Updated: Jul 28
FED UP OF BEING TREATED LIKE (IF NOT WORSE THAN) A SARDINE IN A CAN ON YOUR DAILY COMMUTE? WHY NOT DITCH PUBLIC TRANSPORT AND GET ON YOUR BIKE?
If you work in London, you will typically be familiar with the army of lycra clad cyclists lining up at traffic lights (with the odd few jumping the lights all together). As the weather warms up and daylight hours increase, so too does the number of people cycling to work. May be you’re one of them, but if not, what’s stopping you?
We take a look at some of the key hurdles people face when deciding whether or not to opt for two wheels.
I’ll get soaked – We all know the old saying, there’s no such thing as bad weather only bad clothing and, for the most part, it’s true. Add to that the fact that London receives, on average, the lowest annual rainfall in the UK and you’re quickly running out of excuses. Get yourself some decent waterproof gear and you won’t even notice it’s raining on the odd occasion it does.
I’m worried about pollution levels – We all hear the stories about Oxford street breaching annual EU pollution levels of PM2.5s and NO2 just a few days into the new year, but how dangerous is it to cycle in London? A research paper published by King’s College London in 2015 put the figure of early deaths in London attributable to such pollution at almost 10,000 per year. It sounds a lot, but does cycling in the capital significantly increase your risk of an early death? Pollution experts are unanimous in saying that cycling remains many, many times better for your health than not cycling, even when factoring in exposure to pollution and the risk of having an accident. What’s more surprising is that on two wheels you might even be exposed to less fumes than those using other forms of transport. If you are worried about breathing in noxious fumes, there are some simple steps you can take to minimise your exposure to potentially dangerous fumes such as using segregated cycle lanes and quieter routes where possible, as well as ensuring you use the designated bike boxes at traffic lights to place yourself in front of diesel emitting vehicles (the main culprits of the capital’s dirty air). You might also want to consider a face mask, but make sure you get one with the right filters as it could be pretty useless otherwise (for more information on face masks why not check out this article).
It’s dangerous – You may remember the headlines in October 2014, when there was a spate of cycling deaths in the capital. On average, around 13 cyclists die in London each year. The majority of these deaths involve HGVs. Whilst there are risks to cycling in the capital. It is getting safer. One of the biggest improvements for cyclists’ safety are the segregated super highways which are being introduced over the next few years. There are also some simple things you can do to ensure you limit the risk of being involved in a fatal collision, such as not jumping red lights, not attempting to squeeze into tiny gaps between traffic, especially in unfamiliar territory and if you find yourself being squeezed out by a vehicle (no matter what size) stop and let them go past.
It’s a logistical nightmare – cycling to work does require a little bit of forward planning and there will be the odd occasion when you forget to pack socks or underwear – worst case you need to splash out on a new outfit. Your best bet is to speak to your employer and find out if they have lockers available. You can then keep certain things such as toiletries, a spare suit or dress and work shoes at the office. Once you have a routine established, it will feel like second nature.
I’ll get a puncture – the last thing you want on your commute to work is the dreaded puncture. However, if you take the right precautions (buying puncture resistant tyres, keeping tyre pressure high, inspecting tyres for wear and tear and avoiding pot holes and debris on the road where possible), you’d be surprised how seldom you’ll get a puncture. Even when you do get one, they aren’t that complicated to fix and if you really can’t face getting your hands dirty, most cycle repair shops offer a puncture repair service for a modest fee.
It’s expensive – cycling can be expensive, but then so is paying for a travel card. You don’t have to fork out much to get a decent commuter bike and it will generally pay for itself within the first 6 months. Add to that the growing number of employers offering employees the ability to purchase a new bike through the government’s cycle to work scheme and you could save up to 42% in tax on your new steed (and accessories).
I’ll get sweaty – Getting sweaty is no bad thing, as long as you have a shower and a change of clothes at the other end of the journey. Even if your work doesn’t have shower facilities, there might be a gym nearby that does. There are also a growing number of TFL operated cycle hubs, which enable commuters to park their bike securely, for peace of mind.
I don’t want to wear lycra – You don’t have to wear lycra to cycle. In fact, there are more and more cycling brands creating casual cycle wear for commuters who would rather keep their modesty intact. Most of the major bike shops now have dedicated lines for the casual cycle commuter, with no lycra in sight.
It will interfere with my social life – Granted, it’s not always straightforward to plan an evening out when you’re on your bike, but there’s no reason it needs to be an obstacle. You can always choose not to cycle in on a specific day you know you’re heading out after work or, if you have somewhere safe to store your bike you can leave it at work – especially handy if an impromptu social outing materialises at the last minute. And then there is always the option of not drinking and cycling home afterwards – just make sure you have good lights and a high-visibility jacket.
It’s too far – Most cycle journeys in London are between 3-6 miles. I know plenty of people who cycle in excess of 10 miles to work, with some people living outside the M25(!), but it’s a bigger ask to cycle 25 miles each way every day. Most of the people I know who have longer commutes tend to mix it up, by cycling one way and getting the train home or cycling on alternate days. If you haven’t cycled for a while, 5 miles might seem like a long way, but it will generally be quicker and more enjoyable than fighting your way onto the tube or being stuck in traffic in a car.
And don’t forget, there are lots of benefits to cycling such as saving money, getting fitter, losing weight (cyclists are, on average, a stone lighter than non cyclists), boosting your immune system, lowering your chances of suffering from diseases (such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer), feeling more energised, not being crammed onto a packed tube, as well as not being constrained to a train timetable.