Over the years, one of the most frequent questions I’ve been asked about the long trips across Europe is how did you train? The answer is easy; I didn’t. Well, not really… What I did do, however, was cycle to work most days each week for many months, years even, before setting off to ride from one extremity of Europe to another. I suspected – and I think I am correct in saying this – that the biggest challenge of riding long distances over a period of a couple of months or more is not necessarily the distance, it’s the motivation to keep going day after day, irrespective of your mood or the weather. And this is why commuting by bicycle to work each day in the run-up to a long trip is worth its weight in gold.
This was my commute when I lived in Reading and worked in Henley-on-Thames; it was a round trip of about 20km and involved two longish climbs totalling about 160m there and back.
That was a rainy day back in November 2014 shortly before I quit my job, moved back to Yorkshire and, in early March of 2015, headed for Spain for the start of my long cycle from Tarifa, the southernmost point of the continent to Nordkapp, the northernmost point, as retold in Spain to Norway on a Bike Called Reggie.
In normal times, I now have a job that, in theory, has me working about two days per week in Halifax town centre and the rest of the week working in schools which could be anywhere on the western side of West Yorkshire, occasionally beyond. Commuting by bike is still on the cards for the two days in Halifax, but on the other days almost impossible as I often don’t know where I will be working until perhaps an hour before I need to be standing at the front door of the school. Such is the exciting world of supply teaching… But two days out of five is not bad. Or at least it wouldn’t be too bad in ‘normal times’. We don’t, of course, live in ‘normal times’; we live in very ‘abnormal times’. Although cycling has had a good COVID-19 as many more people are out on their bikes and the bike shops have been stripped bare of their stock, cycle commuting is going through a rough patch as so many of us are either working from home or furloughed and not working at all.
‘So what? ‘ I hear you cry! ‘You don’t have to be working to get out on the bike! ‘ This is, of course, very true. But when it comes to commuting, you have a reason to get on the bike in the first place; work. For most of the period I spent commuting to Henley from Reading, I didn’t own a car. It was either the bike or a train journey (that involved a long, inconvenient, uphill walk from the station at the far end to the school in the outskirts of town). When I was feeling a little demotivated about the cycle to work, it was work itself that kept me cycling. And (no surprise here) I usually discovered that within minutes of setting off, the bike ride was a motivating factor to keep going. The risky period was between getting up and getting dressed. As soon as I dressed for the cycle, the rest was easy, even on the cold, wet days of winter. Including the snowy ones:
(On that particular day I arrived at school only to be told that lots of teachers couldn’t make it in by car and the school was closed for the day. The irony wasn’t lost on me.)
So commuting is a good way to keep fit, prepare even, for very long rides of hundreds, perhaps thousands of kilometres. Take away work, however, and commuting has no purpose. Going out on the bike requires a purpose in itself. And although this is what most of us do frequently most of us probably don’t do it on a daily basis for a relatively short distance, which is the beauty of the commute. I hope all that makes sense.
Yesterday evening, I cancelled a planned ride with a friend for today. I just wasn’t in the mood. This morning I woke up and reflected upon the whole commuting by bike thing and the reasons why it is such a useful thing to do and the motivational factors that keep us doing it, day after day, as set out above. This in itself motivated me to get on the bike and go for a ride…
On a macro level, the terrain of western West Yorkshire is very different to that of south-east Oxfordshire. But on a level that is somewhere between macro and micro (any suggestions?) my ride today was remarkably similar to the commute that I used to do on a daily basis when I lived in Reading. A little shorter than the round-trip to the school in Henley compensated by a bit more climbing. You’ll notice that I have captioned the video above ‘Winter Training’. It’s also the title I gave to the ride on Strava.
Now if I could keep doing that same ride every other day for the remainder of lockdown, it might set me up quite well for a long ride come the summer. It just needs to be not-too-long and regular. A non-commute commute…