Commuting by bicycle - top tips and advice

Commuting to work by bicycle has boomed in popularity over the last decade, with congested roads and rising fares for packed trains being one of the main drivers of the increasing number of people opting for pedal power instead.

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And of course there's the handy fact that you get a free workout at each end of the day as well.

So if you're sold on the idea yourself, here are some basic advice and tips that should really help.

Choosing your bike
"Racing" road bikes, tourers, hybrids and folding bikes are among the most popular types of cycle used for commuting.

Race bikes have sharp handling, pick-up speed quickly and are exhilarating to ride, but can be skittish and may not be as comfortable as some other options.

Tourers look similar - with drop bars - but tend to have slightly wider tyres, more mellow handling and added practicality for attaching bags (panniers) and mudguards.

Hybrids can combine the speed of the road bike with the more upright stance of a mountain bike - and are very popular with newcomers to cycling. There are many commuter-specific machines on the market.

Folding bikes deserve a feature all to themselves, but although inevitably compromised can be very pleasant to ride and of course offer the opportunity to ride at both ends of a train journey and then store your bike next to you desk.

And if you already have a mountain bike, it can easily be made commute-friendly with the addition of some slick tyres and mudguards.

Technology has even made "electric-assist" bikes a more viable option than in the past, so if you have a medical condition or need to arrive at work fresher these can be a good option.

Fixed gear bikes have been all the rage with hip young cyclists over the last few years, but think very carefully before getting one of these and definitely try one out over a decent distance. They are probably not the best option for those new to cycling.

The best option is to have secure storage at your place of work, although this isn't always possible. Even if you do have somewhere to keep your bike in the office car park, it's still a good idea to chain it up just in case.

If storing your bike in public, you really don't want to be riding anything too fancy. In fact, the tattier your bike looks, the better.

When buying a lock look for a Solid Secure rating (Gold, Silver or Bronze) - and go for something that is as chunky as possible. Kryptonite, Abus and Squire are three of the best-known brands.

Replace quick release bolts for nutted or security key versions and run a coil lock through the wheels and saddle rails as well as the frame.

Unless you have a very short or flat commute (and the weather is good), it's unlikely that you'll want to ride in your work attire.

You'll also be more comfy in cycle-specific clothing - so do consider investing in a nice pair of cycle shorts (perhaps a few pairs), jerseys and then some longer tights or bibs (like dungarees) and a waterproof jacket for the winter.

Hi-visibility colours and reflective strips are a must-have.

There are loads of websites selling all this stuff, but unless you know what you're doing it can be better to go to a shop so you can try things on and get advice.

On a practical note, your employer may not provide shower facilities - in which case you may wish to invest in an economy size box of baby wipes.

You'll also probably want to keep a stock of clean clothes at the office, to make logistics easier.

Other kit
You will need lights as well if riding in the winter, but there are some amazing LED units on the market now and prices can be very affordable if you do your research.

Once you get into it you may wish to invest in "clipless" pedals, which work with special shoes to give you more power for less effort. And of course you'll definitely want a helmet and some gloves to protect your noggin and hands respectively.

Heavy duty commuting tyres and anti-puncture systems are available, but many add weight to the wheels - which are the most important part of the bike to keep light - so try riding with normal tyres and tubes and see how you get on.

Mudguards are pretty essential for all but fairweather riders, and will be specific to the type of bike you buy - so take advice from your friendly local bike shop.

Riding tips
If you're not a confident cyclist already then you really should think about getting some training, it's easy to find out about and usually nice and cheap.

This will help you to get the confidence to ride defensively, making it less likely that you'll come a cropper due to somebody's bad driving.

If you're riding in a town you'll also have other cyclists to contend with, so be sure to treat them with the same courtesy you would wish to be treated yourself - and don't push your way to the front at the traffic lights, only to hold everyone else up afterwards.

By all means use cycle lanes, but be wary of pedestrians straying into them, as they have a habit of doing, and anticipate finding vehicles parked across them - so ride with your head up (as you should do anyway in traffic).

If you're finding the distance hard to deal with, consider going one way by public transport if you can leave your bike somewhere safe overnight. If not, maybe only commute by bike a couple of days a week to start with and build it up gradually.

Tax break
Find out if your company offers tax relief on a new bike via the bike to work scheme, which allows a bike to be paid for from your salary before tax - and your employer to reclaim the VAT.

This can save you 40 per cent on the cost of a bike and those taking part are commonly allowed to spend up to £1k on a cycle and accessories.

The scheme is a bit complicated for us to explain fully here, but your company's HR or accounts department should be able to make sense of it easily if you point them in the right direction.

What do you think? Did we miss anything? Let us know below...