Cycling is a whole tub full of new experiences. Addictive too. Regular exercise stimulates the pleasure centres of your brain so the more you cycle, the more you’ll want to cycle.
Using a bike is easy, cheap, green, independent, quiet, fast, convenient, door-to-door, healthy, and fun.
Half of all the journeys undertaken in the UK are under two miles long and nearly threequarters are under five miles. Most people get in their cars for these short journeys yet these are easy cycling distances and you’ll hardly raise a sweat.
So, if cycling is so perfect how come only 2 percent of all journeys are made by bike? Two reasons, really: attitude and infrastructure.
The second reason affects the first one. When more facilities for cyclists are put in place, more people become cyclists to use them. When more people use them, other people start noticing how fast and safely the cyclists are getting about. Their attitide to cycling changes and more converts to cycling are created.
In cities where cycling is encouraged and where facilities have been built, the percentage of cycle journeys increases. In York, for instance, 20 percent of all journeys are cycle journeys. In the Dutch city of Groningen the local politicians made themselves very unpopular twenty-five years ago by restricting car usage in the city centre, providing instead good cycle facilities and better bus services. Now there are no more complaints as up to 50 percent of all journeys are undertaken by cycle.
Groningen city centre is now a busy but peaceful, people-centred city. It was clogged with traffic in the mid-1970s.
In the UK, moves are afoot to make our towns and cities better places to live and work in. Cycling is part of the civilising process.
OK, that’s ten years hence, what about right now? Is it safe to cycle? Why should I get on my bike? Below we blow away the myths about cycling.
MYTH: I have an elderly relative who needs to be driven to the doctors, I can’t give up the car
ANSWER: You don’t have to. There’s no hair-shirt rule that says you must use a bike for every single journey. Using a bike should be pleasurable, not a chore. There will always be times when other forms of transport beat using a bike. Just try to use the bike more of the times when you don’t really need to use a car.
MYTH: Cycling is for people who can’t afford a car
ANSWER: In 1994 the AA found that nearly a third of their members were ‘cycling motorists’ so using a car for some journeys and a bike for others is perfectly normal. Bicycles started out in the Edwardian era as rich people’s toys and only became ‘poor man’s transport’ after the 1930s. Now cycling crosses every social divide: rock star Eric Clapton rides an Italian racing bike, as does Paul Smith, the trendy suit designer. Madonna prefers a (kabbalah-attuned) mountain bike.
MYTH: Won’t I get all sweaty?
ANSWER: For most people it probably takes a good 15-20 minutes to build up a sweat. If you don’t want to arrive at your destination all hot and flustered, don’t pedal so hard. For when you want to cycle fast, and your journey is 20 minutes or over, wearing the right clothing can increase your comfort no end ie ‘wickable’ synthetic underwear, thin fleece mid layers and a windproof jacket made from a lightweight, breathable fabric.
MYTH: Yeh, but what about the rain, I hate getting wet
ANSWER: It doesn’t actually rain that much. No, really. Research has shown that, on average, in the UK it only rains hard on 12 commuting days per year. And anyway, by wearing the right kind of weather protective clothing you won’t arrive at your destination dripping wet. Damp, yes, but even if you travelled by car you’d have to go outside at some point, risking a soaking.
MYTH: My workmates will laugh at me
ANSWER: Chances are, you get into work quicker than them, are fitter than them, have more zest for life for them, and are more open minded than them. The day will come when they will be forced to either cycle or take public transport because driving to work in the city will be heavily taxed and highly restricted. You’re a trend setter, so let them laugh, you’ll have the last one.
MYTH: Isn’t cycling really, really dangerous?
ANSWER: Yes. If you do it wrong. But do it right and you’ll find cycling is as safe as other forms of transport.
According to the British Medical Association the health benefits of cycling heavily outweigh the small risks. You can’t follow cyclepaths all the time so journeying on the roads will usually be necessary. Don’t be frightened by this. In city centres during rush hour, cars and lorries chug along at a snail’s pace because they’re gummed up in
jams. It’s a joy – and quite safe – to pass stationary traffic as you speed into work, school, the shops or wherever.
Don’t be timid when riding city streets, don’t be squeezed into the gutter, claim your roadspace, you’ve as much right to be there as cars, lorries and buses. Buy the book Cyclecraft by John Franklin, a guide to riding in the
city, or get yourself on an adult cycle proficiency course, or get a confident city cyclist to show you the ropes (cycle campaign groups often have members who help out in this respect).
MYTH: What about car fumes, I’ve got aircon, don’t cyclists breathe in all that rubbish?
ANSWER: Funnily enough, research has proven that motorists breathe in more pollution than cyclists, who sit high above the fumes. Cyclists who are breathing hard are rapidly clearing their lungs out as they exercise. And, remember, if you are currently a car commuter, when you start cycling you’re part of the solution to pollution.
MYTH: I would cycle, but my town is really hilly
ANSWER: Modern day bikes have ultra low gears so you could pedal up vertical slopes. Remember, it’s not a race, just pedal at your own pace up the hills. It’s not as hard as you would imagine. And if you’ve got hills to go up, you’ve got hills to come down: a free ride at least half of the time! And think about this: Switzerland is also, er, hilly yet cycle use is twenty times greater over there!. If hills really do put you off, why not invest in an electric bike?
MYTH: Won’t my bike get stolen?
ANSWER: It’s a possibility. 600 000 bicycles are stolen a year in the UK, half from the street, half from the home. Mind you, most years 550 000 cars are also stolen. Crime is a problem for every form of transport: you may get mugged on the tube, for instance.
As with every walk of life, there are precautions you can take which minimise the risks. Always lock your bike in a well-lit public place with a high-quality u-shaped shackle lock with a ‘flat’ key not a tubular cylinder (ACE) key. Always attach the bike to an immovable object where the bike and lock can’t be lifted off and away. Position the lock so that it cannot be hammered against the ground or levered apart, and always have the keyhole facing downward. The Sold Secure rating standard shows how long a thief will take to break in to any particular product. Locks with higher star ratings are more effective but also more expensive.
If possible, wheel the bike into your place of work, or the shops or wherever. Keeping an eye on it at all times is the safest form of protection. If this is impossible with a full-sized bike, get a folding one, these really can go everywhere with you.
MYTH: Cars are so convenient for carrying stuff, bikes aren’t, are they?
ANSWER: As a matter of fact, they’re very convenient. A bicycle is a brilliant load-carrying platform. People cycle the world with huge amounts of gear stuffed into their pannier bags so you’d be amazed how much stuff you can carry on a bike. For really heavy loads you could even invest in a cycle trailer. These can carry as much as a small family hatchback car.
MYTH: I can’t ferry my three kids about on a bike, though can I?
ANSWER: If they’re little kids, yes you can. Fit a child carrier and hook up a trailer.
In the developing world it’s not unusual to see fathers carrying mum, four kids, the shopping, a pig and a couple of fluster hens on a single bike. That’s not be recommended here but it shows that portering children around on two wheels is both possible and safe. As kids get older they love being towed behind on a trailer cycle, an attachment to the adult cycle enabling the child to pedal in tandem fashion.
MYTH: Pah, me on a pedal bike? I want to get there today!
ANSWER: Cycling is fast. Test after test has shown that for short urban journeys, there is nothing but nothing to beat a cyclist. A four mile journey in the centre of London takes 22 minutes by bike, half an hour by tube, 40 minutes by car (even in a Ferrari…), 62 minutes on a bus, and an hour and a half on shanks’ pony. Jon Snow, the Channel 4 newsreader, whizzes from interview to interview by bicycle, knowing that there’s no fast way to travel in London.
MYTH: Ah, but what about city-to-city journeys, bikes can’t beat cars, then, can they? ANSWER: Er, yes. Hire a folding bike, book a train ticket from Edinburgh to Newcastle, travel in speed and comfort, read a book, watch a DVD on your laptop, arrive in style. Now, do the same journey in your car. Which was fastest and most pleasurable? Factor in the convenience, too. You don’t pay through the nose for parking a bike: it’s free. No congestion charges either.