Thought of commuting by cycle?

Why not give it a go. The chances are you will get to your destination far faster than by car. Just don’t take the main roads – too much pollution for your lungs, less safe and often slower.

Latest – A fifth of Brits say they’re considering cycling to work

Benefits

  • it makes you fitter
  • it makes you healthier – better respiratory fitness (important in these times)
  • less likely to catch germs/virus than on public transport
  • it makes you richer
  • it saves you time
  • there is no frustration sitting in traffic jams
  • it evaporates stress after a difficult day at work
  • you see streets you never knew existed
  • sometimes great thoughts come to mind while cycling – solutions to long standing problems can spring into your mind!

Cheat maybe

  • buy an electric bike – it’s cheaper that a car and they defeat our local hills
  • get help buying a bike – Bike to Work Scheme

Stay safe

  • Highway Code for cyclists – the government is updating this to give greater priority to road users who are most vulnerable.

Take control of your own safety. Do not give this responsibility to other road users. This means taking control of the road around you. Act decisively and make your intentions obvious to other road users. Keep aware of everyone around you and anticipate what they could do to bring you into danger.

Keep at least a metre away from the curb. This will allow you to swerve in if you come across a pothole or to escape a marauding motor vehicle and you’ll see and be able to evade a pedestrian who is stepping off the pavement.

Don’t cycle on cycle paths that are less than one metre wide or less than 200 metres long. They only serve to attract you into danger, either within or exiting them.

Assume car doors will open when passing parked cars. At the very minimum keep a door’s width + your handlebar’s width away.

Take the path a car would take when passing parked vehicles. Start gradually pulling out a long way before.

Speed up before you reach a constriction or complex roadway. This may be counter-intuitive, but if you are going almost as fast as motor traffic they are less likely to overtake you in a dangerous situation.

For those with clip-in pedals or toe clips, consider standing up if someone behind appears threatening. It will make you appear larger and the bike wider.

Case study

Until I was approaching my mid-forties, I had never considered cycling to work. Never even crossed my mind. I had been using train and underground for years, but was increasingly getting more anxious about getting on packed underground trains. Sometimes I would sit on the platform waiting for three trains to pass until at last I mustered the nerve to get aboard. Then one day I just couldn’t take it anymore and the only alternative I could think of was cycling. Last resort.

Of course I had a bike, but like most people, I only wheeled it out for the occasional leisure ride in the country, sometimes with children.

So from Day 1 I was faced with a 20 mile round trip to work which included climbing Hampstead Hill (higher than our hills here) twice a day. It was tough for the first month, but as I grew the calf muscles, it became easier. It wasn’t long before I noticed I was travelling much faster than motorised traffic.

I started off using an old Ridgeback mountain bike and wearing ‘ordinary’ clothes. But after 3,000 miles, I treated myself to a fancy KHS mountain bike which was being discounted in my local bike shop. It wasn’t cheap, but in 7 months I had saved more than twice that by not paying for train travel. I was really getting into it by then, so I bought skinny tires, clip-in pedals and also ‘lycra’ to speed me up. I became so obsessive about my speed that I changed the settings on my cycle computer from miles to kilometres – I found I could never reach an average 20mph, but could beat 30kph. (Note: average speed for cars in central London is 7.1mph).

I cycled every working day no matter the weather. I obviously wore the best clothing, but then my bike was saving me a fortune. I can only remember one cold dark night in drenching rain, when I wanted to abandon cycling.

A proper cycle path in Munich

And so it continued for three years until I moved to Munich for another three years. Munich was an eye-opener. Here they had more cycle track than the whole of Britain – and it was mostly proper cycle paths separate from the road. Everyone felt safe, so many more people of all ages cycled. It was not uncommon to see ‘old grannies’ on bikes in -10º weather. The continent continues to be an inspiration, both in the way the authorities have provided for cyclists but also the way people have responded.

So was it safe? For the first six weeks of commuting I was involved in many altercations with car drivers (taxi drivers could be the worst, but also the best). But once I had absorbed the safety advice above, I didn’t have any problems for the next six years.

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