Fuel and energy costs have increased sharply in the UK in the past few months, so it seems that there has never been a better time to think about riding your bike to work.
The first major reason to switch to pedal power is climate change, which is an ever-present threat. In major cities, in particular, pollution, such as particle pollution, is a problem that is even posited to have as far-reaching consequences as changing the microclimate of the very cities that we live in (disappointingly for the UK, that might mean more rain or fog). Pollution may perhaps even lead to health consequences such as increasing the number of cases of dementia. A bid to reduce pollution by taking steps to get rid of long queues of traffic means that we will soon need a radical rethink about how we get from A to B – one that is already showing signs of occurring.
If you are looking to save the planet, switching to an electric or a hybrid car is always an option, however, they still come with similar financial disadvantages to conventional cars, and, unlike a bike, can’t be fixed overnight in your garage. Although they might reduce some of the most immediate issues with pollution, they do not fully eliminate it. A bike still comes out on top when it comes to the climate. Perhaps if you are feeling particularly brave, you could even give up the car altogether.
Riding a bike is environmentally friendly, cheap, and is a great way of keeping fit. It can often even be quicker in large towns and cities to take a bike – why stay stuck sitting in traffic for only a short journey? There’s a reason that so many couriers are now out there on bikes. Now only that, but combining cycling with another mode of transport, such as taking it on the train, is free in the UK. As part of a longer commute, it can be an excellent way to wake you up and work some cardio into your morning, or to finish off your journey if your workplace isn’t right next to a train station. Buying a real bike is much more exciting than spin classes at the gym, with new routes available for discovery, and it’s often possible to find greenery in what can sometimes feel like an endless sea of grey concrete and red brick. Many employers will also support employees who want to take a step towards cycling to work by participating in the Cycle to Work scheme, which has now been running for over 20 years. Workplaces nowadays are even accommodating cyclists by providing lockers for spare clothes and facilities for showering.
Cycle paths are now woven into the urban landscape, such as Manchester’s Fallowfield Loop, or the cycle path through Sale Water Park, which can be followed towards the airport. Be sure to wear a helmet and check your chain is oiled before setting off on your adventure. Chances are that you can discover a nearby oasis of calm not too far from where you live. Even working a short ride into your lunch break is a good way to get some peace and quiet away from the office. Cycling burns more calories at the same time with the same intensity as walking, so depending on your exact fitness aims, particularly if you want to lose weight, cycling is probably a better option. At the weekend, you can consider taking a trip further afield if you want to explore the severely underrated countryside.
Even our much-maligned weather is a blessing in disguise: the fact is that it is rarely too hot or too cold to cycle (or perhaps, more importantly, it is rarely icy in most places). And the fact that the terrain is by and large flat compared to many other European countries means that even beginners shouldn’t find too many places that aren’t easily navigable.
More recently, the government has been working towards making it safer to ride a bike by amending the Highway Code to make sure that cars give way to cyclists and pedestrians more often, according to their place in the ‘hierarchy of road users’. These changes are intended to make left turns and roundabouts much safer. The new version of the Highway Code also recommends the use of the ‘Dutch reach’ technique, in part to prevent cyclists from being hit by car doors when drivers are leaving their vehicles.
Taking one of these routes is a brilliant way to escape the often-busy roads and is a place for less experienced cyclists to build their confidence before cycling on the road regularly. Just under half of people in England owned a bike in 2020 (an increase of 5% averaged across all age groups in only a few years). In fact, unforeseen events such as the Covid-19 lockdown led to a huge increase in the popularity of cycling.
And feeling safe on a bicycle appears to be a major factor in whether people choose to cycle in general. Unfortunately, only 43% of women said they felt confident riding a bike compared to 74% of men. Indeed, over half of cyclists expressed that off-road cycle paths or cycle paths segregated from traffic, as well as safer cycle paths, were the main improvements that could be made to encourage them to cycle. This may partially be achieved through segregated transit corridors through major cities such as those proposed by Transport for London.
In short, cycling brings many advantages, be they financial, environmental, or more personal – both in terms of physical health and peace of mind. We may already be freewheeling downhill on our own two-wheeled journey towards becoming a cyclist’s paradise like the Netherlands, with new changes to the Highway Code and increasing accommodation for cyclists in the workplace. So that leaves one question: If you’re not cycling already, why not take a seat?