Cycle September: Discovering the many benefits of cycling to work

Christina's cycle commute to the office
Cycling UK Communications Officer, Christina Bengston looks back on her experience of Cycle September and discovers the secret of how to cycle to work and still look presentable when you arrive.

Looking back on Cycle September

When I started Cycle September my goal was to change the way I travelled to work. My commute (seven miles) felt just long enough that it was often just easier to drive. I wanted to change the way I thought about my journey to work, change my habits and get healthier.

I cycled to work every day in September (except for two days when I was out of the office at the Cycle Show in Birmingham) and it feels great! I cycled 264 miles and made 37 trips on my bike.

But now that September is over, I’ve been looking back on how I’ve really benefited from cycling to work and what I’m going to do next.

1. I formed a new habit

It takes on average two months to form a new habit so according to research, I'm only half-way to my new behaviour becoming automatic but it certainly feels like I’ve turned a corner. 

Previously my go to method of transport was the car. Now, even if it’s raining, I think to myself, ‘but it’s so much easier and nicer on the bike’. 

So now Cycle September is over I’m wary of slipping back into my old ways so I’m taking this challenge through to October. 

Follow Christina’s progress and keep her motivated on Cycling UK’s Strava.

2. I’m getting better sleep

After speaking to Lisa Artis, Sleep advisor for The Sleep Council I’ve made a couple of changes to my routine like turning off screens and going to bed at the same time each night. 

For the most part, I’ve been getting much more sleep in September which means getting up that little bit earlier to cycle to work has been easier. 

I’m not going to lie and say my sleep routine is now perfect. I’m a night owl not an early bird so it’s probably always going to be somewhat of a battle with myself to go to bed at a reasonable time. But cycling has meant getting more exercise and spending more time outside which leaves me feeling more physically tired at the end of the day which I’m sure has improved my sleep quality.

3. My mind is more relaxed and focused

Like many people, I often feel overwhelmed, anxious and stressed. I previously worked for the mental health charity Mind and so I know how important it is to look after your wellbeing. 

Easier said than done though isn’t it? Ideally, I’d like to find the time to take myself off for a relaxing weekly massage or a daily walk through the woods. Neither of these is realistic for me. 

Cycling to work however, has been possible, and it has given me the chance every morning and evening to have some time for myself, to relax, unwind, clear my mind of stress and take a moment to look around at the world.

4. I’m feeling fitter

I’d love to tell you that after cycling for a month I lost two stone and am now at my peak fitness level but that would be a bit of an exaggeration. 

I do feel fitter, I feel healthier and more able and willing to exercise. The aches and pains from the first week have gone and the distance to work no longer feels like an effort. 

5. I’m happier

Finally, and probably the most important and rewarding benefit I’ve found from my daily commute has been the positive impact it’s had on my mood. It really is the best way to start the day.

Cycling along the canal path, watching the ducks or whizzing past stationary traffic as I head through town, just puts a smile on my face.

How to arrive at work looking presentable

Aside from all the benefits to cycling to work there is something that puts a lot of people off. Arriving at work sweaty and dishevelled. 

More than most, I understand how this feels. I was once told by a former friend, that I was the sweatiest person they had ever met. Considering this was during a university field trip in a very humid country, I thought it was a little unfair. But they did have a point. I need only run down the street before I am red in the face and beginning to perspire. 

So, how could someone like me cycle to work and still look presentable when I arrived? I chatted to James Palser Cycle Friendly Employer Project Manager and here's his advice: 

Bring a change of clothes

The first thing to think about is what you’re going to wear

You’ll be surprised what a massive difference comfortable cycling clothes makes. 

There’s no need to buy a wardrobe of lycra, anything you feel cool in is great. Bring your work clothes with you and get changed when you arrive.

Sink wash

If you’re company doesn’t have a shower then have one before you leave home and then a quick rinse over the sink when you arrive to avoid any body odour.

Take it easy

If you’re worried about building up too much of a sweat, leave home a bit earlier and take it easy. Reducing your effort will help to keep you looking fresh

Help from my workplace

I’m lucky working at Cycling UK which is obviously pretty cycle friendly. We have showers, lockers, a drying room and secure covered bike racks outside. 

Not all workplaces are like this and it does put many people off cycling to work. If you’d like to cycle but need a bit of help from your work, don’t be afraid to ask. Your employer will also reap the benefits of having cycling employees. 

Get advice for how to make your employer more cycle friendly.

What’s next?

Cycle September might be over, but my cycle commute is going to continue. 

If you’re thinking about travelling to work by bike, have a look on Cycling UK’s advice for commuter’s page to get lots of tips and advice to help you have a safe and happy ride.