By: Chris Bowman
Two weeks ago today, the UK melted.
At Aspectus’ London office, we pre-emptively instituted a remote working day, but our thoughts and prayers were with those forced to endure the reek and humidity of train carriages that morning. We wish those forced to brave the Central Line a swift recovery.
But to be honest, it’s always a bit like that. A bit close. A bit sweaty. A bit intimate.
Which is why, this Cycle to Work Day, I’m an enthusiastic advocate for swapping the train carriage for the saddle and embracing the breezy freedom of commuting on two wheels. Let’s see if I can convince you.
Cycling in London: hopes…
I’ve been commuting by bike for over two years now, starting with an eight-mile trip each way, now ten. Despite numerous close calls, verbal abuse from clueless drivers and one Valentine’s Day accident and fractured elbow, I absolutely love it. Here’s why:
It’s better for you
Both your health and lifestyle. Inactivity is one of the most pressing public health concerns of our age – cycling solves that and makes you fitter. But it can also be much quicker, once you’ve factored in walking to and from stations at each end, train delays and switching modes of transport. It’s also infinitely nicer than squeezing onto a sweaty carriage, especially if you can work some parks into your route.
It’s better for the environment
Obviously, cycling is greener than driving – but that’s a bit of a false comparison in London where the alternative is more likely public transport. Even so, I think cycling is the greener choice as it frees up capacity on the public transport network for others, helps encourage more cyclists onto the road and increases pressure to build more infrastructure. With an air quality crisis that shows no sign of shifting, every little helps.
It’s better for your wallet
Bikes aren’t free, but even factoring in kit and maintenance they can be a lot, lot cheaper than relying on public transport. As a cash-strapped millennial, relinquishing the travel card made more of an impact on my finances than giving up avocado on toast ever could have.
But – and it’s a big one – it can be scary. Especially for those not used to cycling. London’s cycling infrastructure is still woefully inadequate, despite progress. And some fully licensed drivers…shouldn’t be. A few nerves are understandable.
So, with that in mind, here are a few tips I’d offer to anyone thinking of giving it a go:
Don’t fork out hundreds if you’re not sure it will be for you. Borrow a bike from a friend, or hire one if you’re not sure yet. Then, do a couple of trial run commutes on a Sunday when the traffic is quieter. Then, when you do it for real, you can focus on the road and not on figuring out the route. Get yourself some insurance, too. It’s pretty cheap.
Yes, follow the law: red light jumpers are losing us the PR war. But also know when not to be a shrinking violet. You have as much right to the road as anyone, but you’ll find too many drivers don’t agree. They will try to push you to the side of the road, oblivious to whether poor road surfaces, glass or other hazards make that unsafe or not. Without being inconsiderate, be prepared to ‘take the lane’ and ride in the middle if it’s safer.
First, get the right bike. A BMX will rarely be the best commuting choice. Likewise, while a Dutch-style upright might be perfect for a Zone 1-2 pootle, something a bit nippier might be better for long distances or hilly routes. Hybrids can be good options, as can ‘sportive’ style road bikes, which are less aggressive than proper racers. Also, consider folding and electric bikes.
Then, get the right kit. No need to go full-lycra, but invest in some basics. Helmets divide opinion but are considered by many to be a must. Lights and reflective clothing for dark mornings and evenings are essential for safety, and for my money, it’s worth carrying a pump and puncture repair kit. Don’t forget good locks either!
You can get good bikes second hand, but if you’re more confident buying new, cycle to work schemes can be a great option. Aspectus is signed up to Cyclescheme as an employee perk, which can be a very cost-effective way of getting your hands on a new bike, as well as all the accessories and paraphernalia you need.
Are you convinced? If so, get moving while the sun’s still out. If not… why? Cycle commuting can turn one the worst parts of the day into one of the best – every day should be Cycle to Work Day.