Cycling to work
- Hamish Brown
- 11 June 2009
Cycling to work is quick, cheap and reliable, which is why more people are doing it and taking back control of their lives, finds Hamish Brown
Cycling is enjoyable, healthy and makes us feel good. But that’s not why most people in cities do it. Not me anyway. I don’t have ‘reasons’ for cycling any more than I have reasons for walking.
Neither do I make use of specialist equipment. ‘Distrust any enterprise that requires new clothes,’ as the Thoreau maxim goes. I cycle in my normal clothes. If you are worried about getting sweaty, there’s a simple solution: cycle slower. Visit any city in Europe and you’ll see no lycra.
So what do you need to cycle to work? Few would argue that a bike is the bare minimum, but these days you don’t even have to buy one. A lot of employers participate in cycle schemes that deduct a rental charge from your salary before tax.
The three most popular types are mountain bikes, road bikes and hybrids. Unless you’re planning on going off road, there’s no need for a mountain bike in the city. If you have one already, put smooth tyres on it and you’ll be as fast as anyone else. If you commute a longer distance and can’t avoid a train or bus journey, folding bikes are cheaper and better than ever.
A recent and growing trend – one borrowed from cycle courier culture – is the ‘fixie’, a fixed wheel bike. Why have 18 gears if you only use three of them? An exercise in simplicity and expediency, the fixie does away with all it can – you get one good gear and one good brake – meaning there is very little that can go wrong.
You also need a route. Google Maps is your friend here. Edinburgh and Glasgw are full of disused railways, parks and quiet roads to construct a traffic-free route and, thanks to bodies such as Sustrans and Spokes, cycle path provision on roads is constantly improving.
There are other ways to make your life easier. If you don’t want to cycle in your work clothes, keep them at work and change. A lot of offices have showering facilities too. Mudguards are also a great invention. For carrying work stuff, panniers now come smart enough to pass for a briefcase in the meeting room and big enough to cope with a supermarket shop on the way home. You’ll be home quicker, so are definitely going to have more to time to cook.
You’ll need lights, especially in winter and for coming home after a night out. On this note, some clarity on the law regarding drunk cycling. There’s no ‘limit’ for you to be over as legally you’re not ‘a carriage’, but if you’re deemed to be unable to control your bike when asked or a danger to others you can be prosecuted.
It’s also easy to keep a reflectve strip in your bag to put on coming home. Helmets are optional and some are getting pretty good looking these days. You’ll need a bell, mainly for pedestrians accustomed to crossing the road using their ears. Watch out for dog owners – and tourists.
The mega organised will want to carry a spare inner tube, a pump and a bike tool, although decent modern tires and inner tubes are puncture resistant. You’ll also need a lock.
Attitudes can still be a problem. Sophisticated advertising has linked cars to status in UK culture, so many find it hard to view cycling as something done through choice. Attitudes are changing, though, and bike usage is on the rise. Remember you have equal right to the other road users, so never cycle apologetically – timid riding invites abuse.
So why cycle? Cycling is a form of transport free from the influence of other factors. Regardless of traffic or weather, it takes me exactly 28 minutes to get home. It runs on the same fuel that I do, meaning I’m free to eat and drink as much as I like and it all gets burned off – as a by-product, I am fitter than I’ve ever been and have never joined a gym. And moving at a rate somewhere between walking and driving is the perfect way to see the world.