Creative Commuting

How to arrive in one piece, able to work, and possible to sit with!

Plus, why would you do this?

Riding keeps me fit, healthy and happy.

Commuting is training on the cheap; there are no gym fees. There is no time wasted in the gym. Commuting is a great way of ensuring the gym happens! And commuting by bike is almost free.

My pre-bike commute to the city over a seven year period took 1 hr 30 mins, if the trains ran on time, including walking time after arriving in the city.
The bus was at least 1 hr 45 mins.
 Driving took a minimum 45 minutes, off peak, and often more than an hour. It also cost petrol, and parking fees. The train costs $35.00 a week, far more than the cost of my bike.

By bike I take 1 hour 20 minutes. The time is remarkably constant, even in wet or windy weather. I can ride to the door where I work. I have done this three days a week for three years; it is sustainable.

Arriving in One Piece
All driving involves the risk of collision. We cyclists are more vulnerable than the cars. We also have to put up with an awful lot of noise if we take the highways. Step one to surviving, and enjoying the ride, is to get off the main roads.

Here, Google Maps is our friend. In Australian cities NearMap is even better.  The once excellent NearMap now costs a small fortune. Google is legendary for building imaginary roads across 150 foot gullies or through impenetrable bush. The resolution of the NearMap photos was always better than Google and usually much more recent.

If  I rode directly into Adelaide from my home in Elizabeth, I would ride on almost 28 kilometres of main road, most of it on Main North Road, and distinctly unsafe for cycling. Even where there is a semblance of a verge or cycle path, the noise is horrible, the surface is typically littered with glass and gravel, and  is also often the roughest surface on the road. (Update: There is now cycle path from Hogarth Road to Gepps Cross)

On wet days there are places where you could be knocked off your bike by the bow wave from a truck! Yobs throw stuff at you and, very occasionally, run you off the road for fun.


After some research on Google and NearMap, and with a little experimentation, I have a path that covers the same journey with only two traffic lights and a couple of pedestrian lights. It is only 31 km long!  It crosses Main North Road once. Long stretches of the route are on cycle paths and back streets. That extra distance, let’s say three kilometres, is an extra nine minutes on a slow day.

The light blue is the quiet route. Main North Road is the dark blue line.

I tend to use a short section of Main North Road for convenience because the bike path in that spot is excellent and the time and noise minimal. But if I feel like it I can stay off for the whole way.

The secret in this sort of route planning is to look for the paths across parks and between streets that are visible only from the ground or in high resolution aerial photos.

A little practice leads to the conclusion that most destinations in Adelaide are achievable much more safely and comfortably than on the main roads, with little extra distance required, and sometimes less. For another example; in this case, how to reach Tea Tree Gully from the city without using North East Road, see here.

For a kick-start in this process you could use the Cycle Instead Journey Planner, although like all such programs, it can kick up some oddities.

Once you begin on a route, keep your eyes open. It’s amazing what you can miss on a map. I’d been frustrated by the lack of a practical through route in Pooraka for ages, and only discovered the path on the centre of this photo after continually riding past if for years!


Not getting clobbered.
Even on a low traffic route, all the other safety habits are necessary; visibility, lights, bell, traffic rules etc.

There are four major risk points in riding.

  • People turning in front of you.  Exercise the greatest caution when riding on bike paths alongside traffic, especially if the traffic is slow, or slowing. People quickly cut through the traffic on foot, or make hasty right turns looking only for cars, and not seeing bikes. When traffic overtakes you from behind, beware the least glimmer of a brake light; it’s your warning they are turning left in front of you.
  • Roundabouts. Cars typically underestimate your speed in roundabouts, especially the smaller single lane variety where you will often pass through quicker than they can. Move to the centre of your lane to prevent being overtaken and then squeezed into the kerb. Always expect to have to stop. Make eye contact! One of my two accidents was caused by a commuter who stopped and then started again and ran over me from behind!
  • In one sense, people passing too close when overtaking are not the real danger. The real danger lies in not being able to move away from them because there is a high kerb, or nothing but gravel off the edge of the bitumen. Always leave enough room to lurch to the left without being bounced back under the traffic.
  • Dooring. Always allow more than the width of a car door between you and parked cars! 
  • In each of these cases a major factor is visiblilty. Black knicks are sensible because of grease and grime. Everything else should be luridly bright. At night your lights need to be as bright as a car’s, if not more. Don’t use cheap twenty dollar lights. Get a Niteflux daytime tail light, or similar,  and a front light come to that. I always ride with a flasher during the day. 

Arriving able to work
The killers here are weather, inconvenience and anxiety, and exhaustion.

Will my bike be alright?
Try doing what I did. Carry your bike upstairs and stick it in your office! By the time someone notices, you can say, “But I’ve been doing it for ages!” If you can’t steal office space, or space under the stairs, or in the basement, invest in a good lock and chain and loop in the frame, both wheels, and the seat. Lock onto something that can’t be pulled out. Update 2015: Or see here.

To assist with security and convenience you can use a slide on pannier - keep your tools and pump in the bag,  and mount your tail light on it. Put your trip meter and front lights on a quick fit extender bar. It is then a matter of seconds to strip the bike of all the bits people may nick.

The ability to quickly park the bike, and refit it for the ride home is a major convenience factor.

So too are simple tricks like keeping an extra pair of shoes at work. Shoes are amazingly bulky to carry, and are the easiest thing to leave under a desk, or in a locker.

Convenience increases from here.
Rather than carry clothes in each day, you might keep a week’s change at work, along with toiletries. I was fortunate to have a tall cupboard, and would bring in the whole week’s clothes at the beginning of the week, and work my way through. I’ve heard of folk who keep their ‘city clothes’ at the office and spend lunch at the laundromat once a week.

Apparently you can buy suit panniers which hold a suit bag over the back wheel, but I’ve found that the air hostie’s roll up of clothes is pretty successful, especially if a jacket can live at work.

Muc-Off Dry shower is excellent in many circumstances.

Sunburn, Cold and Wet
Sunburn is painful. It will disrupt sleep. Sunscreen is messy and makes clean up much more difficult when you arrive. You can wear superlight arm and leg covers  which are not hot and remove the need for sunscreen.

For managing cold, layers are essential. Once winter is well set, I wear a base layer which has a wind impervious chest. A zip front shirt fits over this, followed by a jersey. I can zip up and down to help regulate my temperature. Arm and leg warmers make up the kit.  Really cold days can be offset by wearing a skull cap; we lose a surprising amount of heat through our heads. The same is true of feet. Don’t skimp on the socks!  Don’t use cotton t-shirts for a base layer; they hold sweat and can make you colder. Cycling gear which wicks moisture away from the skin is going to be warmer.

For rain, water proof booties make a huge difference to warmth, as do mud guards. Rain and cold are made much worse by wind chill. Even if there is no wind, a slow rider is always in an 18 - 20 kilometre an hour breeze. The faster you go, the worse it gets, if you are not properly dressed.

Finally, carry a rain jacket.  They fold up small. I keep mine on the bike at all times. In a pinch it will help to keep me warm.

The last thing you need in all this are two or three muesli bars and a couple of Mars bars. Eat a good breakfast,  and have these in your panniers for those odd occasions when sugar levels do strange things. Sugar can heal cold induced hypoglycaemia; ie the knock, or bonk, in a matter of minutes.

Commuting is not a race. I find that over my 30 kilometre commute, riding home casually and sprinting to the point that I feel noticeably tired for the rest of the night, makes very little difference in my riding time.

The key technique to arriving ready to work, instead of being in an exhausted heap,  is to manage pedalling cadence. Put crudely: ignore your riding speed. Settle on a comfortable pedalling speed—   it will be around 60 to 80 cycles per minute for beginners—  and keep spinning over at that rate. Vary your gearing to allow you to maintain this cadence and you will maximise your energy efficiency and minimise fatigue.

You will probably find that your cadence increases with time and that you will settle on a preferred cadence.

I find my 1 hour 20 commute is remarkably constant, regardless of head winds or rain. Cadence works.

Tough bits
A mate who lives in Blackwood reflected that he could not manage the Lynton bike path. There are two places with 18 and 20 percent grades on this path. I’d been telling him how I could ride to Blackwood from Elizabeth using back streets all  the way. In his situation, I would try walking the steep bits. The extra time is minimal.

Being able to be sat next to!
Some of us work in environments where a week’s unwashed cycling would not be noticed. For the rest of us, washing may need to happen!

Microfibre towels are a gift from God. They cut down on the bulk you need to carry, and soak up enormous amounts of liquid.

At worst, washing means leaving a little earlier in summer so you can cool down a bit before going inside. A face washer and the disabled toilet may be only washing option available, but even here I have been surprised by how successfully one can clean up.

Ask around to see if there is a shower in your building; sometimes they are simply being used to store stuff.  There are often a surprising number of empty lockers, and half empty rooms that can be pressed into service as a change room and place to leave gear hanging.

In my case there was an old caretaker’s bathroom in the building! People were quite happy for me to cart a bucket of hot water upstairs to the bath. I began by boiling a jug; it’s enough for a bath! Once the precedent is set you find you can crib a few privileges!

The simplest thing an employer can do for us is have hooks on the back of the toilet doors, or gasp! even have a bench in the disabled toilet! You can judge if you will get away with sneaking in with a drill and a screw driver and donating some hooks.

If all else fails, check out the local gyms. It looked like I would have the opportunity commute up to Blackwood at one stage, and after checking at a local gym I found a daily shower would cost me only three dollars!

For those closer to work, the problem of washing can be solved by slow riding.

Thinking outside the box helps. Coming in on the train and riding home can remove the whole washing problem. This costs more, but at least one can still get the miles up. I know people who’ve ridden to a friend/relative’s place near work and washed up there, and then walked or slow ridden the last little bit to work.




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