Being a Commuter and Cycling to Work
There’s definitely a few of us who as a commuter are lucky enough to live roughly near to where they work and are foolhardy enough to brave the traffic to commute into work on our bikes. Out on the street you’ll see huge variation in what people use to get to work. From cheap heavy mountain bikes to the odd person still out on their carbon ride in the depths of winter sliding around on the ice.
Aside from the steed, clothing shows similar amounts of variation. There’s plenty of garish yellowy green hi-vis on show, clippy shoes, smart shoes (and even one person with clippy shoes without the clips – like having football boots without the studs) and even the odd Rapha jersey for some reason. I’ve already covered cycling kit as a whole here, but the commuter kit throws in a whole new world of possibilities.
Personally I go for the tweed jacket with laptop bag ballast, suited and booted approach, which given it has the aerodynamic properties of a woven sail flapping in the wind makes my ride into work just that touch harder. It’s still easier and quicker than having to get changed more than I need to.
It’s only natural then that we want to defeat the others that we come across on our route, some battles get played out repeatedly at the same times and the same places, just on different days. There are different ‘stages’ or ‘tracks’, the most common one for me in Birmingham is the Gooch Street – Pershore Road – Hurst Street bike route blast, however Broad Street was once a happy hunting ground and there’s a special place for beating people up the hill into Kings Heath.
Everyone has their own route and points where they come across other commuters, but like all cycle racing a hill climb victory is worth more than simply being quicker than someone on the flat. Especially if you’ve got a laptop bag.
Now there are a couple of unofficial rules, going through red lights is a big no-no and an instant disqualification. Being able to then still pass someone who has gone through one of them gives a solid moral victory however. Gaining a sense of achievement by blasting past someone who is going at glacial levels of slowness is not cool, you’d have to blast past about six for one real victory.
Also overtaking and then going immediately left across their path is a bit of a dick move (it’s dangerous enough when drivers do it). Drafting is allowed, but don’t expect much information coming back to you like you would on the club ride. Their last minute swerve around the pothole could see you hit it for instance. The questionable quality of mudguards also makes this practice disadvantageous if it’s a damp day, as you’ll only end up mucky for work.
The Commuter Racer Mindset
It takes the right sort of person to initiate a race with someone they don’t know, who probably doesn’t know they’re racing and is just using a bike as a means to get to work. Hyper competitiveness is a must, a turn of speed is very useful, as is the ability to self-justify this behaviour. ‘I’m just doing it to get to work quicker’, ‘this is good training’ and ‘my anaerobic levels are going through the roof!’
Some races start by accident because the number one goal is to get into town and make that train, despite leaving the house 5 minutes later than you should have. Soon you have lots of overtakes and someone smart who has jumped onto your back wheel that you have to try and burn off where possible.
The dream days are the ones where all the lights are green, all the islands are clear and you can smash it to work in 15 minutes without having had to stop on the way.