Cycling is increasing in popularity for a number of reasons. It’s great for the environment, amazing for your overall mental & physical health, saves money on gas & car maintenance.

It’s spring, the snow is a distant memory, it’s time for people to come out of hibernation and get active again. Most people ride their bicycles recreationally and biking to work is more complicated than it seems.

Bike on bicycle rack at work

Years ago I decided to cycle to work. I woke up earlier that day and rode in with a co-worker. It was tough but by the time I pulled into work I was feeling energized. We did not have any bike racks so I had to find a safe place to store the bike in the building. I was lucky as they had showers on site. I noticed something unexpected, I was hungry and obsessed about food all day, I could hear the vending machine calling me!. By mid afternoon I was tired and just wanted to curl up in bed. The end of day loomed by and I was not so enthusiastic about the ride home. Since I had no other option of going home I did ride back and it was pretty hard. I woke up the next day sore and I discovered muscles that I didn’t even know I had!! Needless to say I never biked to work again.

I look back at that time and I realized that the reason I quit was simple, I did not plan adequately for that ride to work and inadvertently set myself up for failure. I now realize that biking to work involves some preparation in regards to fitness, clothing, food and logistics. I needed to have a different approach in order to bike to work on a regular basis.

May is bike to work month and Treena Grevatt is back to give us tips and tricks on how to get started with biking to work and making it a part of our regular routine.

Natasha: If you live between 10-20km from work, you are considered to be in the ideal bicycle commuting zone. The reality is that most people will be able to bike this distance to work however the ride back at the end of a busy day will be a challenge. What tips can you give us to build up to this riding distance in terms of fitness?

Treena: I would recommend one or two shakedown rides before attempting your first commute of the season – to give you a chance to check that everything works, you can carry your stuff and that your route is clear of obstacles (many commuters to the downtown core had to make modifications to their route in late April due to flooding for example). If you haven’t been in the saddle over winter, some of us go to spin classes or ride on indoor bike trainers, then your first few rides can make your ‘undercarriage’ feel a little tender. Be patient, you just need a little more time in the saddle – assuming you were comfortable originally – if your bike position causes you discomfort then I would recommend getting a professional fit. And as it’s early in the season, pace yourself on your ride. No need to try to go super fast until you feel a bit fitter. As for helping get ready for the ride home, if you feel short on energy try eating some food about an hour before you start your trip.

Natasha: I typically do a 10min warm up before my workout at the gym followed by a stretch at the end. If I am short on time and skip these steps, I find that I am very sore the next day. It is not uncommon for first time riders to experience muscle soreness that next day. What can we do to speed up post ride recovery?

Treena: You can incorporate a warm-up on your ride :start out at a comfortable pace, and as your heart rate goes up and your legs wake up you can steadily increase your pace. Choose an effort that is comfortable and that you can maintain for your ride. If your legs are burning, or you are breathing so hard that you could not maintain a conversation, then ease up. As for warming down, as you get within a km or two of home, then ease up a little and gradually get your heart rate down. Off the bike, it’s good stretch your thigh and butt muscles (here are some good stretches for cyclists).

Natasha: If you have driven to work then you are familiar with the fast traffic on the busy roads. Do you have any suggestions for mapping out a route that is safe for riding?

Treena: I deliberately choose a route that has quieter roads, bike lanes or paths and as few left turns across busy roads as possible. I actually ride a little longer to avoid making the left turn on Carling Avenue at Burke Road for example. I recommend riding your route before you try it on a commute or drive it and keep an eye out for hazards for cyclists such as potholes, narrow bridges, or difficult intersections. As for tools that help you map out a route, the City of Ottawa has a cycling map, and there are apps like Map My Ride or Ride with GPS that help you plan.

Natasha:  Making that daily stand up meeting or conf. call can be a challenge some days. Driving in means that you are at your desk ready to start the day. Biking in means that you have to change out of your workout gear into work clothes. It’s also cold in the mornings and warm at the end of the day. What options do we have for clothing?

Treena: Yes, spring riding in Ottawa can be a real challenge from a clothing perspective. Layers are the secret, and having a pannier bag or backpack to put any spare clothing in. If the weather is only a little cool then arm warmers or a light jacket might be enough. If it is very cold, or damp, or you are sensitive to low temperatures then you might want to wear cycling tights, over trousers, a jacket. Clothing choice is very personal, but there are great options out there, pop in to your local bike shop and have a look, the staff will be happy to show you what’s available. As for getting changed, allow plenty of time so that you don’t feel harried, and consider leaving some essentials, such as shoes at your office.

Natasha: What else can we do to make that transition from bike to desk quick and easy? (mention something around sweat management, stuff for showering at work. What if there are no showers at work)

Treena: If you are lucky enough to work at a place that has shower facilities then leave some shower products and a towel at work. Some people drive to the office once a week and leave their office clothes for commute days in the office. Hang your kit to dry out so that is ready for the trip home. If you don’t have showers, you can still do a good freshen up with a cloth, towel and reapplication of deodorant (your coworkers will thank you!).

Natasha: What do we do when it rains or if a storm rolls in mid ride?

Treena: Cyclists get very good at reading weather maps! Try to anticipate when storms will arrive and if possible time your ride accordingly. If you do get caught, first put on your rain clothing if you have it, make sure your bike lights are on and watch carefully for surfaces that are more slippery when wet like painted road markings and grates. You should always make sure that any electronics or valuables you carry to work are protected from the elements. For a really good weather tracking tool check out the Nowcast radar maps from McGill – we use these to plan our group rides. If there is a risk of lightning then seek safe shelter inside.

Natasha:  What happens if your bike breaks down? Is there a CAA for bikes? If not what are some options to consider?

Treena: Funny you should mention the CAA! They actually have an app called Bike Assist. I haven’t used it, but it’s good to know about if you are a CAA member. Cyclists have to be a self-sufficient bunch and will carry the essential repair items so that they can change a flat or make minor repairs. Not sure how to change a flat tire? Check out this video.

There are also many local clinics for bike maintenance – to see upcoming clinics at Bushtukah.

Natasha:  I remember being famished after my ride to work and the meals that I had packed that day were not sufficient. Do you have any suggestions around meal planning?

Treena: If you had a long or hard ride to work, then eat a snack within a half hour of finishing to help replace the energy your muscles used. I keep a stash of snacks at the office, and even have some meal replacement shakes in the fridge. Nuts and dried fruit – trail mix – is also worth keeping around. A granola bar or tasty energy bar about an hour before heading home can help give you the energy you need for the trip. Watch out for all the lovely BBQ smells as your ride home though, they can be really tormenting!

Natasha: Bikes are not cheap and the big concern is that they could get stolen. What are some options of keeping your bike safe at work?

Treena: That’s a very good point! Buy the best bike lock you can afford. The better locks are heavier though, so be prepared to carry it. Alternatively, if you commute to the same place consider leaving the lock secured to the rack (if allowed and practical). Some companies have installed secure bike parking which is a great feature. Be sure to lock the wheels too, and if your saddle has a quick release seat post clamp consider switching to bolt clamp. I use a U-lock in combination with a cable to go through the wheels. If you are lucky enough to have an option to take your bike indoors then do that.

Natasha: It’s not realistic to bike to work every day however what are some things that we can do so that we become a regular commuter?

Treena: Every little bit of exercise is good for you and one more bike is one less car in the traffic so it all adds up. Many commuters find the quiet time on the bike makes it easier for them to transition from work to home life. It helps to become a regular if you find that you enjoy your ride, or get benefits from it that make it worth continuing for you. Save the money you would spend on gas or bus passes and buy yourself a treat (more bike gear!?!), make detours on your way home to take in a coffee or ice cream – there is a lovely new ice cream and coffee shop alongside the Western Pathway at Britannia Beach called Beachconers.

Treena, thanks for your time and helpful tips on commuting to work. Our next chat will be making biking accessible to employees and customers.

If you have any stories about your daily commute to work, let us know.

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