Ten reasons now is a great time to start cycling
Accessed from the world wide web at 09:00 hrs on 09.05.20.
There are many reasons you might want to think about cycling for commuting or other transport when the coronavirus lockdown starts to ease, particularly if you live in a city.
With physical distancing remaining in place for some time to come, capacity on public transport will be limited. If more people drive it will create gridlock.
Thus, cities are being encouraged by the government to do all they can to promote cycling, as well as walking, as a way of getting around. Safer routes are being rolled out in London and Manchester, with others likely to follow.
What if you’re a cycling newcomer? Which obstacles, and practicalities, might you need to think about? Below is a list of 10 possible ones. It’s by no means exhaustive, so do add any thoughts in the comments.
But it is meant to be hopeful: reasons to get on a bike, not reasons to think again. Covid-19 has been a tragedy for the UK and countless other nations. But as it eases, some aspects of life will change. More bikes on the roads is one where it could change for the better.
1. Remember – it’s safer than you might think
Safety, and just as importantly, perceived safety, is perhaps the biggest barrier to more cycling. And if you start riding regularly, a scary incident or two with a motor vehicle is inevitable at some point. But while the UK’s streets could and should be much safer for cycling, very serious incidents remain rare, with a serious injury or death once every million miles ridden.
2. You’ll be doing yourself a lot of good
About 100 cyclists are killed a year in the UK. But how many people die because of ailments connected to long-term physical inactivity? About 100,000. Everyday cycling is one of the best ways to improve your health. Even a fairly sedate pace counts as moderate activity, and if you rack up half an hour of this, five times a week, you’re already past the recommended minimum for aerobic activity.
3. The health benefits massively outweigh the risks
Studies have calculated that even in the UK, the benefit–risk ratio is about seven to one. This even includes pollution. A new study has found that the health gains from both walking and cycling outweigh the risks from smog even in cities like Beijing and New Delhi.
4. You’ll be doing others a lot of good
5. You’ll enjoy it – really*
For most people, commuting is a chore. Yes, on a train or bus you can listen to a podcast, and a car might feel like precious time alone to think. But your destiny is not in your hands. Bikes have the near-magical ability to, 99% of the time, deliver you to your destination within more or less a minute of when you expected, often with a smile on your face. Bike travel is on a human scale, and at a human speed. It simultaneously gets you places fast, but keeps you in touch with the environment and people around you. All this can become quite addictive.
*Not every single day. But most days.
6. You don’t have to dress up in Lycra
There is nothing wrong with donning the full 1990s-style Mapei team colours for your ride to work if you prefer, and then having a shower and a change of clothes when you arrive. But for many people this can feel like a chore – not least making sure you have the necessary clean shoes and jacket at the office. So why not cycle in your work clothes? If your commute isn’t too long or hilly, you don’t need to arrive a sweaty mess. If it is long and/or hilly, you could get an e-bike (see below). The key is not to carry a bag on your back: think about panniers or – my personal choice – a basket or crate at the front of the bike. You may also want mudguards, and maybe a chain guard, but this is all fairly simple stuff.
7. Don’t be afraid to rely on bike shops
It is a long time ago now that bike shops were intimidating places, staffed by unsocialised types who – as in one now reformed London outlet I shall not name – would sigh heavily if you couldn’t immediately remember the difference between Presta and Schrader inner tube valves. They tend to be very welcoming and happy to talk about anything from a new bike to the best puncture-proof tyres. Most people who run or work in bike shops tend to love cycling. Bike shops are permitted to be open even under the lockdown, as they are considered essential services. Some are not open, but even then it’s worth giving them a ring.
8. Maybe think about an e-bike
Electric-assist bikes are considerably less clunky than they used to be, but they’re just as much fun. If your commute is long or has some steep sections, or indeed if you’re taking an increasingly heavy child to nursery on the way, they could be the answer. Or even if you’re not. Yes, you do get help from an electric motor, but e-bikes are not cheating. Studies have shown that e-bike users tend to get about as much physical activity as those on ordinary bikes, mainly because they tend to use them more often and ride further.
9. Don’t worry too much about punctures or the weather
Those are often significant concerns for newcomers. On the former, modern, puncture-resistant tyres like Schwalbe Marathon Plus are not hugely cheap, but astonishingly durable. I cycle most places, and average maybe one puncture a year at most. And if it rains, you can either not cycle – it isn’t compulsory, yet – or put on some waterproofs. You can even do this over work clothes and still arrive fairly presentable. As for the cold, well, it’s May. By the time it temperatures drop again in the northern hemisphere you’ll own six bikes and have strong opinions about the next Tour of Flanders. The cold will be the least of your concerns.
10. One for everyone else – be welcoming and patient to newcomers
If I can politely beckon in the veterans standing at the back, it’s also up to you. The actions of other cyclists are by no means one of the major barriers to cycling, not least as they’re really not going to kill you. But a repeated lack of patience, a tendency to overtake closely and at speed, and just a general tendency to selfishness can be pretty wearing and dispiriting. Such behaviour comes from a very small minority of riders. The next few weeks are going to be a potentially big moment for everyday cycling in the UK, and there are going to be some nervous people on the roads. Let’s just all be thoughtful.