Ms ZiYou - should I get a bike
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Overcoming mental barriers – Should I get a bike?

Over the last few months, I’ve been getting more and more interested in getting a bike – of the pedal cycle or push bike variety. Yet there are many – real or perceived – barriers that are stopping me. I know in the FIRE community biking is popular for health and financial reasons, so I want to share my roadblocks and see if you can dismantle them. Hence my question – should I get a bike?

What is stopping me?

But I have a dilemma – I’m not sure I need a bike. Or would even use a bike. Moreover, I have tons of excuses/reasons/barrier to getting a bike. I want to ensure if I do go ahead with this, it’s a well-thought-out practical decision, not a fad or jumping on the bandwagon. So here we have my should I get a bike dilemma – time to lay out all the issues and pros and cons for some experts to review and critique.

Would I actually cycle?

Ms ZiYou Cycle Path

Observations and many studies have shown that London’s cyclists are generally white middle-class males, of which a sizeable subset ride like idiots. Honestly, I see at least one cyclist jumping a red light each day in the city. The aggression is scary, and it doesn’t look like an appealing environment or culture to join. Many articles confirm my observations:

Hence, the first barrier to overcome is could I hack it on the roads? Cycling alongside buses, lorries, taxis and aggressive mamil type cyclists? This is a complex issue to pinpoint the fear, is confidence the issue? Or perceived safety? Or just a club of jerks that I’d rather not join or be associated with?

And then the question becomes, when would I use the bike?

Commuting to Work

Ms ZiYou Bike WorkI live ~15 miles from where I work and there are a few hills in the way, not to mention copious amounts of traffic. I would need to ride from outer London land – where the car is king – all the way into the city where buses and taxis jostle for space in narrow medieval streets.

Although, in writing this I have had a look at Google maps, which does cycle routes that I never noticed before. And there is one route from home to the office that is not too bad for busy roads. It doesn’t look that difficult to follow and avoids the absolutely horrendous roads. Now, this inspires me and makes me feel that this might be possible one day a week. Now when pondering should I get a bike, my mind turns more positive and some doubts show signs of evaporating.

Leisure Commuting

Ms ZiYou Leisure Bike

I tend to go out in central London, and usually in the evening. While I’m happy getting public transport home at all hours, I’m much less keen on the idea of cycling home. Maybe because of tiredness? And the implied dangers of the dark? Either way, I don’t think I’d be comfortable cycling back after an evening out. And then there’s alcohol. I do like the odd drink, which is completely impractical with a two-wheeled mode of transport.

Errands and shopping

Now we come to an easier one – I could easily use a bike instead of the car or walking to run local errands, and to get groceries etc. However I quite often do this on foot, and I’m not sure I’d even save much time on a bike? I may end up having to take the long route home avoiding the hills!

Riding for Pleasure

I absolutely love the idea of going out for a ride in the country for a day out. My romanticised notion of a day out cycling has visions of easy flat riding over impressively scenic hills with no other traffic around and perfect weather. Perhaps not at all realistic, but a woman can dream.

It does sound like a fun way to spend a day, but is it more pleasurable in idea and abstract, rather than in the actual reality? Using my own muscle power would be tiring, and like most things would one experience diminishing returns the more I cycled?

Now, in practical terms, you can take bikes on trains at the weekend to get to pretty places in the country. But then I can see the need for additional expenses in getting a car bike rack to travel to more remote and scenic places.

Ms ZiYou Indoor Bike

Where would I keep the bike?

Another perceived barrier to the question should I get a bike is where to keep it. And you know what, this one could be easily sorted. I have a house with a garden, but I’ve got nowhere easily accessible to keep the bike. I don’t have a garage, and my shed is at the back of a 100 ft garden and is not configured to easily take a bike.

I would need to move a useless raised bed that the last lodger left (it is in the shade, and sadly functions as a cat toilet nowadays – grim). Then either go low tech and buy a tarp, or some sort of bike shelter. But, I’m reluctant to spend money on this, there must be an easy way? Where do people keep bikes? Or could I keep a bike inside? My hall isn’t big enough to hold a bike and allow someone to pass easily, but maybe there are other options I have not considered? Hanging the bike somehow?

What type of bike?

Do I get a road bike? Or a cute city bike with a basket etc? Or a mountain bike? And really what is a hybrid bike? Truth be told I know that these types of bokes exist, but am not really sure in detail what the differences are. What is the best type for riding on tarmac, yet potholed and occasionally gravelly roads? Or what about a folding bike? Does that count as a real bike?

Breakdowns

Another barrier is the thought of being stuck somewhere with a broken bike. Punctures seem like a regular occurrence that you need to be able to fix, how hard are they to patch? I can’t imagine anything worse than breaking down, than having to walk your bike many more miles. Given bikes are banned on public transport at rush hour, I can foresee being stranded the odd time. Do I need a plan to lock up the bike in a random place and get the bus? And as for punctures, I presume I’d need to be prudent to learn how to sort them before going out for more than a few miles on the bike?

Clothing, Gear and Luggage

Do I need special clothes? I assume those special shorts reduce the chaffing? And what exactly do bib shorts do? Although there is some conflicting advice going around now – see forcing people to wear helmets will not save lives  – I’d need to get a helmet. Security wise, some sort of bike lock also seems like an essential purchase, with a myriad of different options available – what makes a bike lock good?

How does one transport stuff, like clean clothes – a backpack? Does that not give you a sweaty back? Or these fancy pannier things? Obviously, if I was to ride anywhere for more than the fun of riding, I’d need to take a change of clothes and the usual kitchen sink contents of my handbag.

Fitness Benefits

One of my big drivers to get a bike is to get more fit and incorporate exercise into my daily routine. I wouldn’t say I am the fittest person, I love to run but am slow. But if I could do commuting and exercise at the same time, life would be good. I’d see this as easily achieving two wins in parallel, which seems like a good choice.

Sunk costs

Over-analyser and planner alert – would buying a bike be a sunk cost, or could some of the costs be recovered if I changed my mind? As I am quite prone to changing my mind. Over the years I’ve had many hobbies and interests, and not many of them have stuck with me over the long haul. I need to be realistic about this and avoiding buying stuff that I will not use, as I’m trying to adopt a more minimaist mindset.

Would it save money?

I know a lot of people bike to save money, in my circumstances I’m not sure it would. I already have a 80% savings rate. I pay about £12 a day to commute on public transport and only go in 2-3 days a week at the moment, working from home the other days.

So what would a bike cost me? I’d have to buy a bike, suitable clothing and accessories. So, even if I got a second-hand bike, this seems to be easily running over a few hundred pounds.  Say £200 at the bottom end if I manage to get some bargains.

My current position

I’m erring towards not buying a bike immediately, but keeping an eye out for a bargain second-hand bike. When I see a bargain, I am ready to pull the trigger. Although I need to learn what to look out for when buying a bike. I also might attempt some London cycling by buying a helmet and trying a Boris bike occasionally, to see how I feel cycling in busy streets with loads of buses.

Barriers? Can I crush them?

I know I am seeing barriers that I can easily crush, or put a bit of effort in and crush. So why don’t I use my time an ingenuity to work around them? Should I get a bike and work around these barriers?

Over to you

  • Are you a cyclist?
  • When/where do you cycle?
  • What do you think about my situation?
  • Should I get a bike?

Thanks for reading – please leave a comment below and join in the conversation. You can also connect on Twitter or Pinterest.

Looking forward to your thoughts and ideas – all are welcome. 

17 comments on “Overcoming mental barriers – Should I get a bike?

  1. Before I ER’d I used to commute the final hop from Victoria to wherever I was working by bike. I really enjoyed it, more so than the work 🙂 I’d bought a Brompton folding cycle on a ‘cycle to work’ scheme which worked for my needs really well. Although it wasn’t the primary reason, I calculated that it paid for itself inside 6 months.
    However Like everything it pays to think through what your needs are carefully before you buy anything.

    A few quick points.

    * 15 miles each way is a risky start, that’s 2 1/2 hrs aerobic exercise plus a day at work something to aim for but maybe a bit too epic to start with. Could you split the journey with public transport ?

    * Puncture resistant types – don’t get on a bike without them. Rarely fitted as standard because they are more expensive but they make a massive difference to your confidence in your bike.

    * Cycle training – highly recommended. Safe cycling is Vehicular cycling which can be counter intuitive. Take a look at the book Cyclecraft, some London boroughs subsidise cycle training see http://www.cycletraining.co.uk .

    * Culture – erm dunno, because I haven’t cycled in London for a few years but as a generalisation. Assertiveness (being seen and being aware) is not aggression, reckless cyclists e.g RLJ ers tend to be young and don’t get to be middle aged. What you don’t notice as a pedestrian or driver is that cyclists / scooter riders / motor cyclists do talk to each other, look out for each other and call out crap behaviour.

    * Special clothing – just no.

    * Mudguards – just yes.

    1. Thanks Nathan – some fabulous thoughts there, thank you for taking the time to share. You’ve given me good things to think about.

      I’d def build up to the 15 miles – not too worried about the cardio side as I run marathons and love running long – but the cycling muscles would need to be broke in. A partial ride to work seems pointless – wearing sweaty cycling clothes then getting on public transport would not enamour me to my fellow travellers.

  2. Nathan has a good point about attempting that distance right from the start.

    Aside from that, I had a bicycle for awhile and enjoyed commuting to work and pleasure riding. In the end I sold it when I moved due to storage. Also I prefer walking or transit. It’s my downtime and I’d rather not have to be super attentive when commuting.

    Can you borrow a bike to try doing small errands and pleasure riding? If you do get a bike, start with only essentials and give it a few months before deciding if you need new gear

    1. Thanks for sharing Melissa – yeah I’d never do that distance from the start, it would need a lot of building up to.

      Sadly I don’t know anyone nearby with a bike – all my friends with bikes use them and live at the opposite end of town, but borrowing is a good idea if I could make it work.

  3. Half way through I was thinking ‘Boris bike’. Hiring a Boris bike would potentially tick off quite a few of your barriers:- Mamils, lorries, buses, the general busyness of central london and your potential enjoyment of riding.

    I agree with building up to a commute if you were to buy a bike along with your suggestion of 2nd hand to start. Whatever bike you initially buy it will probably only do you for a few months as you’ll find you want a different type, wheels, road usage etc. Voice of experience as hubby started cycling 3 years ago and went through 3 different types of bike in 18 months before finding the right type for him. He had my brother to talk him through it but everyone is different and until you cycle the roads you live in you don’t always know which bike will suit you best.

    My brother is an inner London mamil but doesn’t tend to do much street cycling. He does weekend long distance/park cycling as London streets aren’t much fun apparently.

    My son-in-law hangs his bike on the hall wall. It helps that he’s over 6ft so can reach easily and no-one else can so doesn’t impact on passing it by.

    Padded shorts are a must!!

    1. Thanks for the detailed response Tuppeny – I think I will try out a Boris Bike and see how I get on.

      Am I am now eyeing up all my walls for bike suitability!

  4. Bikes are fantastic. Such a measure of freedom and speed after I walk everywhere in winter!

    There are several places in and around London which sell used bikes at a reasonable price. That’s what we did when we lived in London. Our experience was very different though. While I had a bike superhighway all the way to work and felt safe on my commute, Mr. E. had to navigate narrow roads, difficult intersections and honking drivers. If there is a biking path that avoids the worst traffic/goes through parks of quiet streets, you could have a much better time.

    As far as special gear, we never got much more than a helmet, lights, reflective vest, a sturdy lock and some elastic bands. I really want a set of panniers, but as you know, sturdy/waterproof ones don’t come for free! So I bought some elastic bike straps and strapped my backpack to the rear wheel carrier rack. It was not pretty, but it was functional and made it possible for me to arrive at work without needing to change if I just kept my pace relatively leisurely. You might find that you would rather get to work fast and change/shower there, so find what works for you.

    As far as fear of repairs, I find youtube comes to my aid all the time. I’ve changed inner tubes, tuned up breaks and done general maintenance all with the help of youtube. I have also left my bike locked up at work and taken the bus home several times if my knees disagreed with me. I was lucky though, our bike shed at work was super out-of-the-way, so I didn’t have to worry about theft.

    While the decision is ultimately yours, I think I would just share that I loved commuting by bike to work in London. It was so much nicer to roll along in the sun (and rain), instead of being squashed like a sardine on the underground or train during rush hour. It saved us hundreds of pounds too after just the first year, even taken into account the price of the bikes, extra gear and maintenance.

    1. Thanks for all the great advice Kristine – there is no real bike path on the route, but I could easily pick quieter streets.

      I’m wanting to get a second=-hand one now, but need to make sure I don’t end up buying a stolen one!

  5. I think trying a Boris bike is definitely a good call! Feel it out and see how it feels. I’d never considered how male dominated cycling is but it’s true, Most of the people I see on bikes are middle aged men (apart from deliveroo cyclists who are young men).

    Also it sounds like buying a bike might not be the best financial solution but it’s always good to break down a barrier and push through a fear. If you go second hand you can always sell on and don’t stand to lose a lot of money but might grow as a person which is always good 🙂

  6. I didn’t ride a bike for about fifteen years of my life, so I had a lot of the same hesitation. I hadn’t biked since primary school!
    I love the idea of trying out a Boris bike (a helmet doesn’t have to be expensive, you don’t need anything to fancy).
    I picked my road bike up secondhand for $200 and I love it. I was nervous annoy the skinny tires, but they help me go fast and do longer rides. But trying out friends bikes even for a short ride on the weekend may help you know what style you want.
    The nice thing about buying a secondhand bike is that you’ll likely be able to resell it for what you paid! Now you will want to buy bike shorts, a helmet, and a lock. Anything else is just extra.

  7. Are you a cyclist?
    Yes

    When/where do you cycle?
    Summer evenings, weekends, holidays

    What do you think about my situation?
    15 miles is a lot to start, but is almost too short when you’re used to cycling. Think about 3 days a week, then how many of those it will rain, too cold, you’re running late, have a hangover and couldn’t think about putting your leg over a bike. If a bike still sounds viable I’d go for it, but my feeling is it might be too few days?

    On the other hand bikes are incredible if you like steady aerobic exercise and are close to good roads (quiet, countryside, such like). An hour after work on a sunny summer evening is better than any meditation I’ve tried, clear mind, seeing wildlife, getting sun and fresh air. Punctures and stuff are easy – if you can figure out FIRE those are no problem (just carry a spare inner tube, and swap that in, fix the punctured one at home later – remembering to check the tire for what caused the puncture!)

    Should I get a bike?
    Really hard to say, it’s a very individual thing. My suggestion would be to check if there are any suitable cycling groups in your area that you could go out with for some gentle runs, and look on Gumtree or the like to see if there are any cheap bikes. People are always buying bikes and then selling them on, so you can find something cheaply – if you hate cycling sell on with no loss, if you like it you can buy something ideal later. Only must is a helmet, with maybe adder of gloves.

    Hope you enjoy it – I acknowledge it’s not for everyone, but I absolutely love it.

    1. Thanks Scott, you are selling the bike life well, and it’s good to know that punctures etc are not too hard to deal with. The control freak in me would appreciate if you could schedule punctures, or at least get practice fixing them before one happens to you in the wild.

  8. Cliffhanger! Did you do it?? I never cycled anywhere when I lived in London just for the sheer peril of the traffic and the fact there was too much bad weather to make it enjoable at least half of the year.

What do you think?