As well as being a daily bike commuter, Claire Connachan is a volunteer ride leader for Belles on Bikes Edinburgh. She sits on the CTC Scotland committee and is a director of the Edinburgh Festival of Cycling.
Here’s to the daily cycle commute. Not only is it fast, cheap, healthy and efficient, but the more I’ve commuted the more I’ve noticed about my daily trip to and from work. Here’s a starter for ten. Or eleven…
1. Bike mechanics are no longer terrifying
By bike mechanics, I don’t mean the people that toil away with spanners all day. The bike mechanics I know are hardly terrifying; they’re very lovely and like a natter and a cup of tea with a good biscuit and that’s about as scary as a box of kittens. By bike mechanics, I mean the workings of a bicycle. Although I still have mostly no clue, after three years of cycle commuting I can fix a puncture, adjust brakes and re-align gears and that makes me feel epic.
2. We commuters have fabulous pins
One time a pal of mine prodded my thigh in a non-sexy way and I was met with slightly horrified squeals when they discovered just how strong my legs are. I’m still not sure why they were a tiny bit repulsed that I have regularly-used muscles and as a consequence don’t feel like a human-shaped marshmallow. Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to be a woman and have physical strength without looking like the Hulk. I love my strong legs and I have my cycle commute to thank for them.
3. Runny noses are rife
Short of shoving two fingers up your schnoz, there’s no getting away from the runny nose. I’m not the only one that suffers from an overactive proboscis when on a bike, but unlike some other bicycle commuters I believe it’s not the done thing to shoot a snot-goblin out an offending nostril on the way to work. A classic three-ply tissue does the job of cleaning the old olfactory pipes upon reaching the final destination, thank you very much.
4. Eating is a championship sport
We cycle commuters have evolved into highly effective human dustbins. Colleagues provide me with leftover food and I unashamedly hoover it up. I’m the first in the kitchen when free scran is announced and I can put away pies like Desperate Dan. Conventional societal expectations around women and appetite can kiss my steely buns, whilst I eat whatever’s in the fridge, obviously.
5. Your behind becomes bomb-proof
I dread to think how guys get on with all that stuff down below when it comes to saddle comfort. But for us women commuters, the lack of certain bits doesn’t make it any less trying to find a suitable saddle. Thankfully, my saddle and I were friends from the start, although it still takes a wee while to break your bum in and have a happy toosh-related commute.
6. Flexibility goes out the window
The bike commute does wonders for physical health and mental wellbeing – it’s practically a miracle pill. But all that repetitive muscular motion means that without proper stretching I’ve become about as flexible as a ticket on a Ryanair flight or a receptionist at a doctor’s surgery. Must. Stetch. More.
7. People don’t realise I ride a bike
I get this a lot. Folk are constantly surprised when I rock up on a bike but don’t look sporty. This is not just a commuter thing; it applies to work, meetings, events and social situations. Work and casual clothes perform perfectly well for cycling short journeys. It’s great to hop on a bike without looking like the world’s slowest and least aerodynamic Tour-De-France competitor.
8. Some guys play leapfrog
This is a common observation from women the world over and is definitely a guy thing (sorry, chaps). Some guys take serious umbrage when a lady cyclist pootles past them in the morning. The testosterone-tinged red mist descends and soon a daft game of bicycle leapfrog ensues. I usually chuckle when someone I overtook 15 seconds ago regails me with his lycra behind while heaving himself back into another short-lived stretch in pole position.
9. The weather now poses no obstacle
Prior to the bike commute, mildly inclement weather was not a friend. A light dusting of rain would have been misery and umbrella-inducing. A stiff breeze would see moaning levels crank up to 11. Chilly temperatures were enough to turn me into the Michelin man. No longer. Aside from events like Hurricane Bawbag, most Scottish weather is now considered to be practically tropical.
10. I am independent and awesome
As well as epic basic bike mechanic skills, my daily bike commute is 40 minutes of self-powered freedom and independence. I can go wherever I want, whenever I want without getting irritated about bus timetables, spare change, petrol stops, traffic jams or that guy behind me in the queue who just sneezed on my hair. Much like a less grisled version of Bear Grylls, I am reliant on nobody and no thing. Except my awesome bike. And very occasionally a bike mechanic with previously mentioned nice cup of tea and biscuit.
11. There aren’t that many women that cycle to work
Despite the fact that cycling is cheap, quick and arguably better than a chip butty or crisp sandwich, the number of female bike commuters remains woefully low. Anecdotal counting on my morning commute usually brings up 3 or 4 guys to every woman, which reflects gender stats on UK cycling generally. Last I checked, there’s no requirement to have trouser-tackle in order to get a bike, so the fact that 50% of the population is vastly under-represented when it comes to cycling is something to be, well, tackled.