With the clocks changing I’ve had the opportunity for a few longer evening rides this week, altering my route home from work to take in more of the Norfolk countryside. I’m really hoping the two glorious days we’ve just had aren’t the sum of our 2016 summer; fingers crossed there’s more good weather to come.
You have lots of time to ponder things whilst you’re pedalling peacefully past pleasant panoramas. I’m sure the roads are getting busier, and the fumes from traffic worse. It made me wonder yet again why more people don’t use a bicycle to get around? There are so many benefits that come from regular cycling, and using your bike to get around often doesn’t take any longer that the same trip by car.
I start my day with a 7.5km ride to work, often with a break for a few minutes at a quiet spot to contemplate the day ahead and organise my thoughts.
Getting to work on my bike takes about 24 minutes. It could be quicker but I prefer to take a more roundabout route to avoid traffic and pollution on the inner ring road. Driving to work, which I very occasionally do, takes the same time or longer to cover a shorter distance, and leaves me feeling thoroughly wound up from sitting in traffic. I know I’m more used to cycling long distances, but it really doesn’t take very long to become accustomed to a self propelled method of transport.
A quick search on the Interweb has revealed that a few years ago the average commuting distance to work in England and Wales was around 15km. I’m not sure why Scotland didn’t get a mention, maybe Scottish commutes are convoluted due to other factors such as the threat of ambush by wild haggis. 15km, which is just over 9 miles, isn’t very far, and as that’s the average there are an awful lot of people who commute a far shorter distance.
I was trying to think of why people don’t cycle to work, or even walk, instead choosing to use their car instead. Maybe they don’t want to arrive at work a bit sweaty, or with helmet hair, or are scared of cycling due to bad driving. The first two are often easily solved as many work places now have showers you can use, and to be honest a 25 minute cycle doesn’t generate that much unpleasantness, especially during the winter months when it’s colder. If you’re worried about your hair, well…lucky you…a lot of people don’t have much, and frankly there are probably more important things to worry about.
I do however understand people who are nervous about cycling due to the amount of traffic, and bad driving, as it can be intimidating and scary if you’re not used to it. However the only way to overcome such fears is to give it a go and build up your confidence, with a bit of defensive cycling thrown in to make sure you’re seen and drivers don’t try something stupid. Incidentally I in no way condone stupid cycling; riders should obey the rules of the road just like car drivers.
Maybe it’s better to focus on the benefits of using your bicycle, rather than what might put you off. There are so many positives to getting on you bike and leaving the car behind. I’ve compiled a bit of a list, which is by no means exhaustive, of the reasons to take up cycling, especially for that daily commute.
In no particular order…
- It’s actually faster – okay, not all the time, and it depends on your route and the traffic, but that’s certainly the case with my morning ride to work. If you live in a town or city and drive to work you’re likely to be stationary for a lot of the trip, whereas on your bike your moving for much more of the journey. So you’re saving time by cycling!
- You can eat more – this is one of my personal favourites as I love eating. Pedalling to work every day burns off several hundred calories, which I very much enjoy replacing with the occasional bacon roll, or cake off the tea trolley that comes around at 15.00 each day and which I have great trouble resisting. Guilt free eating really is a lot of fun, and quite handy around Easter time; busy consuming an egg as I write this.
- Lose weight – it’s really easy to lose a few pounds each week through cycling. I struggle with this one slightly as I’m really into to benefit number 2, and keep having to add another few kilometres onto my evening ride to burn off that unexpected jaffa cake or sausage roll. If you have any sort of willpower you’ll find the pounds falling off. Also, after exercise your body will continue to burn fat at an increased rate for a short time, even after you’ve stopped pedalling, which has got to be a good thing when you’re tucking into a post ride doughnut.
- Be healthier – there are countless health benefits associated with cycling, from a better immune system, to increased brain power, as well as a healthier heart and lungs, better bowels and a reduced risk of cancer. Allegedly it can make you cleverer as well, due to increased blood flow to the brain and boosted hippocampus development, although I’m not convinced it’s had much of an impact on me; I’ll ask my colleagues at work, I’m sure they’ll be kind….maybe I’ll just skip that one. As a result a bit of pedalling will also reduce the risk of degenerative brain disorders such as Alzheimers. Finally cycling a decent distance each week can apparently also improve your sex life, although I suspect that really depends on your saddle; make sure you choose a good saddle, very important.
- Look younger and live longer – cycling increases your circulation and thus delivers oxygen and important nutrients more effectively around your body. Exercise of any sort also helps flush out toxins (it’s a good way of getting rid of a hangover). I just read that it can boost collagen production which helps reduce wrinkles and heal wounds, the latter being quite handy for me as I’m always banging my pedals against my shins or calf muscles. You’ll also live longer due to all the points mentioned in 4.
- Be happier, and less stressed, sleep better and be less tired – I’ve grouped these together as they often go hand in hand. Exercise of any kind releases endorphins which makes you happier. Time on your bike where you only need to focus on pedalling can reduce your stress levels, especially after a hard day in the office. A decent ride will tire you out so you’re more likely to sleep better, and exercise can actually wake you up which I find always helps in the morning.
- Less pollution – an obvious one, as by cycling to work you’re not adding to exhaust fumes which do all sorts of bad things both to people’s health, as well as the environment. With climate change getting higher on everyone’s list of priorities this will become more and more important, especially after people read the latest predictions about sea level rises and the need to reduce emissions drastically. This is one of the most important benefits for me, as I’m getting quite sick of breathing in fumes and am very concerned over the dangers posed by fossil fuel burning induced climate change. The more people who cycle the less pollution they’ll be, so get on your bike!
- Avoid pollution – by taking the road less travelled to work, or using a cycle path if you’re lucky enough to have one, you’ll get to breathe in cleaner air. Even if you have to use main roads apparently you breathe in less fumes as a cyclist compared with a driver, which surprised me, but is down to being at the edge of the road and not directly behind an exhaust pipe.
- Encourage more cycle friendly routes – the more people who cycle the more there’s an argument for money to be spent on cycle paths and cycle friendly routes. This has got to be good for everyone as it’ll mean safer cycling, and fewer cyclists on the roads ‘annoying’ drivers. Likewise the more people that cycle the more used to cyclists drivers should get, and the more tolerant they’ll be, hopefully.
- Less traffic – in line with the above point more people cycling equals fewer cars, which in turn means fewer traffic jams and fewer accidents, as well as a reduced requirement for road mending, meaning everyone can go about their business more quickly and less angrily.
- Time to think – we lead such busy lives these days, often always connected to social media or otherwise contactable by phone or text. Putting your phone away and going for a pedal gives you time to contemplate whatever you need to contemplate. I often find myself entering an almost meditative state whilst cycling, and studies have shown it can increase your creativity. It’s also gives you a bit of playtime each day, and we don’t play enough these days; playing isn’t just for children!
- Increase your motivation – as with any exercise you’ll feel more motivated after going for a bike ride. Exercise can give you a bit of a high, which is one of the reasons people can get addicted to it. So pedalling to work should make you more productive at work, and more motivated to get off your backside at home and do those things you keep meaning to do, like go on adventures.
- Learn to appreciate the weather – Modern life means we’re often completely cut off from nature and the outdoors, shuffling from car to office to home and spending as little time as possible exposed to external elements. I don’t think humans were meant to be inside all the time. This is probably one of the reasons people get ill both mentally and physically, with more allergies and suchlike. If you cycle in all weathers you really love it when there’s sunny and warm day, but likewise I have learned to embrace the rain; it can be a lot of fun splashing through puddles – that playtime thing again, try it. The only weather I don’t particularly get on with on a bike is the wind; headwinds can be soul destroying if they go for too long, and I have had a lot of arguments with whichever deity I blame at the time for sending a headwind my way; I mostly blame Loki.
- Better communities – in a car I don’t get to say hello to people, or exchange smiles and waves. In fact people are more likely to swear at fellow commuters when they’re driving, or give them ‘the bird’. Each morning on my bike I say hello to people walking or cycling the other way, generally the same people each day, and feel better for it. A smile given, and received in turn, can really make you feel better. You can make new friends too, who knows who you might meet!
- Improve in other sports – regular cycling builds muscle, makes you fitter aerobically, and is good for the joints, so it can really help with other sports you participate in. Although don’t assume it’ll make you a good runner. Running hurts. I don’t know how anyone really enjoys running, unless its over an obstacle course with lots of mud and rivers to jump in.
- Raise money for charity – a long cycle challenge can be an excellent way to raise money for your favourite charity, as I have discovered when raising money for the Big C. Just be careful what you agree to; might have accidentally said I thought a tandem bike ride from Cambridge to Norwich would be a good idea, really not sure it is but it’ll be fun whatever.
There are no doubt plenty of other benefits that are worthy of a mention. What do you think? Anything I’ve missed which you think is a real positive produced by pedalling?
I’ll finish with a few photo’s from my cycle home through the Norfolk countryside today. It was ‘bootiful’ and I saw my first Swallow of the year which seems a bit early, perhaps not?
And please consider using a bike rather than a car for your commute to work, or to take the kids to school. Got to be better for everyone 🙂
Hi James, I couldn’t agree more. I’ve been commuting by bike for almost 10 years now. I started while living job London, where it really is the best way to travel for most people.
When I moved out of London I just carried on.
In addition to the health benefits (you never worry whether you should join a gym), I really value the affect it has on stress levels.
Just 20 minutes on a bike at the end of the day really helps to get work troubles or frustrations out of your head, so you can enjoy your evening. In the morning, the ride really wakes you up.
The other thing I wanted to mention was cycle training. I think many cities offer free cycle training, teaching people how to ride safely in traffic. There’s a few tricks that make all the difference with how cars interact with you, and once you start using them I find I have very little trouble with (busy) traffic.
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Thanks Graham, cycle training sounds like it could help quite a few people, and all the better if it’s free! I forgot to mention that cycling to work regularly can also save you a load of cash!