Bike commuting is a great way to travel to work as it can help you to improve your physical fitness and it doesn’t always take as long as many people think.
How long does bike commuting take? If traveling at the average speed of most cyclists in a city, 10mph approx., then you should expect a one-way 5-mile commute journey to take roughly 30 minutes on a bike, with additional time needed for things like time taken to lock up your bike, among other things which will be discussed in detail below.
So, as mentioned above, if using the average speed of 10mph for adults traveling by bike in a city, it’s also worth considering some other aspects of bike speeds for commuters.
Average speed for bike commuting on flat roads and on hills
Using a typical commuter type bicycle (like a hybrid bike), your average speed on a bike commute journey is likely to be anywhere from 5-15 mph, depending on traffic and stopping at lights.
If you know your route, you can estimate where on this range you would be. 10 mph is estimated to be the average speed for cyclists in the Danish capital Copenhagen, although it is worth noting that this is an extremely cycle-friendly city, with lots infrastructure in place to help people cycle.
With that in mind, you can go up or down from there in terms of your estimated speed. If we make a few estimates based purely on averages, we can guess the approximate speed you will be going in different types of urban environments as a bike commuter, as shown in the table below:
|Average Cyclist on a Commuter Bike|
|Bike-Friendly Cities||10 mph|
|Cities Which are NOT Bike Friendly||5 mph|
|Bike Friendly Cities with Moderate Hills||7.5 mph|
|Cities Which are NOT Bike Friendly with Moderate Hills||3.5 mph|
As a completely unscientific example, Google Maps’ route planning feature estimates that it takes approximately 5 minutes to travel the 0.9 miles from the Museum of Modern Art to Times Square, both in NYC. This more or less follows the ‘guesstimated’ average speed of bike commuters mentioned in the table above.
Your Level of Fitness as Relates to Bike Commuting Speed
You should also have a rough idea of how physically fit (or not!) you are.
Adding this into the mix should then also help you to estimate your likely average speed.
If you have not cycled in a while, think about how you feel when cycling up a hill, or for a period of 10 minutes or more. Try and compare this (at least in your head) with the route you would take for bike commuting and how you would likely feel at the end of one journey.
If you think it will be exhausting, you should assume that you will be traveling at a slower speed than those mentioned in the table above.
Clearly, hills on your bike commuting route will add to the overall time taken. See the table above for the expected speeds when cycling on hills but this should also take into account the fun side of hills: going downhill!
If you are lucky to have a downhill part of your commuting journey then that will obviously speed things up for you.
Again, from the same source as above, downhill speeds might actually get as high as 57 mph for an average cyclist, which is over 5 times faster than the average cycling speed in cities!
Remember that however hilly your route is, you will be doing it both ways so uphill and downhill sections become reversed on your way home.
If you’re like me, the time taken to bike commute in the morning to work is the only bit I’m worried about so you can focus on that part of your journey in terms of hills and time.
You should also consider the number of stops you will have to make on your bike commute to get a true idea of time.
- If cycling on roads, how many traffic lights will you cycle through?
- If cycling on paths, do you have to cross any roads or junctions?
Both of the above points will make you more aware of your time, but as always, it’s best just to try a journey and see how you get on over a few attempts and you will get the idea of the average time taken at each stop.
For those bike commuting on roads, the traffic can certainly be an issue, especially in inner cities.
Although cyclists can often get to the front of traffic jams, doing so is not always safe and is sometimes best avoided.
Weaving in and out of the morning traffic can be an extremely hazardous thing to do, especially in the morning rush hour when people are at their most tense.
A smooth road surface is going to be the fastest for bike commuting on, but usually you will encounter different types of surface at different points in your journey.
If going over bumps regularly, this will slow you down as hitting them at high speed on a regular basis will damage your bike and also your wrists!
Most urban environments should be fine but riding on paths or off-road sections is when you will likely need to exercise a bit more caution.
If you do have gravel on your route, this can be really slow going, and you will probably need a specific bike/tires for this purpose.
Even a short patch of gravel can make things hard going so don’t underestimate this if there will be any gravel on your bike commuting journey.
Punctures only happen infrequently for most bike commuters going moderate distances of say 5 miles on smooth roads.
However, poor quality road surfaces, riding more on roads and having cheap tires can all add to the chances of you having a puncture.
In my 4 years of bike commuting (and counting!), I have only had 1 puncture. I can’t say whether or not this is normal but I do know that I have had puncture-resistant tires since then which I keep at the right pressure – both of which I think has helped to stop this from happening again (touch wood!).
When bike commuting in hot weather conditions, remember that you will need to slow down a little to avoid breaking into a major sweat.
You should also think about wearing lighter clothing that is breathable and appropriate for work. I like to wear cotton shirts that are not tucked in to get around this, although the climate where I am is quite mild!
As always, allowing more time here will help you to get to work by bike without getting completely drenched in sweat!
Putting on wet weather gear
On rainy days, it takes a few more minutes to put on the extra waterproof layers for most bike commuters.
I’d estimate that this takes me about 2-3 minutes in total, which is not a huge amount of time but it can feel like a lot when late for work in a morning rush!
The most frustrating journeys are where it starts raining midway through your ride, meaning you have to stop, seek shelter (if possible) and then change into these clothes. Having waterproofs packed in an accessible way will help you to save time here.
Remember that if living in an area with a wetter climate, it only really matters if it rains during the time you are commuting by bike, so wet weather gear is needed less than you might have thought.
Extra layers for cold weather
You will also need to allow some time to ‘layer up’ to beat the cold weather on your journey. Although I don’t find I need as many layers as I sometimes think (it gets warm quickly when riding at a good speed), you will still need to wear gloves for bike commuting on days when you might not need them if walking in the street.
I have found that my hands get a chill from even the lightest of breezes on a bike in autumn through spring, so adding gloves and some kind of face cover in colder months will likely be necessary.
Snow or Ice
If you have to deal with snow or ice on your bike commute, then clearly this can be quite hazardous and needs some careful planning.
Downhills in snowy or icy conditions are generally going to be the biggest cause for concern, to the point that you might need to dismount and walk your bike down the hill!
You will also need to go a good bit slower in these extreme conditions, especially when going around a corner as that is where people come off their bikes quite often.
Just add a good bit more time on snowy/icy days and think about the tread on your tires. You could also take an alternative mode of transport to get to work on these days to stay safe (I won’t tell anyone, I promise!).
Getting Your Bike from Your Garage/Storage
Another time factor is getting your bike out of the garage or any other place where you have stored it overnight.
I have mine in a communal bike shed, which takes me about 1 minute to unlock the main door, unlock my bike, take the bike out (trickier than it sounds) and then lock the main door again.
If you have to take your bike up or down any stairs before heading to work, this is a good workout but can add time, too!
Locking Up Your Bike
When locking up your bike after a commute, remember that you need to take the time to lock it properly.
I find a D-lock with cable around one of the tires sufficient for my needs, but to get this on properly can be a little tricky and is not that easy when done in a rush.
From there, consider the distance from the bike lock-up point to your office, as this might be further than you think.
You will also need to pack your bag carefully when bike commuting.
Although I have staples in there constantly (waterproofs, lightls, multi-tool, etc.), I still have to add my lunch so that it won’t spill/leak.
If you are going to pack extra clothes, you might also need to allow some time to fold/pack these to avoid them creasing or looking unsightly when you arrive at work.
This packing shouldn’t take long but it can again that little bit more time to your journey.