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Advice on new 17 mile commute

Discussion in 'Commuting' started by jtg90, 10 Jan 2017.

  1. jtg90

    jtg90 New Member

    Hi, I’m new to the forum and looking for advice on starting a 17 mile commute. I live in St Albans and at the moment I work in central London and commute using a folding bike and the train (about 3 miles cycling). From spring I’m going to be working in north London (Colindale) and am considering doing the full commute by bike.

    Firstly, I’d like to know if this sort of distance is doable? How long should I expect it to take (googlemaps says 1h30)? I’d probably try to build it up gradually … maybe using the train + folding bike one way then cycling the other way on a full sized bike at first (i.e. always leaving one bike overnight at work).

    Secondly, I’m obviously going to need a new bike but haven’t got much of a budget (about £300) although I’m happy to get something second hand and also have the option of using a salary sacrifice scheme (which would increase my budget to about £450). I haven’t got much of an idea where to start though I’m guessing a road bike is going to be a better option than a hybrid over this distance? But would also like something suitable for all weather so that I can commute year round and I'm not sure what the quality of the roads/cycle lanes is like yet. I’ve noticed the Specialized Allez Sport mentioned on here which seems to be within my budget second hand … Any suggestions for other models or important features to look out for?

    Thirdly, any tips on the best way to manage the commute? At the moment I just cycle in work clothes and take a backpack. What basic clothing/equipment am I going to need? Backpack vs panniers? Do you leave clothes at work or take them each day etc…?

    Any advice, pointers or even encouragement would be great, thanks!
  2. Yes, it's doable. How long it takes depends on you, the route, traffic etc. You will have to try it to find out. A few years ago I commuted that distance, but across London (to Canary Wharf) so it was slow and busy, but still better on average than TFL.

    Are you sure it's 17 miles? I just put the two locations into strava, and it came to around 12 miles.

    Build up to it gradually. Even if you feel ok after the first day, but the middle of the week you my be flagging. So maybe every second day until you are used to the distance. When I upped my commute from 4 miles to 12 I bonked on the way home on Thursday.

    Panniers. Much better than have a pack on your back, and your bike is better balanced too.

    I try to keep basics at work - reduces the chances of finding you don't have any socks or similar when you get there.

    Try to leave bathroom stuff if you can at the office - no point lugging that back and forth. Depending on the office you might want a big towel or a travel towel. Canary Wharf (being CW) laid on soap, shampoo, dryers and towels. Made it as easy as it could be. If there is no shower, you should be able to survive with a warm washer and a bit of judicious soap. But either way, cool down before you clean up or you will still be sweating in your work kit.

    Even if it takes you 3 hours or more, consider this: you are getting 3 hours a day riding/exercising but it's only "costing" you an hour a day. Eg if you didn't cycle to work, you'd lose your 3 hours of riding and get back maybe one hour of free time, which you should probably spend at the gym anyway to make up for all that sitting. But once you get used to it, I would expect that to be a lot faster than 90 minutes.

    (oh, and I did my 17 mile commute on my folding bike.)
    Last edited: 10 Jan 2017
    r04DiE likes this.
  3. furball

    furball Über Member

    Check out the route on a bike in daylight first then do it on a day off but at the time you propose commuting. Make sure you know some basic bike maintenance and get plenty sleep.
  4. Supersuperleeds

    Supersuperleeds Guru

    Yes 17 miles each way is very doable, though you might have to build up to it. Time wise depends on your speed, my commutes tend to be slower than my lesiure rides. If I was you I would ride the route on a weekend to see how long it takes but then add 10 minutes as weekdays will be longer due to traffic.

    Get a bike that can take mudguards, a hybrid will be more than capable of doing the distance so don't rule one out. A hybrid has the advantage that you can use wider tyres on them.

    Leave all your cleaning kit at work along with shoes and trousers. Clean shirt/top and underwear can be put in a dry bag each dy

    I prefer a rucksack, others prefer panniers, try the rucksack first as it is likely to be cheaper than panniers. If you use a rucksack keep everything in dry bags and/or use a waterproof rucksack cover.

    If you have a shower at work great, if not baby wipes will get rid of any sweat when you get to work.

    Leave a set of spare cycling gear at work as one day you will arrive at work drenched and not get your kit dry in time for going home.
  5. OP

    jtg90 New Member

    Thanks all

    jef: I live just north of St Albans so that's why the distances differ, even so the routes on Strava and googlemaps differ (Strava 15 Miles*, Googlemaps 17 Miles*) ... which tends to give a better route? The Strava one seems to take me straight through the centre of both St Albans and Radlett which I imagine will have a lot of traffic at rush hour on fairly narrow roads.
    Not sure what the facilities will be like yet pretty sure they have showers but don't think they'll be providing towels and soap! On the plus side there is an Asda nearby so shouldn't be a problem restocking.
    I'm impressed you did that distance on a folding bike ... maybe I'll use my current bike to check out the route first.

    furball: plenty of sleep is never very reliable with 2 toddlers in the house!

    superleeds: yeh I think mudguards will be a must ... that's good to know you'd recommend a hybrid, I'd probably get more use out of a hybrid when not commuting too (for going into town etc). The thing is I'd ideally want something lightweight and don't really want to sacrifice much in the way of speed if possible. I've not really used hybrids or road bikes is there a notable difference in weight + speed for commuting. Any models you'd recommend?

    *MOD EDITED for clarity at OP request
    Last edited by a moderator: 11 Jan 2017
  6. Simontm

    Simontm Über Member

    Cant add much to the above except it's eminently doable, I ride 30m a day from originally 26m four days a week. You start slow then get better!
    I started on a hybrid which was great but switched to an 'adventure' bike - drop bars, compact gearing- more upright and imo tougher for a commute than these melt in the air Road jobs ;)
    Also prefer using a rack over backpack but that's personal.
    Routewise- don't know that part of N London well but how's Watling St for a bike?
    Anyway, enjoy and take the lane when needed! :bicycle:
  7. Like others have said its perfectly doable I used to do more than that out of choice on a cheap and heavy Viking Fixie in flat Cambridgeshire and used to do 17miles on a flat bar road bike in a hillier place. Neither of these locations had any facilities other than a toilet. I'd use lots of deodorant and save a faster ride for night when I could access shower facilities at home.
    As for Mudguards the fixie was heavy enough alone and I avoided them except for clip on rear to keep me clean and just changed at work and the fixie was easy to clean and I wasn't riding in a group. On the Flat bar roadbike I used full guards though and they made things easier cleaningwise and I'd sometimes ride in a group.
    A Hybrid is a broad term (too broad IMO) My Flat Bar Road Bike could be described as a hybrid but it orientates as the name suggests to lighter road bike but Hybrids can also be orientated towards the heavier mountainbike orientated bike and anything in between. I would suggest a lighter flat bar road bike or a drop bar road bike, for your budget though to get a suitable mount I'd go 2nd hand.
    For mapping I wouldn't trust anything that auto calculates the route they'll either put you down fast/ busy roads you may not want to cycle or down tracks which might not be cycle able by most bikes especially a road bike. Having said that for a very quick recce I'll use www.cyclestreets.net which will clearly state what type of road/tracks it uses. For better route planning I then put that suggested route in to RidewithGPS.com and periodically drag the streetview man onto the map to look where it actually is.
    Good Luck :smile:
    RideLikeTheStig likes this.
  8. vickster

    vickster Legendary Member

    @jtg90 miles or kms? You've used both in different posts. 17km is around 11 miles. An hours riding on a rolling trip in rush hour (outside London)?

    Ref using C2W most employers will have a probation period for new joiners when the full range of benefits isn't available. And many have specific window for joining C2W, so you may need to wait some time. Plenty of interest free deals on reduced bikes. May get more for your money than RRP on C2W (depending on scheme)
    Last edited: 11 Jan 2017
  9. OP

    jtg90 New Member

    sorry, I meant miles in the second post... can't work out how to edit it

    *MOD EDITED in earlier post for clarity ... sort of :unsure:
    Last edited by a moderator: 11 Jan 2017
  10. Sixmile

    Sixmile Über Member

    N Ireland
    I currently do around 14miles each way on a 15kg+ hybrid, switching to a road bike when the weather is fairer. A few miles of the commute is on really poorly surfaced roads so the hybrid is far more comfortable, although it is a couple of mph slower overall. Maybe check the surfaces too of the roads as 17 miles on very harsh and rough roads would be far from enjoyable and I think to keep it up, it needs to be somewhat enjoyable.

    For the first while that I commuted I just took a standard backpack with my work clothes, towel and miniature toiletries in it. I joined a local gym to avail of shower and locker facilities so if there's a leisure centre or gym nearby your work that'd be an option to freshen up. If you need a compact towel, Decathlon do a travel one that rolls up not much bigger than a can of deodorant.

    Then my work installed a shower and I managed to arrange a few lockers to be placed nearby, this saved the need for a backpack (although I had no problem using one) and meant I no longer needed the gym membership. Is there a maintenance or facilities management guy at work where you could even ask about getting a locker or even somewhere to put your own near the toilets or wherever is handy? Now I just keep a bag of toiletries, towel, shoes and trousers in the locker and restock the shirts if I drive in a day. For times when my gear is wet I found a small cupboard where the heating pipes run through, it's great for drying shoes and gloves for the return home. It's worth asking or having a little nosey about to see if somewhere discreet exists to use as a drying area.

    Take it easy at first and give yourself a break every so often as a day off once in a while will make you look forward to starting again as the alternatives just don't compare to the bike.
    Last edited: 11 Jan 2017
  11. I'd say strava. Google maps often choses off road cycle paths and parks (even those that ban cycling!) that are longer and often aren't really that suitable rather than the road, while Strava bases it's routes on popularity. So bombing straight down the A5 is what most cyclists heading in that direction do.

    But it doesn't really matter. You will be doing this journey hundreds of times. You will try all the possible variations and decide which one is right for you. Or which ones, because the best route leaving home at 7am may not be if you leave at 8am.
  12. TheJDog

    TheJDog dingo's kidneys

    Colindale to central London is simple enough, though the Edgware Road is really awful in places so get something with wider tyres.
  13. united4ever

    united4ever Well-Known Member

    out of interest OP, how much would that save you compared to public transport a year? Lived in St Albans years ago and commuted with Thameslink but it was horrible. You must be able to save several thousand on top of a moderate bike purchase I would have thought...and you'll get fit as a fiddle, and hopefully enjoyment as well:smile:. But yeah, I'm sure there will be some bad commutes and bad weather etc but overall it sounds like a smart choice to me.
  14. jay clock

    jay clock Massive member

    Hampshire UK
    on top of all the practical tips I would add that you need to have the right mental approach. Relax. Don't film yourself doing 29 in a 30 limit and complaining about drivers carving you up. Relax and if a few tossers "win" on the ride to work so what.

    You will be getting tons of physical benefit from the exercise so don't let that be undone by a high blood pressure due to the stress (not seen any suggestion you are that type so was not meant to be critical just advice

    Truth, Banjo and r04DiE like this.
  15. Actually, now I look at it, I don't think you will ever try the google route, it takes you a long, wiggly way to the A41, for some reason, which I don't think is any better than the A5. It looks like a typically bad google maps route.
    Um, St Albans to Colindale.