How to Commute by Bike: The ‘Faster Than Walking Mantra’

Let me introduce what I call the Faster Than Walking Mantra – my time-honoured technique for short-hop, ‘dressed for the day’ cycle commutes. The Faster Than Walking Mantra (herein referred to as the FTWM) helps you to overcome that deeply imprinted urge to get your daily commute over with as quickly as possible, to treat your ride to the office like a PB attempt. Why do we feel the need to commute at breakneck pace? To keep pace with cars? To feel the burn? To ‘get our adrenaline fix’? To give in to the speed-demon on your shoulder will result in that uniquely attractive ‘steaming like a racehorse look’ upon arrival at work, which will make packing a change of clothes a necessity (lose 10 minutes) and will create A DIRE NEED FOR SHOWERS IN THE WORKPLACE – the lack of which seems to be reason #1 to give up on the idea of riding to work forever.

Instead chant the FTWM. On your next commute, I urge you to try a slow, loping cadence, akin to the pedalling style of the Amsterdammer. Rather than doing battle with wind resistance, just do enough to preserve your momentum. Don’t gauge your progress against the cars passing by. Don’t pay any heed to the numbers on your cycle computer (leave it at home/cut the wires if it helps). Take solace in the fact that, for the same effort level, you’re loping past walkers at around three times their speed. Try where you can, to avoid steep hills and when you can’t, resist the urge to stomp up – even if you gear down and spin up, you’ll still beat the pedestrians on the pavement. Ditto headwinds – don’t fight them, cos they’ll win. Chant your FTW mantra (silently in your head if you prefer), adopt your best Copenhagener attitude and just keep it rolling.

Our mantra is also helped by dressing sensibly – ‘dress cooler’ is sound advice. If you’re a bit chilly when you start out, you’ve probably got it right. I see cycle commuters in full dayglo motorway-maintenance-style hi viz jackets in the height of summer, and can only wonder at how much fluid they lose on their two mile spin to work…

To put some numbers against our FTWM and give you some perspective, a car commuter in the city will be lucky to attain a 12mph average speed. The guy on the bus will be lucky to average 10. A pedestrian will be lucky to hit a dizzying 3mph. Most moderately fit people can amble along on a bicycle at around 9 mph without breaking a sweat, even warm conditions. Follow the FTWM and you can ride to work in your day clothes without arriving like a sweaty wreck, just like you would if you drove, walked or got the bus. After all, that’s the point, isn’t it?

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4 thoughts on “How to Commute by Bike: The ‘Faster Than Walking Mantra’

  1. Philip

    Anyone who’s been on cycle training (here in the UK) will know that you are told to ‘go quickly’. But this advice appears to be for the benefit of drivers, making it ‘easier’ for them to notice you and judge your progress. God forbid they should have to adapt to other road users. Well I’m not a Tour de France rider, and find some who are as intimidating as some vehicles. If cycling is about ‘freedom’ (however restricted that is on most roads), then we should feel free (and safe) to select our own ‘slower’ pace.

    1. theeverydaycyclist

      Hi Philip – I’ve been offered similar advice – “try to keep pace with the traffic”. It’s a sad fact that in order to stay safe, we’re expected to assimilate in this way. Most drivers tend to hammer along at around 40 in 30mph zones, so I’ve got no chance of keeping pace with that kind of speed.

      However, my piece was more to do with a sustainable commuting pace for a rider wishing to wear the same clothes all day, on the bike and off, just as you would do if you walked, drove or bussed to work. I didn’t really look at it from the cycle training/safety angle – although if you’re riding safely, like you say, you shouldn’t feel the pressure to try vainly to emulate the speed of motorised traffic.

      Safe cycling, whatever pace you choose.

  2. This idea has popped in and out of my head lately. On one hand, you are right. What’s the rush to get to work? I should enjoy myself along the way; take it all in. But on the other hand, I don’t have walkers to compare to. I only have the cars. And to be honest, if I do keep my pace up, I travel faster than the cars do. And after many years of commuting, I now have a reputation of getting there before everyone else. How could I let them down?

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