Bespoken Word – with railway chaos and sky-high fuel prices, it's time to strike!

Cycling UK commute shot
(Image credit: Robert Spanring)

Right now, we’ve got an intermittent national railway strike on in the UK which, combined with the fact that petrol prices are at an all time high, is causing commuter chaos. But wherever you are in the world, disruption of regular transport patterns is the perfect time to encourage increased cycle use. So how do we as more experienced riders boost the number of people regularly using bikes and guarantee better representation in the future. Here’s some ideas to help...

Be supportive

There are loads of reasons people don’t normally ride bikes to work but one of the biggest is self-confidence. That can be in terms of appearance, traffic, technical aspects, their bike or just that what seems like a massive deal to them is nothing to ‘real’ cyclists.

And that’s where you can make a massive difference. Don’t be a douche and mock any ride less than a hundred miles as pathetic, rewind to when two miles was a marathon for you and a couple of cars brushing past was enough to give you the heaving hives for days. Just like the basic act of getting going and balancing is the hardest part of riding, setting out on an A to B through traffic for the first few times is by far the hardest part of bike commuting. 

So make sure you big up your new workplace bike pals, however far they’ve wobbled, worried, sweated and sworn to get there. While saying things like “I was amazed how much fitter I felt/how much weight I lost by riding to work” is always a potential minefield when it comes to implying what you think of someone's current shape, a bit of subtle positive reinforcement that they’re doing the right thing goes a long way to keeping them riding when the trains and fuel prices get back to normal too.

A cyclist on a BMX carrying a plastic shopping bag and cycling on the inside of a queue of London black cabs

The way you ride and drive can influence others dramatically, so be extra nice to train refugees (Image credit: Unsplash)

Lead by example

If you’re riding into work yourself then be the best possible buddy to any new faces you see. If someone is looking nervous at a stop light then just smile, say hello and have a chat. Don’t swerve in front and wave your bony butt at them like a baboon on heat just to prove you can sort of balance for a few seconds without putting your foot down. 

Remember that novice cyclists are as random and unpredictable as an East European Eurovision entry. Not just because they can barely control their bikes, but they don’t even know where they should be going if they could. Don’t run red lights, signal clearly and basically behave like you’re doing your school Cycling Proficiency test all over again. And if you see someone about to ride up the inside of a truck on a corner it’s a lot easier/quicker to explain why that’s not the smartest move now than detailing what happened to the police for the fifth time after already going through it with the paramedics and ambulance crew while they looked for a shovel.

If your work means you’re the one driving the truck, then be aware that railway strikes and other upheavals trigger the kind of hapless dash of potential victims that makes watching nature films about penguin chicks and polar bears so heartbreaking. Swing extra wide and give the wobblers tons of space, then watch in the mirror as the drivers behind can’t help doing the same like some weird subliminal conga. Stop and let bikes across at junctions, smile reassuringly when you catch a terrified eye and generally try and show not EVERYONE is out to kill them

Spending more than three figures on a bike is a lot!

Going back to the subject of self-consciousness. Realize that if you think that spending four figures on a bike, and could even justify five figure price tags in certain circumstances, you might seem to others to live in a very weird and twisted world. So while it might now cost you over £100 to fill a tank of petrol that – in the ‘normal’ world – is seen as a necessity, whereas spending more than that on a bike might seem madness.

In other words be kind about the weird and downright wonky 'bike shaped objects' (BSO is actually an official bike industry term) that you might find have somehow creaked and squeaked back into action after years of shed neglect.

frayed brake cable

That brake was working fine until you touched it...... (Image credit: GuyKesTV)

Be the in-house mechanic

With that in mind, if you know your way around a bike, take some oil and basic tools into work and do some community bike maintenance on obvious issues in your lunch break. The obvious things to check for are rusted chains, soft tires and rubbing brakes but we wouldn’t be surprised if you find a fork that’s been installed back to front (double-check it’s not a Manitou fork though as they’re supposed to be like that).

Don’t go messing with things like saddle height or more personal things though and obviously only do maintenance you’re totally confident about. Also remember that there’s a high likelihood that every single bike issue from that moment forward – even ones that have clearly dogged the poor machine for several decades – will only have happened “since you touched it”.


Help, but don’t bikesplain

In the same way other people starting cycling should never be seen as an opportunity to flex your fitness and Strava stats, nobody gives a toss about how much you know about cycling. In fact it’s the exact opposite of that because quite frankly, it’s not normal to know more about freeride than football or low-speed compression than Love Island. Just like the weird kids in Stranger Things, the turning of normal commuting life ‘Upside Down’ is a chance to become a hero. We can’t stress enough that you should only ever offer THE ABSOLUTE BARE MINIMUM of ‘helpful’ knowledge, which is at most one thing a day/maybe week. Otherwise you’re just going to make riding a bike sound more frightening, complicated and intimidating than it already is.

And if you’re so far beyond the world of riding to work you don’t know where to start, our guide to commuting tips for absolute beginners will point you in the right direction.

Lend people kit

People are already pissed off enough that their expensive railway season ticket is being wasted without having to spend cash on sodding cycling. So if you’ve got a spare pump, helmet or jacket with some reflective bits on or just a flashing back light, that looks like it came out of a cracker but meant you got free postage on your last online bike shop, then that could make all the difference to keeping a colleague safe. And even if you don’t particularly like them that means you don’t have to do their work too while they’re on sick leave and it’s got to be worth some coffee making karma too.

And while leaving a pot of bum cream for in the bathroom for everyone to use definitely crosses a line, a packet of wet wipes or a spray deodorant will make things a lot more pleasant for everyone if Stuart from sales or Adele from accounts start pushing for PRs on their pedal into work. We've even spotted some companies like Spatzwear doing discounts for people using their bikes to commute during the current chaos.

A cycle commuter

Novice commuters are unlikely to feel confident about urban riding, so be as supportive as possible (Image credit: Joe Cotterill / Cycling UK)

Be the route master

Humans are not only creatures of habit but often spectacularly stupid when it comes to following the footsteps of the herd. That means when most people jump on a bike, they will almost always just use the same route they would in the car or on the bus. Weirdly that makes the whole experience vastly more dangerous and miserable and guarantees their commuting experience will be as grim as possible.

Don’t turn your casual inquiry into their navigation choices into an attack on their stupidity though. And I know this will be hard, but breathe deep and you’ll get through it. Just try and steer them to that parallel route or park short cut that dodges the roundabout, school run hell, multi-lane meat grinder sections if they’re currently dithering into like wildebeest into a crocodile flavored river.

Organise a bike bus

If you want to go a step further  and let’s face it, trying to explain routes to people is a nightmare – why not organize a bike bus? I don’t mean hijacking a double decker and stuffing it with your new mates, I mean organizing them into a critical mass pack and then guiding them into work safely like a duck with her ducklings. Yes it’s going to be painfully slow and stressful at first but if you can establish a commuting habit even for just one other person you’ll potentially change the physical and mental health of their lives and fractionally ease the load on a planet that’s frankly had enough.

Gravel nature reserve

Commuting doesn't have to mean busy roads and potholed back streets so help people plan their perfect journey and you might make a cyclist for life (Image credit: GuyKesTV)

Build a better future

Cycle commuters

A glut of new riders could be the springboard for your workplace becoming a cycle-friendly employer (Image credit: Andy Gollogly / Cycling UK)

As well as helping individual riders, now is a great time to try and change your workplace to create a more cycling positive environment. Showers, proper secure bike storage, registering for a ‘bike to work’ buying offset scheme or even incentivising more eco-friendly ways to commute are all things to think about implementing. Cycling UK even have a Cycle Friendly Employer accreditation scheme which lays out everything companies need to do to qualify. They'll even give them a shiny plaque if they make the grade. And the more comrades you can get rolling into work on bikes, the more chance you’ve got of creating you’re own little transport revolution.

Because as I said at the start, any chance to break unsustainable planet killing habits in favor of something greener and healthier needs to be grabbed with both hands. And not just for altruistic reasons either, because the more people who ride, the more facilities and favors we’ll be given, the more ‘enthusiast’ riders will appear and the upward spiral that started in covid will continue until it’s people driving into work that are the weird ones they talk about at the water cooler not us.

Guy Kesteven

Guy Kesteven has been working on Bike Perfect since its launch in 2019. He started writing and testing for bike mags in 1996. Since then he’s written several million words about several thousand test bikes and a ridiculous amount of riding gear. He’s also penned a handful of bike-related books and he reviews MTBs over on YouTube.

Current rides: Cervelo ZFS-5, Specialized Chisel, custom Nicolai enduro tandem, Landescape/Swallow custom gravel tandem

Height: 180cm

Weight: 69kg