Live a long distance from your workplace, but thinking about riding your bike there instead of driving?
Riding your bike on a long daily commute to work is something that many do around the world. It can help you save money on gas, public transport costs and can help you get fitter.
Sometimes, it can even be the fastest way to get to work depending on where you live.
But the question is: How far is too far to bike to work?
A daily bike commute over 7 miles in each direction might be too tough for some cyclists.
This isn’t a definitive answer though. After all, we all have different fitness levels, needs, and varying workplace facilities.
1. You Need To Have A Good Base Level Of Fitness
If you’re going to be riding a long commute, you’re going to need to be in good shape. You should also have some experience riding long distances in order to prevent injury or burnout.
The last thing you want to do is set the bar too high, realize very quickly you’re not up to the task, and then jump back into the car after the first ride.
In my last job, I had to cycle around 14 miles each way. For me, it wasn’t an insurmountable amount of miles to ride. I managed to do this most days. But on some days I have to admit, I got lazy and jumped on the train. Or if I saw the slight chance of rain I said to myself “Nah, I think I’ll skip on the bike ride today”.
And that’s totally fine.
It’s ok to not ride every day. But the important thing is to be reasonably consistent. Too long off the bike will make it hard to jump back on it again.
Another factor that plays a role in how far you can ride into work, is the terrain. Hills are going to make for tougher bike commutes but they don’t have to discourage you from riding. It might just take some time and practice before it feels manageable. You’ll be surprised how quickly you build up stamina, and you may even end up relishing those hills!
I was lucky. I had a mostly flat ride.
Just the one fairly steep climb towards the end. But I saw this as a challenge and used to ride up it as quick as I could to see if I could get a PB on Strava. And the ride home started off with a nice, fast downhill 🙂
2. Work Out Your Route
You need to work out the best route to ride to work. To do this, you should consider:
1) The distance of the route
2) The terrain and business of the roads (e.g., hills, traffic)
3) What time you need to be at work each day – this helps you work out your deadline for getting there on time
Apps are available to help you plan your route and cover off the above three requirements. Strava, RidewithGPS and Komoot are all great options and have free plans available.
Google Maps can show you the distance of your commute and highlight any hills or busy roads in real-time.
Apps can show you the elevation of your commute and highlight steep hills so you know what to avoid. Some of the stronger riders among you might even relish these hills as a challenge and will actually hunt them out!
To use these apps, simply input the start and endpoints of your bike commute route.
I recommend setting off a little earlier than what is scheduled each day. You could also go for a test ride on a day off to see how it goes. Make sure you time your ride.
You don’t want to be stressing about being late for work and you end up sweating like crazy when you arrive.
I used to like riding harder on the way home when sweating didn’t matter.
3. You Don’t Have To Ride Every Day!
You don’t have to ride your bike into work every single day.
In fact, many commuters choose to use their cars on certain days of the week and their bikes on others. This way they can still get exercise while avoiding bad weather conditions or busy roads.
If you have a really long distance to ride into work, you could consider riding into work one day, and getting public transport or driving a car home that same day. Then reversing the trend the next day.
Here’s an example for someone with a car who has a long commute:
Monday am: Drive into work with the bike in the trunk or on the rear seats
Monday pm: Cycle home
Tuesday am: Cycle into work
Tuesday pm Drive home with the bike in the back
The downside is that your car will be at work overnight, so you can’t use it that evening when home. But, you can chop and change this as you want.
If you can use public transport (like a train, for example), the options increase because you can ride in and then bring the bike home again on the train.
4. What Type Of Commuter Bike Should You Use For Commuting?
There are plenty of bikes out there designed specifically for commuters with features like multiple gears and racks to attach panniers and other types of on-bike storage.
Flat bar hybrid bikes are very good at handling both on-road and off-road terrain.
Riding a drop-bar road bike is much faster and more lightweight, but they are not designed for carrying heavy loads or tackling rough terrain very well.
Read more: Flat bar vs Drop bar
A mountain bike is a good option when you need to commute through rough terrain as it can handle the bumps and cracks in the road (and off-road) with ease. They also have excellent gearing for hills (after all, they are built for riding mountains!)
You could even consider folding bikes (they aren’t cheap!) that can be taken onto public transport such as buses or trains. This makes them an ideal choice if you need to travel long distances to work by bike but don’t have much room in your car or home! Then you can quickly ride the relatively short distance between work/home and the nearby train/bus stop.
If you live in an area where bike commuting is popular, there should be a local bike shop nearby that specializes in commuter bikes and can help you make the right choice.
No bike is perfect for every journey. The bike you choose will depend on your personal needs and where you’re going to ride it.
5. What About Ebikes? Do They Help?
If you bike commute and live in an area that has hills, eBikes are helpful because they give you the power of pedaling without actually doing it yourself.
Make sure you charge the bike overnight before you go to work, so it doesn’t run out of power during the day. The last thing you want is to run out of battery in the middle of a bike commute. Ebikes are notoriously heavy, and you really don’t want to be pedaling up hills without power assist! Consider carrying a battery backup….just in case.
An electric bike is also great because the batteries often can double as a sturdy bike rack in case you need to transport other items while riding.
The price tag might be high initially, but when compared with how much money would otherwise be spent commuting by car or public transportation each day – eBikes are a pretty good investment over the long term.
6. To Eat, Or Not To Eat? That Is The Question
Should you eat before or after a long commute on bike? Or not at all?
In order to bike commute, you need to be fueled. Some cyclists like the idea of eating before they bike so that their stomach isn’t growling on the ride home.
Others bike commuters say it’s better to eat after because a meal may leave you feeling sluggish and less focused when biking at work. And then, there’s fasted riding. Overall – it really depends on you, how far you ride, and how fast you ride!
Good food and meals to eat in the morning include porridge, oatmeal, granola, and bananas. Whole wheat bread with a healthy filling is fine too.
You can snack before you leave work (fruit and nuts are great snacks). Then when you get home, eat a proper meal. Pasta, rice, or a potato-based meal are good options.
7. What To Bring With You ( and How To Carry Your Stuff)
If you’re riding into work, you need to think about what you’re bringing with you. You’ll probably need to bring your work clothes and shoes, a towel, a bike lock, etc.
You may be able to use a backpack to carry the day’s essentials: laptop (a small, light one – like a Surface or iPad), phone charger, lunch container (if it has an airtight lid), etc. This is made more of a possibility if you have a locker to use at work for storage.
I can speak from experience that if you’re using a backpack, keep it VERY light. You can really hurt your neck and shoulders carrying too much weight on a bike, every day. This, twinned with sitting in an office on a computer all day, can lead to real back problems. You could be looking at some steep physio or remedial massage bills!
A better solution can be panniers. They’re bike-specific and are easy to attach to the bike. They also allow you to carry much more than what you can in a backpack!
You can add two of them (either side of a pannier rack) for even more storage and they’ll carry the bike lock, a change of clothes and shoes (essential if you cycle in jeans), a heavier laptop and other work-related paraphernalia.
To get going, you need to have a pannier rack, which attaches to the rear of the bike frame. Most pannier racks affix to the bike with eyelets in the frame. If you don’t have frame eyelets there’s the option to use a bike’s seat post (there are pannier racks made for this) and are really easy to attach to most bikes.
Be careful though, as bike seat posts just can’t cope with the same weights that hard-fixed eyelet racks deal with.
Read more: How to commute by bike the RIGHT way
8. When You Arrive At Work
Ok, so you’ve arrived at work after a long bicycle commute.
You’re probably going to need to wash. Does your workplace have showers? Are you able to safely lock and store your bike and gear?
Showers And Changing
You will need to change into your work clothes, so a shower is a good idea. A hot shower can be good to loosen up tight muscles. Then again a cold shower helps to stop you from sweating.
I used to continue sweating a few minutes after arriving to work on warmer days. Even after the shower. This was bad because I had to put on my work shirt and risk it getting sweaty before I even started my day at work! I found that a cooler shower and not riding too hard on the morning commute (the way in) helped fight this problem.
However, there are options if there isn’t a shower option – although this is better suited to shorter commutes. Getting changed with no changing facilities usually means you have to rely on the toilets.
Hopefully, they are clean and well-maintained!
Storing Your Bike And Gear
Hopefully, your place of work will have bicycle facilities to lock your bike up and store any bags you need to take with you.
Most workplaces will have bike racks or bike cages. They are usually locked up with a key or security code/pass, so bike theft isn’t an issue.
If possible, use bike locks to secure your bike to the racks, or the edge of the cage if racks aren’t available.
If there are lockers on-site, then that’s a good storage place for your bike clothes and essentials that you don’t actually need in the office. It’s better not to hang out your smelly bike clothes in the office. Trust me, your work colleagues will be glad that you don’t!
If your workplace doesn’t offer bike racks or bike lockers in the building, then I would recommend bringing only very essential work gear. Ask your employers if it’s possible to keep your bike in the office somewhere. Hopefully, you can hang your cycling kit away from others too.
If you feel it is safe to lock outside in public, then make sure you choose a very high-quality bike lock that’s durable and has been tested to prove it can withstand attacks from thieves. Note though, that if a thief really wants a bike, they’ll get it somehow. Because of this, you might want to consider riding a cheap or old bike that you’re not too precious about, into work, rather than a new bike.