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Why commuting by bike is the best option

Cyclist magazine
3 Aug 2020

With advice to avoid public transport and cars rightly banned from many city centres, cycling is helping the nation get back to work

As many of us head back to work after an enforced absence due to the coronavirus pandemic, so an army of rusting bikes finds itself being brought back into service.

With current Government advice being ‘to consider all other forms of transport before using public transport’ cycling is increasingly the only practical option for many commuters.

But the seriousness of our current situation shouldn’t detract from the opportunity this presents. Getting into cycling is great for you, great for the environment, and great for the place you live.

With many cities around the world unnavigable by cars due to the congestion they cause even before lockdown, several have recently introduced schemes to help cyclists safely return to work.

In the UK this has been supported by a £250 millon emergency active travel fund, part of huge £2 billion package to improve provision for cyclists and pedestrians.

With the Government intending that any short-term measures implemented should also provide long-term benefits, now is a great time to make cycling to work a lasting habit.

Unsurprisingly for a cycling magazine, we think nothing beats the bike for getting around. Still, here are a few great reasons to get back on the bike.

Keep safe during coronavirus

Current UK Government advice is to avoid public transport whenever possible. Doing so will keep you safe, and keep key-workers forced to use the services protected too. That means we should all be walking and cycling for as many journeys as possible.

At the moment, many public transport services are also running reduced schedules. This means for many journeys, particularly those into town and city centres, cycling is now the best option.

The rush of people taking to cycling has cleared out bike shops, but those that manage to find a pair of wheels are being supported by new cycling infrastructure and pedestrianisation across cites including London, Birmingham and Manchester. With traffic reduced to its lowest levels in years (although, unfortunately, it's rapidly increased again over recent weeks), now is a great time to start on the bike.

Cycling is fun

If you were lucky, you got brought a bike as a kid. Whoever gave it you probably hoped it’d help you gain a little independence - that you might scrape a knee and perhaps learn a few life lessons.

Regardless of whether you stuck with it, or put the bike away with other supposedly childish things, everyone knows that cycling is a fundamentally fun and adventurous activity. If you’ve not ridden in a while, or even at all, we promise this still holds.

Not that every minute of commuting by bike is going to be an unadulterated joy. Still, it’ll definitely provide a whole heap more joyful moments that you’d experience stuck on the train, bus, or worse, in a car.

Avoid fare rises

Fares only ever go one way. Tending to grow above inflation, even in regions where they’ve been kept down, coronavirus is likely to increase the cost of public transport in the near future.

As firms seek to recoup losses, users can expect to get hit in the wallet. Once normality returns, one way to mitigate this could be to incorporate cycling into your journey. Obviously riding the whole way into and out of work costs only a bit in maintenance and snack bills.

However, for those with long journeys, shortening the time spent on the train could help you save on your rail fares.

With peak crush tending to happen at the far end of the line, you can reduce the period pushed up against sweaty strangers by skipping off a few stops early. It’ll make your life more enjoyable, and drop a useful amount off the price of your ticket.

To make up the shortfall in your journey, invest in a folding bike or a machine that lives on the station bike rack. This will allow you to cover the remainder of the way under your own steam.

In some areas, even a couple of stops could save you enough to offset the cost of a bike over just a few months.

Bikes are more reliable

Short of picking up a puncture, your bike is unlikely to go on strike. At the same time, even the most rickety of machines seem less prone to breakdown than the average UK loco.

So while finding your long-distance service cancelled can be a real disaster, should a metropolitan service hit the buffers, it’s usually still possible to find a way home.

During a tube strike, it’s fun to count the people happy to be interviewed explaining how they’ve waited hours for a bus to make a journey they could easily have walked. Or would have been even quicker by bike.

Most city cyclists can’t help but view these hapless commuters with anything other than bemusement.

Cycling is probably faster anyway

Many people are dependant on the rail and bus network to traverse the city, but would you be better off leaving them a bit more room?

TfL has issued figures that show that over half the journeys made in London could be completed in under 10 minutes on a bicycle.

Throughout the UK, cycling is almost always quicker than public transport for all but the longest of crosstown journeys. And that’s when the network is running smoothly.

Add to this that when your commute relies on pedal power your journey times tend to be far more consistent - and you might even get yourself a few extra minutes in bed.

Keep yourself and your neighbours healthy

Last time we checked, getting on a train wasn’t a form of exercise. Nor is taking a bus, tube or driving your own car.

What is exercise is riding your bike. And in commuting by bicycle you have the perfect opportunity to kill two birds with one stone: get your daily exercise and get to work.

Not only will the physical act of travelling to work make you fitter, but it will have multiple knock-on effects such as improving mental health, making you more productive at work and even saving you money on that gym membership.

It’s also the best option for the environment. And we’re not just talking about polar bears and melting icecaps. Although better than driving, all public transport involves emissions. Poor air quality in major cities has been shown to increase the incidence of asthma and other serious health problems.

Walking or cycling is the best choice for keeping you and your neighbours healthier.

See the place you live differently

Trains run along the same line each day and drivers will always take the same roads into work. Buses take the same route and tubes, well they’re underground.

With all of the above forms of transport, you don't actually get to see anything.

However, ride a bike to work and the opportunities are endless. In some commuting cases, you could ride hundreds of routes that are all slightly different, making each ride something new.

Google Maps has a handy route planning feature that’ll automatically tend towards using quieter roads and alternative routes if you select cycling as the mode, along with generating a surprisingly accurate ETA for your journey.

Transport for London hosts lots of information on cycling routes and Cycle Superhighways on its website. It’s also worth checking if any of Sustrans’ UK-wide signposted routes can take you where you want to go.

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