In praise of slow cycling

I was looking through my blog for posts of the past two months. It has been all about racing up hills or reviews of light-weight (and expensive) components. A very small niche of a sub branch of racing cycling. (Apologies if you have got bored of blog posts about weighing saddles and racing up steep hills). But, as well as being a racing cyclist, I’m also a commuter and cycle into Oxford every day.

The curious thing is that the more I’ve got into racing, the slower I’ve got on the commute into town. When I didn’t do proper races, I remember racing to and from work. It was all about speed. I think I may even have timed my commute home, and tried to beat my personal bests. – (A timetriallist in the making, if ever there was) But, as I’ve got more into racing, I’ve slowed down when cycling into town. I’ve not sure whether this is me getting older, needing more recovery time or just a different attitude.

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I suppose it is a combination of factors, including:

  1. With racing at the weekend, I don’t have any smouldering competitiveness or fresh legs during the week. If you can ride at 30mph on a dual carriageway on a Sunday morning the desire for racing down Cowley road on Monday morning soon dissipates.
  2. Slow recovery rides are good for you. As I mentioned in previous post, I used to do recovery rides at 18mph, now I do them at 14mph. To get a real recovery ride, you need to really go properly slow – either full on hill intervals or proper recovery is the motto today.
  3. Patience is a virtue which is surprisingly enjoyable. In the past, when I got in any mode of transport, it was always a race against time. As a consequence, it was very easy to become frustrated at having to wait, getting held up or crawling along due to congestion. With this mindset of speed, you start to look for short cuts, the quick overtake, the dash through traffic. But, if you change your approach and try to enjoy the journey, it’s less stressful; you don’t feel guilty for standing still waiting for traffic to move. You just wait your turn.

With all the evangelical fervour of a converted sinner. I now get incredibly frustrated when motorists are similar impatient to overtake cyclists in dangerous manoeuvres – you always want to preach to the unconverted to tell them – if they could happily wait for the odd 10 seconds, it really doesn’t have to ruin their day. Take it easy, wait 10 seconds – and everyone’s happy.

Slow Cycling is good for you

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So slow cycling is good for you. It makes you more considerate road user, but more importantly if you have a little more patience – you will enjoy the experience a lot more – if you give yourself an extra few minutes to get anywhere, you don’t have to squeeze through gaps which are really not advisable.

Slow Cycling in the Netherlands vs England


The interesting thing about cycling in the Netherlands is that everybody seems content to cycle slowly and take it at a moderate pace.

By comparison, go to London and cycling seems more likely to be a high-octane pursuit of racing against time. I don’t believe Dutch and English people are that different. It must be the culture and infrastructure which encourages such disparate behaviours. In the UK, cycling infrastructure is so weak and incomplete that perhaps it affects our mindset – there is no logic to the infrastructure – so it’s each man for himself and the quicker you get from A to B – perhaps the lower the chance of getting knocked over. I don’t really know, but different cycling infrastructure definitely affects cycling behaviour.

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Another factor is the bike that people use. The popular types of bicycles in Netherlands, just encourage slow, steady cycling. Buy a hipster fixed or road bike with drops, and the mindset changes. I’ve never seen anyone racing a Boris Bike.

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Also, perhaps it is the sheer weight of numbers in Netherlands which encourages sensible cycling. There’s no possibility of commuter racing because the roads are congested with cyclists. There is no option but to take it slowly and carefully.

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Sometimes, you see that in Oxford. The number of cyclists waiting patiently at lights is almost a surprise. Wow, you mean cyclists are not always inverterate red light jumpers?! – like popular newspapers may like us to believe.

There is a definite lemming effect – If fellow road users behave in a certain way, it encourages everyone else to do the same.

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3 Responses to In praise of slow cycling

  1. Steve November 5, 2014 at 10:20 am #

    There’s a terrible lot of the “I’m on my bike, so I have to run everywhere” about.

    As most of my cycling (even my commute to work) is on country lanes, with the occasional detour along byways and bridle paths, just ambling along has always seemed the right way to do things — especially at this time of year, when a slower commute gets me out in the daylight for longer and helps fight seasonal affectiveness. And if you’re on the bike after a filling lunch at a nice country pub, then running is the last thing you want to do, just for the digestion!

  2. Tim November 5, 2014 at 3:54 pm #

    I very much like this idea of cycling not being a race to get everywhere, and I can imagine that having a less hostile environment – less fast motorised traffic bearing down on you – would encourage a slower pace.

    But surely some Dutch people are disorganised and permanently running late like myself? 😉

  3. Ian November 11, 2014 at 10:33 pm #

    Cyclists in the Netherlands may pedal slowly but that is because they travel so much more quickly. Well designed infrastructure giving cyclists priority and allowing them to travel without stopping gives them much shorter journey times than they would experience in Britain. London cyclists have to pedal frantically because they, like the car drivers are going to have to stop for yet another red light in 200 metres time.

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