Canals can make the cycle to work more pleasant
Every journey starts with one small step. Occasionally you need a nudge to take that step. An old housemate of mine gave me that nudge over a decade ago.
I had been driving to my previous teaching job, six miles from my old house, as a matter of habit: every weekday I would jump in the car, drive off and arrive at school. Then I would drive back. And then I would often go to the gym, or for a run, or a swim, sometime in the evening. Sure, I had a bike, but I barely used it.
My housemate used to cycle to his work place and suggested that I try it too. And one sunny summer’s day I did. But what a kerfuffle – I had to take a suit and my shirt to school the previous day, then go in, shower, get changed, then start my working day. Then there’s the hassle at the end of the school day too. Was it really all worth it?
But the weird thing is that, in my case at least (I live just over five miles from my place of work), once I put a few simple things in place, cycling to work actually saved me time. Why is that?
- Thanks to good old traffic congestion, I take the same time to cycle in as it takes other teachers in my area to drive in (not that I am trying to be smug about it – more of that later…)
- I keep suits, shoes, towels and so on at work, and replace them on rotation or when I occasionally get the train in
- I shower at school – but I would have showered at home anyway – so that’s time neutral!
- I no longer have to have a separate training session when I get home – the commute (and extended versions if necessary) is the baseline of my exercise regime
Apart from time saving, the benefits are manifold:
- fresh air (half of my route is off the main road)
- resilience (getting through the odd cold or rainy journey builds up your defences for some of life’s minor inconveniences)
- a feeling of belonging (swapping pleasantries with other cyclists and the same friendly old fellow on his canalside constitutional)
- money-saving (we are now a one-car household, saving money on buying, servicing, taxing, and fuelling a second vehicle – and no more gym fees – and many employers offer the Cycle to Work scheme so you can buy a bike from your pre-tax income, and stagger the payments throughout the year)
- doing your little bit to reduce carbon dioxide emissions
- giving you an extra leisure activity to do in your own time
- the ability to eat more food and ‘earning’ the odd beer or two
Yes, I might sound smug, but smugness is an occupational hazard of a cycle commuter! (Give me a virtual slap in the face if you wish.)
Let’s go back to that small step – the first day I biked to my old school. Things soon got into a routine. I went from biking once a week, to twice, then three times. I cycle every day.
Barriers and how to overcome them
There will be barriers to overcome. These can include living far away from your place of work, dropping off children on the way to and from school/nursery (there are ways to do this!), lacking a bike, worries about safety, concerns about your fitness levels, anxieties about frosty or wet journeys… and more. Why not chat to people who already bike in about these barriers and how they can be broken down?
Also, advice can be found on the British Cycling website, and in terms of safety, none of us are immune to the dangers of cycling, but they can be overstated, and awareness of risk probabilities will help you to put them in perspective.
Moreover, I believe that the risks are outweighed by the mental and physical health benefits of cycling. Some unions will support you in the case of accidents which might take place on your commute – and you could seek extra cover from British Cycling or other providers.
Cycle paths can facilitate your commute
My journey started with a small step. What will nudge you to take yours? Could it be the lighter traffic we are seeing in these times of remote working? Could it be worries about public transport? The need to save money and get fit? If you are able to, why not do a Tebbit and get on your bike? (If you live far away, trains have space for bikes and you could bike the first or last part of your journey.)
Read on for some hints and tips if your interest has been piqued…
- Try a weekend recce of your journey – you could even make it into an expedition with your family or friends
- Ask someone who already cycle-commutes for suggestions as to the best way to come (the safest and most enjoyable route may not be the shortest or the one that your smart phone suggests)
- Canals are much safer from the point of view of accidents, but can be quiet places, so consider cycling with a friend for safety
- Make use of cycle lanes (especially traffic-free ones)
- This route planner might help
Start with small steps
- Share your commitment: complete your first few commutes (or part of them) with someone else
- Start out one-way (use the train to go one-way), or even come part of the way by train
- Start in summer, so you are cycling in the light
Be safe, be seen!
- Wear high-visibility clothing and a helmet
- Dismount and walk your bike on the pavement if needed
- Keep your eyes peeled and your ears free (no headphones – unless they are bone conduction, and even then it pays to be hyper-aware!)
- Take a fully charged phone with you
- Keep a heavy bike lock at work, or in your chosen bike cubby hole (ask other cyclists for their hints)
- Keep your clothes and a towel in a locker
- Wrap things in a waterproof container in your cycling bag
Just in case
- Consider cycling insurance – e.g. from British Cycling – or, as I mentioned before, some unions may cover you for your commute
There are many generic resources to help cyclists to plan a safe journey.
One starting point for absolute novices is Bikeability – the government’s cycling initiative: https://bikeability.org.uk
Tips for more experienced cyclists can be found here (from British Cycling): https://www.britishcycling.org.uk/membership/article/20140102-Road-safety-tips-for-members-0
Phew! That’s it for now. As Michael McIntyre says, stay safe…
Best wishes, David