In January this year, I was told by my doctor that I had to make some changes to my lifestyle due to my blood sugar levels being alarmingly high. This was quite a shock to me as I felt absolutely fine.
If you know me, you’ll know that I’ve always been a big lad and my lifestyle of pretty much throwing myself at my business meant that I’m sat on my arse for at least eight hours a day looks like it had finally took its toll so really it shouldn’t have been much of a shock that I wasn’t in the best of shape.
Up to this point in my life, I’d thought of myself as being pretty much invincible–I’ve never been in hospital, I rarely go to the doctors and have felt, what I thought, pretty great.
Before this point in January, I’d been vegetarian for quite a while so I was starting to lose weight but I now needed to do more.
In March, a few months after everything had settled down, I got a bike. I went to look at bikes with my Dad, an avid biker, and he recommended that I get a hybrid. He drew up a mental criteria for the bike. It had to have a front suspension fork for comfort and disc brakes as they’re more efficient.
I’d like to point out that at this point in my life that it had probably been 20 years since I last rode a bike regularly. This seems to be a common thing with a lot of people that riding bikes is something you do when you’re a kid and once you’ve got a driving license that’s it.
Anyway, back to bike shopping. We looked at a few different options. We didn’t want to get the cheapest option but also didn’t want to spend a small fortune.
After looking at a lot of different options we found the Boardman MTX 8.8. It ticked all the boxes with front suspension and disc brakes and also had an amazing offer where if you traded in an old helmet or bike, you got 20% off. By the end of the day, in my adult life, I had my first bike.
When I got it back to my Dad’s, he helped me set the seat height etc. I had it set low to start with as I was a bit of a wuss and was scared about not being able to put my foot on the floor in case I lost my balance.
On March 10th, my Dad took me on my first bike ride in two decades. We did a 3.56 mile circuit from his house around a small nature reserve called Rabbit Ings, an old coal stack which had been converted.
On this ride, we climbed a mere 177 ft. It was super hard work for me, at one point, my heart rate was 200 bpm. I averaged 4.6 mph.
I got home feeling absolutely shattered. It felt great to have exerted myself but then it also dawned on me that one of the other reasons I got a bike was to eventually to commute to work on it regularly. This seemed like a distant dream at this point.
My Dad took me on further rides in March and was always keen for me not to overdo it by doing too much. So on rest days, I walked instead of riding the bike.
Throughout April, I continued going for rides and pushing myself further. I managed to double the distance I’d done the month before.
As with all hobbies, you start adding to your kit, first off was a rain jacket. I also got some padded gloves on the advice of my Dad. He said they’d save my hands should I fall off. Those gloves have saved my poor palms from road rash more than I’d like to admit.
Another problem I had due to my poor technique was my feet slipping off the pedals. I did this quite a bit and the pedals dug into the back of my legs taking chunks out of them. I looked a right mess. My Dad said I should go the clipless pedal route but I didn’t like the idea of my feet being clipped in so I got some Five Ten Freeriders. They look like normal trainers from a distance but have a smooth, grippy rubber sole which is quite rigid. This reduced my feet slipping quite a bit.
At the beginning of May, the Tour de Yorkshire was set to depart from Barnsley town centre. As Genius Division’s office is located in the centre, it meant that our car parking would be limited as this was used as race headquarters.
My options would be to get to work super early, park elsewhere or catch the bus. There was another option however and that was go on the bike.
On the 3rd of May, I rode to work for the first time. It’s only 5.25 miles each way. I felt great that day that I’d finally reached my goal of commuting to work. It was easier than I initially thought it would be back in March but then again, I may have been getting fitter.
I finally had the bug for cycling and was commuting to work as much as I could.
As I was commuting, I started adding to my kit even further. I bought a Craft Cadence backpack so I could get my laptop to work safely. It’s a roll top bag so it’s nice and dry. I’d recommend it if you’re looking for something waterproof and hard working.
I managed to nearly double my distance this month again with all the riding to work.
In June, I was cycling to work nearly everyday rain or shine. Pouring with rain or intense heatwave, I’d still go. A full tank of fuel for my car lasted over six weeks when I’d normally fill up at least once a month. Also with using work’s free hot showers I’m saving money on energy at home too.
I really enjoy commuting to work by by bike as it gives me time to think. It’s a part of my day where I have a bit of solitude. I’ve gotten to the point now where I quite miss it when I have to drive to work in the car.
Kit additions this month included a Topeak tourist pannier rack.
As I’d got a pannier rack I now needed some pannier bags. From reading reviews, I wanted some Ortlieb bags but couldn’t find any in a store. I wanted to see how my laptop would fit in them before spending a small fortune.
After shopping around, I ended up at Decathlon. They had a few different sized panniers so I went with a super cheap, non-waterproof pannier bag that cost £13. My plan for this bag was to keep all my kit such as pump, tools and spare inner tubes. I leave this on my bike all the time and never remove it. I also have a lightweight rain coat stowed in there. For the other side, I got a roll top waterproof pannier bag. This had a much better mounting system so is easier, and quicker to take on and off than the cheaper bag. I use this bag when commuting to work (or going to the shop) and leave it off the rest of the time.
Riding with panniers was strange at first as the bike is much heavier when manoeuvring it by hand. However when riding, you barely notice the difference at all and I soon got used to it. Even though you’re carrying the same amount of weight, it felt much better to get this off my back and on to the bike.
After months of putting it off, I decided that this month would be the time I invested in clipless shoes and pedals. Contrary to how it sounds clipless shoes clip into the pedals. A benefit to this system is that you can push the pedal down but also pull up which can make pedalling a bit more efficient. The big benefit for me however was that having your foot lock to the pedal meant that they’d no longer slip off and take chunks out of my legs.
I went with the Shimano XM9 boots. I was quite surprised at how good these were. They’re comfy and feel really well made.
I paired them with some Shimano SPD trail pedals. These are double sided so I can clip in either side.
I was really nervous about being clipped in and I have had several falls of varying severity but nothing too serious. Twisting your foot to disengage the clip takes some getting used to but I am getting there.
August saw me ride my 1000th mile which prompted me to write this post. In January, I’d never thought that I’d get this far this soon. I just hope I can keep it up through the winter when it gets dark, miserable and cold.
I’ve lost weight, not particularly sure how much but enough for people who don’t see me regularly enough to comment about it. I do feel a lot better but still realise there’s a long way to go.
If you’ve ever considered trying to commute to work by bike, I’d definitely recommend you try it. Craig and Rich, my colleagues, both tried it and ended up buying their own bikes. Barnsley has an excellent Active Travel Hub that will lend you a bike absolutely free of charge and even let you securely store the bike in Barnsley town centre. They even give you access to hot showers.