoy, HOY Vulpine. There are of course loads of other brands out there, though I’m biased towards our concentration on style and comfort.
Do I need hi-viz or reflective clothing?
No, you don’t need them. Most hi-viz and heavily reflective jackets get extremely hot and sweaty when riding, but if they give you re-assurance, go for it.
Do I need lights?
Yes. This is one of the few non-negotiables. You NEED lights, even in summer. If you get caught late at work, or have that drawn-out pint after work, you don’t want to get caught out. Get quality LEDs front and back, and keep them charged via a USB.
Am I ready to ride now?
What should I worry about out on the open road?
Contrary to much of what the media tell you, cycling is extremely safe. But it does feel intimidating to be next to large vehicles, as first.
Here are some basics. You’re intelligent enough to work out the rest.
Use eye contact. It’s amazing what a look, or even stare, in the direction of a waiting motorist can do. It’s a tiny social exchange that can create a safe path for you.
Ride predictably. Look behind you, and overtake round cars is a smooth arc, don’t swerve around obstacles.
Be aware of your surroundings. Occasionally pedestrians will step out without looking. Or a driver will open a door in your path. Which is the first “don’t”…
Have fun. Ride at your pace. Fast or slow.
Take the long way round. Avoid the main roads and traffic jams. Use the residential back streets and relax.
Ride to close to the kerb. Own your space, so you have room to manoeuvre.
Never try and get past a bus or truck on the inside. Definitely not at junctions. This is how cyclists die, because the vehicle turns left, giving the rider nowhere to go. This is rare, but just avoid it altogether. A little patience is your friend.
Best not to wear headphones. You need your sense of sound. It’s distracting. We don’t design headphone cord holes into our garments with this in mind.
Please don’t jump red lights. It tars us all with the same brush, which doesn’t help us with popularity, and well, it may go wrong.
Undertake. Going past a rider on the inside, near a curb, is an absolute no no.
Don’t feel you have to use bike lanes. The provision in the UK is generally pretty awful. But some are great. Use them if you wish. You don’t have to.
Why is commuting so great?
Freedom. Our lives are too busy. Too many pressures. This ride is yours, on your terms.
Health. Die later. Live better.
Head. The grim silence of a tube or bus, crammed together like lab mice, is no way to live. Get outside. Have time alone to think and prepare, or download.
Tum. Burn calories moving, not gain them sitting.
Save. Well, if you’re into nice bikes, this may be tricky. But combine that gym membership and your monthly travel pass and see what it comes to a year….
Avoid. Have you been on a tube train or bus recently?!
See. Enjoy the sights. Look up! Cities can be fascinating places that all too often pass us by. Cycling is a very visual medium. Take it in. Explore.
Take care, Jonathan.