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Is it practical to go everywhere by bike for a whole month?

Myles Warwood
9 Jun 2020

Doing every journey by bike: is it practical in car-centric Britain?

With more people taking to two wheels during the coronavirus pandemic - and hopefully beyond - we look back at when freelance writer Myles Warwood tried to spend a whole month using only his bike

Going everywhere on two wheels for 30 days is quite a thing to do and it’s the challenge being laid down by bicycle manufacturer Canyon, whether it's commuting to work, a trip to the shops or going for coffee with friends.

Canyon has created the ’30-day challenge’ asking the people of Great Britain to swap the car or public transport for pedal powered two wheeled transport for either 30 days on their own or by nominating three friends to take on the other three weeks.

A fun initiative by the online bike manufacturer but I tried to take it to the Nth degre: Is it possible to give your car up for 30 days?

For myself, it would be tough, in our house we have one petrol hybrid car between two adults and two kids. It does 65mpg in the summer and 54mpg in the winter - the heater runs the engine more than air conditioning.

I do lots of short hops, generally under 8km, so you would imagine being on a bike would be an easy switch. However, carting two kids around with me, both of whom are under three, becomes a bit more of an issue. A nursery drop off and then on to work would be a tad difficult.

Capacity problems

I could get a trailer which seats both kids to attach to the back of my bike, maybe. But I'm not sure I trust them both to be out of my sight behind me and not knocking seven bells out of each other, so I’d need them both in front of me where I can see them, make sure they can get their snacks, drink, had their helmets on and are behaving. So, I’d need some form of cargo bike, which are not cheap in themselves.

This, of course, is just the bike and the transport of them. Now I know there are parents out there who strap their kids to the bike and set off without a second thought, it’s just part of life, especially in better-provisioned countries such as Denmark and the Netherlands. Congrats to them, I’d love to be able to do that, but I don’t feel like I’m down that road - at least not yet.

Imagine packing two kids and a weekly shop on to a bike, too. That takes another level of parenting and patience which I don’t think I have. Of course, you can negate this with online shopping but as I say, I’m pushing it to the Nth degree here. Even just nipping to the shops on the way home could become a stumbling block if you don’t have the appropriate amount of space in your backpack or on the bike.

Uninviting roads

Then comes the biggest thing of all, the roads. Are they safe enough to get around on? What about the condition of not only the road themselves but also the cycle lanes, if they exist? I live in what should be the cycling capital of the UK, Harrogate – but this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Having kicked off the Tour de France in 2014, the Tour de Yorkshire quickly followed and then there were the World Championships in 2019. The cycling bubble seems to have burst with town folk now angered by the number of cycling events having an effect on their business. So much so the Tour de Yorkshire will be skipping Harrogate for 2020 and looking likely not to be coming back in 2021, either. Cycling and Harrogate are on a break.

This backlash against the professional sport has impacted on everyday cycling far more negatively that its success did positively.

The traffic around town is very high. As a commuter town to Leeds, Wetherby and surrounding areas, people choose to travel by car, those who travel by train risk the fragility of the Northern Rail service. With train tracks crossing roads, traffic lights, roundabouts and single carriageways surely the sensible option is to go by bike.

There is the Nidderdale Greenway which is a footpath and cycle route (bikes limited to 10mph), but it’s doesn’t really lead anywhere meaningful and isn’t a system which allows easy access to the aforementioned towns.

Cycle paths on the roads then seem to be hen’s teeth, basically if you don’t live in Cambridge, London or Manchester there is no cycle network to support alternative transport such as cycling.

London’s Cycleways have almost tripled the amount of segregated cycle space in the capital in the last few years and there is a constant flow of bicycle traffic. Having used them for a number of years I know their advantages and disadvantages.

The car is still king in 21st century Britain. But it shouldn't be

My point is this, why should it be on a bicycle manufacturer to try and encourage people on to bikes, to show that it should be easy to commute by bike? Their end goal is to sell bikes and I get that, but it shouldn’t be on Canyon to try and get people riding bikes to work: I don’t feel local and national authorities are doing enough to help promote commuting by bike.

Also is your office bike friendly? I’ve only ever worked for one employer whose bike parking was fully adequate and secure with very few offering showers or anywhere to change.

The mindset seems to be, certainly at the minute in the UK, people are commuting by car and we need to provide a road structure to allow for that. But what if it were easier, safer and more accessible to commute by bike, wouldn’t that be better?

The building of cycle lanes temporarily slows traffic while the work is being done - as is the case with any road works, but once complete more people will travel by bike, freeing up the roads and providing a cleaner environment to live in.

To go everywhere by bike, I think, simply isn’t practical in the UK with the currect state of the infrastructure and the leniency of the law when drivers are in the wrong.

To ditch the car completely would currently feel like a mistake but thinking outside of major cities and more on commuter towns, making it safer, easier and more appealing to commute to work by bike – that seems like a more logical solution. In fact, the bicycle could solve so many of modern Britain's problems that it's the obvious solution, but vested interests and stubborn mindsets are hard to alter.

Well done to Canyon for challenging people to commute by bike for 30 days – now we just need to see local councils challenge themselves to make alternative transport better.