6 practical tips for absolute beginners on the cycling commute

6 practical tips for absolute beginners on the cycling commute
01/09/2016 Aime
In Inspiration

At around 7 years old, one of my favourite things was to cycle my fabulous My Little Pony bike round in circles with the neighbour kids in my cul-de-sac. At some point, I forgot how fun cycling was, and instead saw it as a transport option that I used only when absolutely necessary.

This year, I decided that I really should sort myself out and start cycling to work every day. From my flat to the Fierlan office it’s only about 10 minutes by bike, and after all, I do work for a cycling apparel designer.

After 3 months of commuting pretty much every day, I’ve put together my top practical tips for making the cycle commute more enjoyable for absolute beginners.



1.    Factor hills into your cycling route

I’m a lazy cyclist. I love going downhill and hate going uphill. If I’m cycling uphill, then the chances are I’m not having fun. I also live on the biggest hill in central Bristol and my home is a good 36 metres (or a 12-story tower block) higher than the Fierlan office. Not a winning combination.

Google Maps provides a handy route elevation map when you’re looking at cycling directions. The line represents a journey between two locations – line going up means an ascent (boo), line going down means a descent (yay). By tweaking my route to work, I’ve created a journey that removes all significant inclines, and smooths the gradient on the way back.


Google's suggested route

Google’s suggested route


route work

My route – notice the lack of incline at the start…


Route home

The route home, a smooth incline (although the journey is 1.5x longer)



2.    Stay hydrated

We love any excuse to include a dog picture...

We love any excuse to include a dog picture…

I’m going to sound like your mother for just a second. Drink more water young woman! Honestly, cycling is so much easier when you’re hydrated. You’re more comfortable, focused and alert, and you’re less likely to overheat and pass out – and yes, I am speaking from experience.

Personally, I don’t carry a bottle on my commute, but I always make sure to drink plenty during the day.



3.    Dealing with the post-cycle sweats

I get terrible post-exercise sweats. I’ll roll into work perfectly fine, then by the time I reach my desk I can feel the unpleasant trickle down the side of my face. Physical activity raises your body temperature, and sweat is the quickest way your body can cool you down.

I’ve tried a number of methods to stop the sweating as quickly as possible and these have worked best:

  • Remove your helmet as soon as you’re off your bike, and pop your hair into a top knot away from your face. This will expose more of your head and allow you to cool down a little quicker. It will also keep the sweat out of your hair
  • Stay in a cool, dry area (such as a bike store) for as long as possible to try and drop your temperature quickly
  • Point a desk fan at your face for a few minutes
  • Have a drink that does not contain caffeine, like water (or my favourite – peppermint tea)
  • If you have different clothes for the office, don’t get changed until you’re happy that the sweating has stopped
  • Bring extra deodorant and dry shampoo, always apply in a well ventilated area though, nobody likes walking into a room full of aerosol



4.    Skin care and makeup

skincare and cycling

If you’re commuting through any city, chances are that you’ll be spending a lot more time exposed to congestion and fumes than you have before. I’ve always had clear, normal skin but I almost immediately started getting spots after starting my commute by bike.

  • Don’t commute in makeup. Your pores open when you exercise, add in the post cycle-sweats and even a light foundation, and you’ve literally created a recipe for irritated skin
  • Cleanse your face before and after you ride. I use Let The Good Times Roll by Lush in the shower, then after the commuting sweats have stopped, cleanse with Ultrabland. Because I’m cleansing my face twice as often, I find using gentle products much friendlier as they retain natural oils better. Ultrabland is also very moisturising so I don’t need to do this step in the office!
  • When your skin is fresh and clean, start your makeup with a primer. A decent primer can help mattify your skin by absorbing oils without drying you out. They also help a more even finish from foundations and creams which is perfect in case you have a rogue sweaty spot. My favourite is The Airbrush Primer from Topshop, Lucy swears by the Mac’s Prep & Prime gel primer.
  • Set your makeup with a fixing spray, like our favourite from Nyx at Boots. This keeps your face in place even if you have a few residual sweats!
  • Leave the setting powder alone. I learned this one the hard way. On a particularly warm day, I found myself applying powder every time I visited the ladies’ room (and remember, I am very hydrated). It wasn’t until the end of the day that I realised I hadn’t created a matte, flawless face but a cakey, ghost like complexion. Save your powder for touch-ups only when absolutely necessary!



5.    Protect yourself from the sun

Back to mother mode. We all know it’s better to be sun aware, but proper sun protection has practical benefits too. Cyclists at all levels have experienced bizarre tan lines, and it’s certainly worth Googling if you fancy a giggle.

With a healthy dollop of sun block you can minimise the chance of these lines, and with a moisturising lotion for can protect some skin oils too.

One piece of cycling equipment I need is my sunglasses. I am literally terrible at remembering which corner I’ll turn before the sun glares directly into my retinas, and I swear every time I forget my sunglasses, I end up with at least one tiny fly stuck in my lashes.

I’m sure there’s great glasses out there for cyclists, but I get on well with a standard fashion pair. My current favourites are from Quay Australia (available from Topshop, but I got mine for a teal at TK Maxx). They’re absolutely massive which means maximum fly protection, and they’re apparently popular with the Kardashian family, so they must be awesome, right?



6.    You can cycle in a skirt, but it’s so much easier to bring a pair of shorts or leggings


I wear a lot of midi skirts, and have cycled to work in them successfully plenty of times. I normally use a hair tie to gather extra material, and have been known to tuck the bottom of the skirt back into the top. Lucy introduced me to the Penny in Yo Pants, a nifty little device that turns your skirt into a skort/culottes hybrid. I wouldn’t purchase it myself as I would lose it within a week!

The honest story is that cycling in shorts or leggings and then changing in the office is easier than faffing with a skirt. The number of times I’ve had to pull over because my skirt is loose, or I panicked as I’m convinced fabric has been sucked into my brakes is too darn high.

If you’re an absolute beginner, H&M do some great, cheap leggings in their sportswear collection. However, if you’re commuting daily as I am, it’s really worth investing in a couple of pairs of padded cycling shorts, your butt will thank me. The Fierlan high-waisted padded shorts are brilliant for riding at any level and are machine washable which believe me is a godsend.

Whilst we’re talking about bottoms, I want to give a shout out Urbanist Cycling who have a brilliant range of cycling pants, available in the UK from our favourites, Velo Vixen.


I put this list together after a summer of cycling, I can imagine in winter the challenges will be quite different, so will hopefully be back to let you know my top practical tips for winter cycling. In the meantime, why not share your practical advice for managing the commute by bike?