Taking the car is expensive, public transport is cramped, and you're feeling unhealthy. No worries, all of those issues are solved by the bicycle commute. But, how far is too far to bike to work?
How long will it take? What should you pack? What about sweat?
Here I share my experiences of when I commuted to work. I hope it informs and inspires you to get commuting yourself.
How Far Is Too Far To Bike To Work?
The answer to the question "how far is too far to bike to work," is difficult.
For some people, around the corner is too far, and for others, a 30-mile trip one way is not far enough.
After looking through many forums, and asking many questions, here's a chart that seems to be the general opinion of most people.
0 - 5
6 - 10
11 - 15
16 - 20
21 - 25
You Cycle How Far?!
25 - 30
* Each-way. E.g., 30 miles there, 30 miles back.
Once you start getting into longer commutes, things get a little more complicated.
There are quite a few things to consider; one important factor is your fitness.
Current Fitness Levels
Your current fitness levels will have a significant impact on the distance you'll want to cycle.
You may be fit enough to cover your commute, or you may need to build up to it slowly.
One important thing to remember is how the miles add up. One day of cycling 40 miles is relatively easy. Five consecutive days of cycling 40 miles are far more challenging.
If you're already covering the distance and would like to get quicker, take a look at my guide on how kettlebells can improve performance.
My old job commute was 10miles long, and I started work at 7:30 am.
I'm not an athlete. I'm just someone who enjoys cycling. But still, over the course of a few months, I managed to improve my fitness drastically.
When I first started cycling, my commute would take around 50mins, but I managed to get it to around 35mins.
I probably had a tailwind to help me, but I still noticed a difference. Not only to my times but how I felt while at work and how I felt in general.
However, covering the distance is only half the battle.
Any seasoned bicycle commuter will tell you that you need a good plan.
Before You Commute
Before you cycle to work you should make sure you ride the route the weekend before to see how long it takes.
You can use my simple calculation when planning, but when it comes down to it, you'll want an exact time.
It's fun to race yourself after you've done the journey a few times as well.
Below, I've added some screenshots of my morning to do list before I started commuting.
I knew that at 5:40 am I'd have zero ability to think. So, wrote down everything that I had to do.
Try not to laugh too much as they're a little over the top.
I haven't looked at these screenshots for a while.
I wrote many stupid things on that list, but my favorite stupid thing is probably:
"get out of bed."
In reality, I developed a routine that looked nothing like these screenshots.
However, writing everything down was a great place to start, because it gave me the confidence to start commuting by bike.
There are a lot of things to get ready if you want to start commuting by bicycle, and it's very easy to spend far too much time getting ready in the morning.
To be fully prepared you should have a run through before a work day.
This way you can refine the process, and get yourself ready as quickly as possible.
You may find there's not much time difference between driving and cycling.
Driving Is Much Quicker
I thought that commuting would take a lot of extra time, but when I looked at the numbers, it wasn't that bad.
My commute when driving took around 20mins door to door.
My commute when cycling was around 40mins, plus an extra 10mins to get changed at work (I got everything else ready the night before).
These times meant that my commute was an extra 30mins longer each way, but I was happier and healthier for it.
In the evening I would walk through my front door 30mins after I would of if I was driving.
Except I had already cycled 20miles, and that was a great feeling.
Cycling To Work Clothes
Cycling to work clothes are an essential part of the setup.
You need to make sure that you're ready for whatever the weather is when you wake up.
You'll need warm clothing for the mornings, but they need to be light as you'll not usually wear them on the ride home.
Cycling leg warmers would are also ideal for commuting when the weather conditions are unpredictable.
You could indeed commute without cycling gear, but I honestly don't think I would of without the stuff mentioned above.
Biking To Work No Shower
I lived in England and biked early in the morning. Early starts meant that it was too cold for me to sweat much.
I worked for a big company, and they had facilities for people that wanted to take showers, and that's what I did in the summer when it got a little warmer.
If you work in a company that does not provide showers, here's an excellent guide on how not to sweat too much on your morning commute.
However, I found the key to sweating less was as simple as just taking it a little easier in the mornings, and wearing fewer layers.
In regards to appearance, I put a bit of wax in my hair and was ready to go.
If you've got longer hair and can't get away with a bit of wax, here's a helpful guide on how to fix helmet hair.
Taking Work Clothes
You can probably tell I like a good list.
Check out my bike to work list and see if there's anything on there which got missed off of yours.
I took my clothes with me to, and from work each day in an old rucksack.
If you have the option, I'd suggest that you take your clothes for the week to the office in bulk.
For example, you could drive in one day of the week with all your clean clothes, and at the same time, pick up all your dirty clothes.
This strategy stops you from having to pack your bag each night and is one less thing to think about.
It would give you more time to bake up some nice food to compensate for the extra miles you're doing.
I would ride at the weekend and on the occasional nice evening after work, but that would only equate to around 30/40miles a week.
Adding an extra 100miles onto my weekly totals was a huge jump.
I initially lost a lot of weight, and I noticed that my performances were suffering because of it.
I just wasn't aware of how much more I had to eat. (Not that I'm complaining)!
If you're unsure how many calories cycling burns and would like to know, check out my guide here.
Nutrition is a highly debated topic amongst cyclists. With a wealth of information available, it's easy to overlook the bigger picture.
For me, it was about getting as much food in me as possible. I did that by eating chocolate covered flapjacks regularly throughout the day.
Type Of Bike
The kind of bike you use for your commute will largely depend on what environment you're cycling in.
If you're cycling a long distance and want to be quick, I'd recommend a road bike.
You'll want to make sure everything is set up correctly as quickly increasing mileage can put a lot of strain on the body.
If you start having issues, take a few days off.
I've written a guide on fixing bad knees if that's your problem.
Something that I found pretty essential to my morning commute was the addition of bicycle fenders.
As I was cycling in England, the weather was often wet, and my commute became far more enjoyable once I stopped getting water sprayed up my back.
They help to keep everything clean.
Before my fenders, there were a few occasions when I managed to get mud on my work clothes!
I left in the morning when it was either pitch black or just getting light, and I cycled home when it was just getting dark.
This schedule meant a great set of lights was important to me.
My criteria for a good set of lights was:
- That they were powerful enough not just to be seen, but for me to see the road.
- To be able to take them off of the bike quickly and easily. This is so that I could take them into the office with me.
- That they were USB chargeable so that I could plug them into my computer while at work.
Charging them at work meant that they were ready to go on the way home.
Having battery powered lights is also fine, but you'd have to make sure you have spare batteries in case the others ran out.
You'll need to make sure you have a great bicycle lock or a safe place to store your bike while you're at work.
As you'll likely be leaving the bike unattended for long durations, it puts you at a higher risk for bike theft.
For additional safety, I wore a yellow cycling vest and a helmet, but of course, that is up to you.
As 10 miles is a fairly short distance, I knew that I could easily get help if anything serious happened.
If I were going on a longer commute I would have packed a few extra spares, but nothing too over the top.
It isn't always possible to commute. Perhaps you want a drink after work or time restrictions complicate things.
below are a few suggestions if your commute is too much to cycle all the time.
Cycle Half The Journey
This is a compromise that's quite popular.
For example, you could find a way to cover the first 10miles to the outskirts of town, and then cycle the rest of the way.
If you're using your bike in an area with lots of congestion it can be quicker than when you drive.
Cycle One Way
How about putting your bike on the back of your car, driving to work, and then cycling home in the evening while leaving the car at the office.
Then cycle to work the next day, put the bike on the back of the car, and drive home in the evening.
Alternating like this is also a great way to keep things fresh, but it largely depends on whether work would allow you to leave the car, or if you need the car for other tasks.
2/3 Days A Week
Sometimes, you just don't want to commute by bicycle all the time. That's ok because commuting doesn't mean you have to cycle ever day.
2/3 days of long commutes could be easier than five days of shorter commutes.
You'd spend less time getting changed, less time on washing cycling clothes, and get a bit of variety from your commute.
This brings me onto my last point.
Unless you have no option, I really wouldn't recommend cycling five days of the week.
It has nothing to do with time, or fitness, or equipment.
It's about motivation.
No matter how well you have everything else organized, nothing will help you if you just don't have the motivation to leave the house when it's dark and cold outside.
Organising everything is a great way not to make excuses for yourself, but even the most iron-willed of people will start to slip after months of the same thing.
So here are my top tips to keep the motivation high:
- Do not cycle every day of the week if you don't have to. Sometimes it's the constant changing and washing of clothes that get's old before the cycling.
- I loved listening music on my commute. An excellent playlist or podcast can help the miles pass on days when you're feeling less inspired.
- Change your route up. Looking at the same scenery each day can get boring. Keep it fresh and change up the route if you can.
Take the scenic route on days when it's sunny.
Motivation is something that you need to keep under control. If you don't, it's surprising how quickly your good intentions go out the window.
So, to answer the question "how far is too far to bike to work." I guess I'd have to say that it's completely up to you, but 10-20 miles seems to be a reasonable distance, any more than that and it starts to be too much.
But there are always exceptions to the rule.
If you're one of the guys I found that commutes 30miles each way, five days a week... You're a true champ 🙂