The barriers to cycling to work The barriers to cycling to work

Posted by Gary Lake On 30 August 2012

Tagged: Categories: Advice, Advocacy

Can't cycle to work, won't cycle to work? “The Work Cycle” Editor Gary Lake explores the most common reasons and excuses for not cycling to work and breaks them down. Read on for hints and tips from cycling front-line for beating the traffic, sweat and thieves. The most important thing though? Doing something is better than nothing…

Gary is a dedicated commuter and cycling journalist. Curator and editor at The Work Cycle. Editor and Founder of online cycling publication Cyclist No.1. Senior Designer at Pixillion. He’s also a cycling filmmaker, photographer, and of course, rider/racer of bicycles.  

The barriers to cycling to work

The benefits of cycling to work are well known, both in terms of personal health and well-being to the individual, but also to society as a whole both in terms of health and economic benefits. You don’t even need to be the one cycling to even benefit from greater uptake it would seem. 

Typically there’s four types of people: those that cycle, those that want to (or want to do it more), those that are unable, and those that won’t. If you can’t cycle, you can’t cycle. If you don’t want to, chances are there’s no convincing you otherwise (for now). I’ll assume from the fact that you’re reading this that you’re a ‘want to’ kind of person, and I want to try and break down some of those barriers that are perhaps stopping you from grabbing a bike. 

The great thing about getting you on your bike is that the more normal and popular it becomes, the safer and more enjoyable it becomes. And in turn, even more people take it up. If you visit any highly-regarded cycle friendly city anywhere in the world, the common thing you’ll see is that there’s not a single ‘type’ of person that cycles, ‘everyone’ cycles, and it’s fantastic.  

There's no type of person that cycles in cycle-friendly cities, everyone cycles.

As seen on Isthmus, Auckland

The transition from non-bike-commuter, to a sometimes-bike-commuter, to full-time-bike-commuter is not an overnight one. It’s hard to begin with, and it’ll always be hard at times. But you find little solutions to problems over the years, you do it more and more, and before you know it you are doing it full-time. There’s usually an epiphany type day where you discover you’re really full-time. You wake up on a rainy Monday morning, you think about driving instead of cycling; the hassle of getting in the car, battling the traffic, [not] finding somewhere to park. It overwhelms you with dread and you conclude that you simply ‘can’t be bothered to drive’. 

The reasons for not commuting by bike are numerous and genuine, so I’m not going to belittle or patronise you into doing it. But I am going to give you a short-cut to solving those little cycle to work barriers.

1.  It’s too far, I’m too unfit. 

This is a common and pretty solid excuse, the distance part anyway. One thing to remember is that doing ‘something’ is better than nothing. Could you drive part/most of the way, park up and cycle the last bit? If you live rurally but work inside of a major town or city this is a fantastic way of cutting down commute times and stress levels. After all, the worst part of your commute is usually the bit once you reach the edge of town. And if your town has a good cycle network, you can often get all the way into the centre free from traffic. Park and ride facilities are also a good bet, just make the ‘ride’ bit your bicycle instead of the bus. 

If it's too far to cycle all the way, mix cycling up with public transport or evening driving a bit still

As seen on Muchbeta, Afurada

If you’re not fit enough don’t despair. Unlike mechanical vehicles, the human body gets stronger the more you use it, so the more you commute, the easier it’ll become. The average person loses 13lbs in their first year of cycling to work, so if you can get the bike and bank the miles, you’ll be flying along before long. If your commute is a bit too much to tackle, build up to it, it’s better to ride some of it rather than none of it by bike. If the distance is too far, try parking up and cycling in as above, but over time park up just that little bit further out. With any luck you’ll reach a point where it hardly seems worthwhile loading up the car and you’ll just ride the whole thing. 

Or if you can store your bike safely, try riding in one day, use public transport to get home and into work again, and then cycle home the following day. 

2. I’ll get all sweaty, there are no showers at work. 

Unless you’re a proper Gorilla or have a genuine body odour problem, the sweaty thing is a touch overrated. As long as you shower before you set off, take it easy and try not to overwork yourself on the cycle in, chances are you won’t be ‘honking’ too badly when you get in. Stash some wet wipes and deodorant under your desk and you’ll be fine. 

The summer is a bigger challenge, but if your employer is happy for you to work flexible hours, try going in a little earlier when it’s cooler. Try carrying your stuff in panniers on a rack, the biggest issue with getting sweaty is actually riding with a backpack sometimes. 

It's possible to make the showerless commute work

3. The dress code is pretty strict, what about creasing my shirt/blouse?     

Try rolling your clothes instead of folding them as this can help prevent creasing. If you’ve got space at work, why not drive in on Monday, stash your week’s worth of shirts etc at the office and then cycle for the rest of the week. 

If your dress code is a bit more informal, lighten the load by investing in a pair of shoes and jeans for work which you periodically rotate. It’s amazing how much lighter your bag is when you’re only taking in a t-shirt and underwear each day.

4. Bike crime is too big a concern

Essentially, no bike is secure when it’s locked up outdoors. There’s not a single bike lock on the market that’s unbreakable while still being remotely portable. Therefore you need to think about your bike lock in terms of a deterrent, and in particular a relative deterrent.

Bike security is a numbers game

A thief will be looking at the rack, your bike, and all the others on it. They’ll be making a calculated assessment to work out which bike is the most valuable, which bike has the easiest lock to break, and finally which bike sits in that sweet spot of having a high resale value to rubbish lock ratio. That’s the one that gets stolen. 

Sadly, preventing your own bike from being stolen is about putting the risk onto someone else’s bike. That means, riding a genuinely less appealing, lower value bike, and then spending decent money on a lock. So don’t be a cheapskate when it comes to security, and leave the exotic carbon road bike at home.   

5. No really, I can’t leave my bike locked outdoors, and there’s nowhere to store it inside.

Bring those bikes indoors. It’s not so hard and they’re not that big a nuisance. There’s one overriding thing we read time and time again in our gallery submissions. Bike-keen commuters who put forward a persistent but strong case eventually forced a culture change that led to tolerance at first, and eventually embrace of the bicycle as a means of getting to work. We’ve seen examples of business owners going on to shape their entire work spaces around their employees’ desire to ride a bike to work. Roof-top storage, shower blocks and even hanging bikes up in reception, we’ve seen it all. Sure there was some initial resistance from management, but the bikes prevailed. And even better was that non-bike commuting staff got to see what they were missing out on and joined in too.   

One thing is for sure, once you embrace bicycles in the work place, the results can be incredible

As seen on Huge, Brooklyn, NY

So show your boss some of our showcases and start lobbying for internal storage or a greater tolerance towards bringing bikes in (we’ll be explaining how soon). We’re all for keeping bikes indoors, otherwise we wouldn’t have started “The Work Cycle”. 

Failing that, there’s a rise in bike-storage schemes where you can park your bike and sometimes even get a shower and locker for a monthly fee. In “The Work Cycle” home-town of Bristol, we have such a scheme being pioneered by local bike shop and cycle cafe Mud Dock Cycleworks.

6. I need my car as I have errands to run before/after work    

Perhaps you need a cargo bike? These are increasing in popularity now, and they’re bikes especially designed or adapted to meet the needs of the ever increasing numbers of urban cyclists. Whether it’s an extra long wheelbase bike with an elongated, fixed rear rack for saddlepack sized panniers; or an integrated trailer bike for carrying large quantities of groceries and goods; or maybe it’s a dedicated family bike with a cosy segment for a couple of kids to ride in. 

Who needs cars when you have utility bikes?

As seen on Euclid Elements, Palo Alto

If you can’t afford a new dedicated utility bicycle, why not add front and rear racks to your existing bike? A handlebar bag or basket perhaps? What about a trailer, many can be converted between kiddie carrying and cargo shifting purposes. 

You see there are thousands of extra keen cyclists who have been trying their best to ditch the car, even for the weekly shop or the school run. And with cycling’s popularity only rising, more and more bicycles and accessories tailored to urban living, rather than just sport or pastime, are coming to the market.  

7. Rain!

At “The Work Cycle” we’re based in England. It’s pretty wet here, in fact it seems to always be raining at times. But even so, it’s surprising how little you get properly drenched while cycling in.

There’s a few ways to tackle the rainy commute. Why not just bail from time to time? If you’re commuting consistently it can’t hurt to take time off now and again, have a rest, read a book on the bus perhaps? I know that’s probably not what you were expecting, but even if you only fair-weather commute by bike, that’s still better than never commuting by bike. If you commute consistently and decide to have a driving/public transport day, you’ll probably find yourself missing the bike commute regardless of the weather, which only serves to reinforce the conviction you have for cycling in the first place. 

There’s an adapted saying, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes”. Cycling in the rain in your jeans and t-shirt is hardly going to be most enjoyable experience. But invest in some cycle-specific wet-weather gear, get some mudguards on your bike, and it’s really not so bad riding in the rain. Stash your work clothes in a waterproof backpack or panniers and you’ll never have to deal with sitting at your desk in wet undies ever again!

8. I’m just too nervous to cycle in rush hour traffic, I haven’t ridden a bike in years

Cycling in a major town or city, or even major rural roads can be pretty intimidating. It can be really worthwhile looking into some proper cycle training. While we’re against the notion of compulsory cycle training for all cyclists, there’s a lot to be said about voluntary training as a means of building confidence in nervous cyclists. In the UK we have the Bikeability scheme which has replaced the old Cycling Proficiency scheme done in schools. But it also extends to adults now and you can pop down to your local Bikeability approved training centre and get some cycle training. If you haven’t cycled in years, you know the saying, “it’s just like riding a bike”.

It’s well accepted that the more people that cycle, the safer it actually becomes, which leaves us in something of a chicken and egg scenario. If everyone that wanted to cycle but was too frightened to do so, actually went out and did it, the sheer critical mass would make cycling so much safer and there’d be nothing to be frightened of!

9. I just don’t have time, surely cycling is too slow!

You’d think. If you’ve got a 30-mile, mostly cross-country commute, there’s a pretty good chance the car is going to be faster. But I’d also suggest looking at point 1 above and see if there’s some part of your journey that can be done by bike, it might just save you a bit more time. 

CYcling is nearly always faster

As seen on, Madrid

In any congested urban environment, the bicycle is king when it comes to get about town quickly, and I don’t mean by red light jumping and hopping onto pavements either. Even if your city isn’t particularly bike friendly, it’s almost certain you’ll get there quicker by bike. And you won’t waste ages trawling streets for a space to park once you get there either, while probably having to walk 10-15 minutes to where you actually needed to be after that.

And so what if it is slower for you to go by bike? Ask yourself why you’re so busy that you can’t spare the time to ride to work. If you go to the gym, stop paying for it and ride your bike instead. You’ll get fit and get to work in the same time slot, thus killing two birds with one stone. If you can’t physically get up early enough, ask yourself why you’re so tired? People who cycle to work are healthier and report a better sense of well being, so maybe by just cycling to work, you might find it easier to get up and find you actually have more time. 

And who’s to say time on the bike is wasted time. Time in the car is certainly wasted! Riding a bike is relaxing, it’s making you healthier and fitter in the process, and it’s fun. Can you say that about everything else in your life? Find time to ride!  

10. Are you sure it’s healthier, surely I’m just breathing in even more pollution than I would in my car? 

Actually no. A study by Imperial College London showed that cyclists breathed in just 8% of the average amount of fine pollution particles that car drivers and bus passengers actually breathed in. Cyclists are on the move more and stuck in stationary traffic less. And cyclists are usually to the sides of traffic either being passed while on the inside of the lane, or passing on the outside. Eitherway, they spend much less time directly in the line of fire of emissions from the vehicles around them, and subsequently inhale less of those lung cell damaging particles.   


The key thing about getting on the bike is not to set yourself up for failure by making it too hard and setting too high a goal. Stay in the mindset that doing something is better than nothing and even if you only cycle commute on ‘dress down Fridays’, then that’s totally cool.

Most committed cycle commuters didn’t just wake up one day and start cycling in everyday, all year long. It’s always something you build up to. Starting that journey and just riding in a little bit is the big challenge, and actually the rest comes all rather naturally and willingly! 

Vive le vélo!

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