A while back – whilst in York, , I saw an advert encouraging people to cycle to work. – ‘It only takes 15 minutes to cycle to work – give it a try.’
So inspired by York’s cycling campaign here are 10 good reasons to commute by bike.
1. Save Money
A good bike may cost £200-£400. But, it can last for years. You will save petrol, car parking / bus fares. It can easily add up. In Oxford it would cost £9 to park all day – if you can find somewhere to park. Bike maintenance is likely to be nothing more than a few inner tubes, and new chain and cassette every 3,000 miles. When you take your bike for a service, generally you don’t have to worry about spending hundreds of pounds like for a car.
Cycling is an excellent way to get low impact exercise. If you do very little exercise, cycling will improve your aerobic fitness and help to avoid heart related health problems. If you don’t have time (or the money) to go to a gym, why not try cycling to work / shops. People may worry that cycling is perceived as a dangerous activity. But, the health benefits of lower obesity / lower heart disease e.t.c. far outweigh the risk of accidents. See: How How safe is cycling? – Cycling Statistics
3. Save Time
For many short distance commutes through town, cycling can be quicker than driving or getting the bus. Many of our car journeys are less than 3 miles. If you try cycling, the time is often much quicker, especially in city centres. In commuting periods, you often get traffic jams and cyclists can both help reduce congestion and get there quicker. For me, getting to centre of Oxford, cycling is 5 minutes quicker than driving and 15 minutes quicker than the bus.
Also, a bike is more reliable than public transport, less likely to turn up late. Fate is in your own hands.
Last week, I was complaining about motorists who would pass too close. Unfortunately, there are plenty of other reasons to complain when you get on to British roads. This is a shame because cycling should be an enjoyable activity – get on two wheels and pedal happily off into the sunset. But, it seems the world of a cyclist is squashed between the impatience of taxi drivers and complaints about the dangers of the road. If you’re not careful, you can get sucked into a ‘political world of cycling’ that is negative and endless arguments of who is right and wrong.
The internet has not particularly helped. There is something about the nature of the internet which encourages outrage, strong opinions, a tribal mentality of ‘us and ‘them. These issues of sharing the road were always around, but the internet gives it greater currency and force – feeding antagonism in a way that I’m not sure existed when you had to send a letter by pigeon post or go down to the local post office to send a telegram.
CAR PASSED TOO CLOSE! – STOP – HAD TO COME TO EMERGENCY STOP! – STOP
By the time you had Morse Coded your feelings, most of your anger had long since dissipated anyway. A more modern telegram service like Twitter lacks this natural delay of several weeks as you wait for the boat from India to come into dock.
What did minor-celebrities do before having twitter spats and outraging some or another constituents of the easily outraged? I’m sure if you read the Cycling Weekly letters from the 1950s, you would find letters of complaint. But, at least in the 1950s you could read a newspaper, without, on every article, getting sucked into reading comments from 335 outraged internet trolls, who don’t have anything better to do, but get disgusted with cyclists / motorists / pigeons / and the latest reality TV show on Channel 5.
Of course, it may just be we are just looking through tinted rays of ‘The golden age of cycling’ – this mythical utopia of cycling in the 1950s, where you could cycle 100 miles on quiet roads through British lanes to enjoy warm beer and sandwiches on the village green, with nothing more than a Bobby on his bike giving you a friendly wave.
60 years later and this mythical golden age of cycling utopia has been replaced by pitched battles between Uber fuelled tax drivers who equate cyclists to ISIS and the relentless finger pointing about who is the absolutely the worst person on the roads. The only thing we agree on is that it is always someone else’s fault!
Yet, all is not lost. If you go cycling on British roads, it is not as traumatic as you might believe from the comment sections of the Daily Mail. It is still possible to really enjoy cycling – whether it’s cycling up Hardknott Pass or even, dare I say it commuting into the centre of London.
November was a bad month for cycle casualties, with several tragic accidents reported in the press.
These are some statistics produced by the Department of Transport for road traffic accidents, which helps give a perspective on the dangers of cycling on British roads. (Source: Sept 2013 D o T)
Fatal accidents have been falling in the past few decades. In 2012, 118 cyclists were killed. This was higher than in 2011 when fatalities fell to 107. However, it is significantly lower than early 1980s, when it reached a peak of 350. This compares to:
420 pedestrian fatalities
328 motorcycle fatalities
801 car occupant fatalities.
Fatalities and serious accidents
If we include all serious accidents in addition to fatalities, there has been a stronger upward trend since 2003.
Cycle accidents per miles cycled
If we look at cycle casualties per billion miles cycled, the situation looks less promising. There was a significant improvement in cycle rates in the 1980s. But, the increase in cycle rates since late 1990s appears not to have caused the hoped for ‘safety in numbers’ we might expect. This shows that cycle casualties per bn miles cycled is increasing in the past decade.
Relative risk of different forms of transport – Cycling vs Car vs Pedestrian vs Motorbike
These statistics show casualties per billion km travelled. They produce a slightly skewed figure in that car drivers will clock up many miles on motorways, which tend to have much lower accident rates per miles travelled, compared to rural and urban areas. Nevertheless, it still shows how much safer car journeys are compared to cycling or walking. Which is to be expected. In a car you are protected by crumple zones and a block of steel. Walking and cycling, you are not.
Fatalities by mode of transport
Using fatalities, pedestrians have a slightly worse risk than cyclists.
I remember vaguely a few months ago, something about a local politician from Birmingham (1) who said that cycling was the preserve of young adult men and therefore we shouldn’t spend money on cycling infrastructure because it only benefits a small percentage of the population. At the time I was too busy racing, but I made a mental note to write something about this later.
It can be hard work cycling on British roads
I’m probably three months late to state the obvious, but if the roads of a city are sparsely populated with cyclists – and predominantly middle age men – then it’s a very good sign that the opposite case needs to be made – It is a very good sign that a complete rethink is needed to encourage the broad section of society back into cycling.
You only get a skewed demographic of cycling – if the roads are perceived as too dangerous – making cycling appeal only to those who have different tolerations or risk, danger and dealing with intimidating situations.
The thing with cycling is that it is universal and democratic form of transport. It is cheap, accessible and at some point in time, most people have experienced some joy from learning to ride a bike. It is a shame, when this ceases to be the case.
In the US, this report states that the typical cyclists is a 39-year-old male professional with a household income in excess of $45,000 per year who rides 10.6 months per year.
In Europe, statistics for rates of female cycling as a % of cycling population are 45% Denmark, 55% in Netherlands, and 49% Germany, in the US it is 25%.
Another big difference is the age profile of people cycling:
Source: Cycling for Everyone at Rutger.edu
In the US for people over 40, only 0.4% of trips are made by bicycle. In the Netherlands this rises to 23-24%
The only question is why do people stop cycling?
Statistically, you can make a good case cycling is still relatively safe. But if you have to fight traffic and heavy goods lorries, no amount of statistics can change the real perception that it’s a tough job cycling on many cities. Too many near misses, too much stress. Perhaps some people don’t want to cycle because of the way they drive.
A very simple comparison is to look at countries which have built suitable cycling infrastructure – Germany, Holland, Denmark. In these countries, the demographic of cycling is spread across all ages and gender. Cycling is seen as safe; when there are good cycle paths, cycling is an extension of a pedestrian mode of transport. Pedestrians simply going a little bit faster.
I was happy to hear it’s cycle to work day. I saw some signs advertising it near Rawdon, Leeds a few days ago. I didn’t notice any difference on the commuting roads of Oxford today, but hopefully a few people were inspired to dig out in the bicycle from their garage and cycle to work. I’ve been cycling to work for the past 13 years (I used to be a teacher starting at 8 or 9am. But, these day I call work – going to a cafe for 9am to write some economics). Even though I work from home, I still like to create a cycle to work in town.
I’ve only ever been late once (when I fell off a slippery manhole and lay on the ground for 15 minutes. Perhaps I also got a puncture once and had to go in by bus, but that is a very distant memory. The bike is very reliable – ust avoid those cheap tyres you may get on a £100 bike from Cycle King.
In those 13 years, I’ve saved a lot of money. An alternative is the bus. Roughly the bus costs £3 return 13 years * 200 work days a year = 2,600 days. 2,600 * £3 = £7,800.
£7,800 – Wow, that is nearly enough to buy a new bike. In those 13 years, I’ve had only two commuting bikes. (one got stolen). My current commuting bike is quite low maintenance. Every year, I spend about £70 for service at Reg Taylor cycles to get a new cassette, chain and brake blocks. Overall, I must be in profit by about £6,000.
By the way, if I’d driven into town, I would have faced a car parking charge of over £10 a day before even petrol and all the costs of a car. I’ve never tried working out how much it would cost to drive into town. I’m a great believer in expensive car parking charges, but that’s another story.
Some notes on the rules and laws of cycling. Though, whatever rules are – there’s a lot to be said for using common sense to stay safe and respectful of other users.
Difference between legal requirements and advisory notes
The Highway code reflects some legal requirements.
At night your cycle MUST have white front and red rear lights [Law RVLR regs 13, 18 & 24)] This is a law.
The Highway code also offers ‘advisory notices’ on how you should behave.
You should keep both hands on the handlebars except when signalling or changing gear.
The difference is that there is no legal requirement to keep both hands on handlebars – so it is OK to drink a bidon and eat a banana without risk of prosecution… It could be considered ‘best practise’ to keep hands on handlebars.
Generally, rules and laws are there to promote a more harmonious and safer experience on the road. When people ignore road traffic laws it can be both frustrating and dangerous. But, whilst it’s important to be aware of all the legal issues around cycling – you can’t beat plain common sense. If you cycle blindly through a red traffic light whilst under the influence of drink, you shouldn’t need a law to tell you it’s a dangerous thing.
Also, the next time someone beeps at you for cycling two abreast or 1 metre from edge of road, it is quite a comfort to know that what you are doing is perfectly legal and within your rights, even advised by the department of transport.
Common Questions on Cycling and the Law
Is it legal to cycle on pavement?
No, it is illegal to cycle on pavement (footpath by side of road) unless, it is marked as shared use cycle path [Laws HA 1835 sect 72 & R(S)A 1984, sect 129]. Cycling on pavements can lead to a fixed penalty notice of £30.
Can children cycle on pavements?
No. However, children under 16 are unlikely to be issued with fixed penalty notice. In theory, police and community support officers are supposed to use considerable discretion in dealing with people who cycle on the pavement. This is to reflect the difference between a young children seeking a safe passage on the pavement and others who might be cycling at high speed putting pedestrians at discomfort. See more at: Cycling on pavements
Can you cycle on Bridleways and Footpaths away from the road?
The law specifically relates to footways by the side of a highway. In theory, if you are on a footpath away from a road, it is legal to cycle – unless there is sign saying otherwise.
Can you cycle across a Pelican Crossings?
No. The highway code states ‘Do not ride across a pelican, puffin or zebra crossing. Dismount and wheel your cycle across.’ However, you can cycle across a ‘toucan crossing’ A toucan crossing is a wider version of pelican crossings. It will have an extra light to indicate a green cyclist.
To confuse matters, some pelican crossings have an extra green light for cyclist. A green cyclist light gives the indication it would be OK to cross on the bike.
Can you cycle on Dual Carriageways?
Yes, unless there is a specific sign saying cyclists prohibited.
Motorways are prohibited to cyclists.
A no cycling sign, might appear on some three lane dual carriageways.
Can you cycle in Bus Lanes?
Yes. Most bus lanes are open to cyclists unless indicated otherwise by signs.
Can a Cyclist cycle in the middle of a lane?
There is no law stating where on the road a cyclist must be. There are different guidelines offered. One guideline is to cycle ‘well clear of kerb. 1 metre on in centre of the left lane (best position on road for cyclists) and (Direct Gov link) However, this would also mean ignoring small bicycle lanes.
Everyone seems to agree that the Tour de France in Yorkshire / England was an unprecedented success. But, will it be a one hit wonder or will the legacy of the tour help boost the long term profile of cycling in the UK?
As the tour swept through Britain, you could see potential seeds of a real cycling legacy which could offer many benefits to the nation. And these could be real benefits like improved health, reduced pollution, greater community spirit – benefits which definitely surpass just an understanding of what an echelon is, or what the yellow jumper means.
Some potential benefits of Tour de France legacy include:
Closed roads are liberating
Usually we’re in a rush to get somewhere and the car is king. Because we’re in a rush we end up sitting in nice long traffic jams getting frustrated. The Tour de France was an opportunity to reclaim the streets, bringing whole communities together. People were having a great time. I’ve never seen so many happy people, not bad to say the action lasted only 30 seconds. In an age of digital communities and instant messaging, it is a relief to remind ourselves that nothing can beat going out into the world and meeting real people. I even broke a habit of lifetime and started talking to strangers by the roadside. The millions by the roadside show that it wasn’t just the attraction of seeing some lycra fleeting by – we actually love an excuse to be part of something big.
The Tour was a good example of how there is life after the motorcar and busy streets. It was definitely helped by good weather and having the Tour de France come through, but it shows there’s a lot to be said for creating towns where people can walk, cycle and chat and not just wait for articulated lorries to fly past and the pelican lights to change. Sundays would make a great time to have more road closures. Life doesn’t end if you can’t drive 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Cycling offers significant health benefits from the increased aerobic fitness. Given the rise in health problems associated with physical inactivity and obesity, cycling could play a major role in improving the nations health.
Health benefits of regular physical exercise
Reduces the risk of dying prematurely
Reduces the risk of dying prematurely from heart disease
Reduces the risk of developing diabetes
Reduces the risk of developing high blood pressure
Helps reduce blood pressure in people who already have high blood pressure
Reduces the risk of developing colon and breast cancer
Reduces feelings of depression and anxiety
Helps control weight
Helps build and maintain healthy bones, muscles and joints
Helps older adults become stronger and
promotes psychological well being
However in cost-benefit analysis of transport, health issues are often ignored. Unfortunately, concerns over the safety of cycling deter many from one of the most accessible forms of exercise. The tragedy is that as people lead increasingly stationary lives this causes hidden problems such as rising levels of diabetes and heart disease.
The rise in motor transport and decline in cycling / walking
The post war period saw a sustained fall in pedestrian and cycle transport. In the post war period, transport policy was driven by the attempt to accommodate the growth of motor transport. However, combined with a decline in manual labour, this era saw a sharp fall in physical exercise and a resultant increase in health problems.
Rather belatedly, transport policy has begun to acknowledge wider issues such as health, quality of life in determining transport policy. For example, in 1998 the Integrated Transport White Paper A New Deal for Transport: Better for Everyone made the acknowledgement that
“The way we travel is making us a less healthy nation.”
Cycling and Health Statistics
Perceptions about the dangers of cycling deter many from cycling. But, in perspective, mortality rates from cycling are much lower than the ‘silent killers’ , such as heart disease.
UK Deaths in 2003
All Cyclists – 113
All road users – 3,471
Cancer due to inactivity – 28,016
CHD / Stroke due to inactivity – 57,322
Source: McPherson, Klim. (2002). Coronary heart disease: estimating the impact of changes in risk factors; Klim McPherson, Annie Britton and Louise Causer. – London
Despite cycling often being perceived as a ‘dangerous’ exercise. Society is arguably ignoring the hidden dangers of sedentary lifestyles.
Net health benefits of cycling
There have been various studies which show the net health benefits of cycling.
One of the largest was the Copenhagen Center for Prospective Population Studies It involved 13,375 women and 17,265 men aged 20-93 from a population of 90,000 living in central Copenhagen. Of this group 14,976 cycled regularly.
The study found that even including risk factors from cycling (injury), those who did not cycle experienced a 39% higher mortality rate than those who did. (Study)
Copenhagen has a low accident rate helped by good cycling infrastructure. But, the size of the study shows the great potential for health gains from a city which encourages cycling.
Risk factor of mortality depending on levels of fitness
Another study suggesting an inverse relationship between mortality rates and levels of fitness.
One thing about being a British road user is that it teaches you patience. Well, it’s either you learn to be patient, or you become really quite angry and irritable. I was dropping my bike off at Beeline this morning to re-fit a power meter. It took a long time to drive the one mile during rush hour; it’s so much slower than cycling. I realised now why I never drive in Oxford, unless I can avoid it. It takes considerable patience to drive the one mile down Cowley Road. The problem is that most of the roads around here were not designed for two rows of parked cars and heavy traffic.
They were designed in the halycon days of the 1930s, when everything was in black and white and people couldn’t afford a motor car.
But, if you start off with the mindset of being patient and expecting it to be slow, it’s much easier to retain some equanimity. If you can’t enjoy the drive into town, and least at doesn’t leave you agitated.
As a cyclist, you often have to be patient. You could look at the top picture and get annoyed. Why are cars taking up so much space? If the other person was on a bicycle, there would be no delay. “Why can’t you be nice and thin like me?” But, if you start thinking like that, you don’t end up in a good place. A little patience goes a long way; sometimes you have to wait a few seconds for a 4WD to carry its great hulk through the road. But, that’s fine, we all share the road – even Chelsea Tractors.