The Spoke July 2, 2013

Commuting like a Grown-Up

In the unabridged version of my latest Mallorcan cycle diaries, I mentioned that my personal circumstances had changed - by my own doing - by a seismic amount. This change has touched every single facet of my life, including the simple act of getting to work. Once upon a recent time I jumped on my bike and in 7 minutes, give or take, I was there. Now its very different. This piece is inspired by the events of the last 12 weeks or so and my observations made during my revised commute.

The ride to work was always going to change. My place of work is moving from Shoreham Airport to an industrial estate in Burgess Hill, situated just opposite a Tesco and a soon to be built B&Q superstore. From a hygiene perspective I'm trading views of the South Downs with a car park, so it's not ideal. This meant that my commute was going to increase by about 29km a day, regardless. Put another way, about the same distance travelled one way to the new location compared to the total ridden 'there and back' to the airport in one week. Potentially good for the training but it would also need to fit around family life (drop-offs/collections). I had already practiced the route, managing it in 59 minutes; just about acceptable for a one-way commuting ride. The beauty of this however was that I could chose a variety of different ways to get there and especially after work I could take an extended route back home. However, 'home' now is on the other east side of Brighton, a small seaside town and the place where I grew up, called Saltdean.

Living here means that the 'interim' commute, has increased to about 22 km. If I'm honest it's a route that's already bored me. It's very simple, literally along the coast from Saltdean (where the under cliff walk starts) to the Shoreham Airport roundabout. There's one short climb of note out of Rottingdean, but other than that, that's it. The route takes you past the Brighton Marina, through town on the approved shared use cycle route (a pet hate of mine anyway), along Hove lawns and then either along the A259 on the road or on the Port of Shoreham access road. If you take the access road (less traffic but can double up as a wind tunnel), you run the additional risk of the lock gates being in use, thus adding a variable amount of time to your journey. (I've on been caught there twice so far). From the lock gates you rejoin the A259 and its about a 10 minute cycle to work from there. There is some minor variation to this, but that's the most direct route. Plus in the morning, time is of the essence.

So far there's been a surprising amount of time difference between the return legs. The wind and the type of bike used account for the key differences. The longest it's taken is 1:05, completed on the Kona single-speed (Saltdean to Shoreham). The shortest is 0:40, completed on the Specialized (Shoreham to Saltdean). 25 minutes does not account for gearing (or rather the absence of gearing options as far as the Kona is concerned), instead it's the prevailing wind which is the biggest factor, typically blowing west to east. To translate; hard ride in the morning, easier ride in the evening. Moreover, the obligatory morning look out the window to check the (a) wind direction and (b) rain has quickly become habit. 

I cannot do anything about the weather, but I have free-will over the bike I can ride. So far 3 of my 4 'main bikes' have been 'tested' on the commute with varying degrees of success. Up until this point carrying my work 'stuff' wasn't an issue given the length of the previous journey. Not any more, especially if I need to transit work clothes and my laptop. The obvious 'solution' was to carry them in a rucksack but I quickly realised that this was sub-optimal. Carting your gear (a) on your back, (b) on a Singlespeed bike and (c) against the wind, is not an equation for happiness. 

Having had the 'rucksack' experience cycling on the Specialized, Day One and Grand Wagon, an alternative (that wasn't the car) was clearly required. I purchased a (Topeak) rack and (Ortlieb) pannier system for the Day One. (I will review this combination under a separate article, but this is a much more effective method of transporting general paraphernalia). Suffice to say, this provides sufficient capacity to move everything I need at once, without the restriction of a rucksack. This can lead to some entertaining bike handling moments though and as I've discovered, load balance becomes an important skill. 

Ok, so that's the route,the wind and the payload discussed. What's next? Well I have discovered a kind of commuter sub-culture that exists along this route, particularly in the morning. I leave just before 07:00 with the intention of being at my desk, working, by 08:00. This coincides with a few other folks who ride along the seafront at the same time. Perhaps surprisingly, there are not many cyclists who use the under cliff. Given that its wide and paved, you might think it's ideal, however the sea throws up a significant amount of debris and its only a matter of time until I get a puncture riding this way. Perhaps that's the reason why it's not used more. You can easier get the coats road at either Rottingdean or Black Rock. I have typically favoured Black Rock (aka the Marina), simply because its away from the traffic. However it's here you join the biking commuter super highway! A few weeks ago I was overtaken by a train of 4 cyclists, only 2 of whom seemed to know each other. I tagged along, half heartedly. I was riding to work, not riding in a stage of the Tour. Anyway, I got chatting to one of the riders and she was on her usual commute albeit that she was a fair weather commuter. Through Brighton 2 riders dropped away leaving me tailing the 'leaders'. I think they thought they'd dropped me but one glanced behind and the I was. I gave them a cheery 'Alright?'. "You catching a ride the mate?" Came the reply. I was but I thought it was a bit unnecessary. It wasn't a race.....was it? I took the hint and rode to the front and picked the pace up. A few kilometres later, the gobby bloke launched himself and just took off. I throw a glance behind. "He does that," his mate said. "Right," I replied, picking the pace up, just because. There was a pair of traffic lights ahead and 'Cavendish' was free-wheeling to a stop. "You cycle along here much mate?" He said. "When I get the chance," I replied. "Might see you again then?", he continued. "Yeah, maybe," I countered, riding off on green. Strange. Maybe he did think he was in a race. Regardless, they had both ridden from Seaford to Shoreham Port, so it was a decent effort. I've met a few other people on my travels to and from work and most will say hello. Some will disappear in front of me, others bimble along and I lose them. However, it's a slice of cycling life I didn't know previously existed.

Without doubt, commuting takes some of the fun from cycling; it's a means to an end. However, I read a quote recently that said rather than the mindset of "I have to cycle" choose the attitude of "I get to cycle". I believe this is how to approach a ride to work. I have discovered commuting has its place - but it will never replace the enjoyment of a leisurely round-the-block ride. 

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