Despite cycling’s rise to fame since our Olympic wins, and Bradley Wiggins making cycling cool again, only 10% of adults in England cycle at least once a week, and only 2% travel to work by bicycle. But the benefits of cycling are multiple and varied; both for the individual and society as a whole. So why aren’t we cycling more and what is being done to get us Brits on our bikes?
Cycling provides all the usual health benefits of any exercise and physical activity, and since it is a low impact type of exercise, cycling does not put undue pressure on joints. Regular cycling will go a long way to improving your overall cardiovascular fitness and for a person weighing 80kg; one hour’s worth of bike riding will burn 650 calories. Additionally, cycling is an excellent form of exercise for toning your legs and bottom. Cycling can be done for leisure, allowing people to get fresh air and get out in the countryside. And of course, it is often used as a mode of transport; thereby reducing a persons’ carbon footprint, and probably saving them money at the same time. In larger cities cycling offers an alternative to the overcrowded rush hour antics on public transport. And finally, cycling is an activity that can be enjoyed by everybody –young and old, and can be enjoyed by the whole family together.
Sadly though, for many the cost of purchasing a bike is simply too high. Some will be able to offset this with the savings made from leaving public transport behind, but this doesn’t apply to everybody, and is irrelevant if the initial cost outlay is too much. There is a Cycle to Work scheme, which if your employer is signed up to, allows you to purchase a new bike before income tax or national insurance is deducted, with basic-rate tax payers typically getting a 40% discount. It is also possible to hire bikes. Bike rentals are more likely to be found near large parks or nature reserves, and this is a great way to start cycling cycling if you’re not used to it. And then there’s always the option of buying used bikes. Even if you find an old ropey one, bike repair shops will also be able to provide a refurbishing service. And in London, Barclays have sponsored the borrow a bike scheme, where you pick up and drop off hired bikes at specific docking stations at multiple locations in London. Definitely worth considering if you’re a London commuter.
Having a place to store a bike, and knowing where to park it, is often an overlooked issue of cycling. Bikes are magnets for thieves and without somewhere safe and secure to store them it can put people off. Narrow hallways mean it’s not possible to store them indoors, and many people do not have access to a secure garden area for bike storage. And then once you’ve arrived at your destination it’s not always obvious to know where to park a bike safely. In Cambridge and Oxford where cycling is a much more common mode of transport, there are bike sheds provided by the colleges, and many Victorian properties with back gardens for secure storage. If facilities such as these were available everywhere, would more people be cycling? However, facilitating cycle storage is not completely lost on the powers that be. Guidelines for incorporating cycle storage do now exist for new buildings, for example, one cycle space per one- or two-bedroom flat in the London Plan, but there are no plans for including bike space into existing buildings. London is making attempts to provide solutions to this though. Southwark council provides vertical steel lockers on its housing estates, although compared to the demand, they are few in number as they are costly to purchase and install. Additionally, the London Borough of Lambeth has developed the ‘Lambeth bike hanger’ which sits on the street, has space for six bikes, and takes up only half a parking space. These are proving to be a popular and effective option for cyclists, with 27 of these bike hangers having been installed so far, and more planned for the future.
Despite the perception of cycling being a risky or dangerous activity, you are just as likely to injure yourself walking as you are cycling, and the numbers of cyclists seriously hurt or even killed on the roads in Britain is miniscule compared to the number of deaths caused by disease related to obesity and inactivity.
Whilst there has been a large drive in the last decade to improve conditions for cyclists such as an increase in dedicated cycle lanes, still more could be done. ‘Get Britain Cycling’ a parliamentary report published in April, outlines recommendations to help remove the barriers people face when it comes to cycling, including safer road design taking cyclists into account, initiating safe speed limits, and increasing training and education for adults and children. It will be interesting to see exactly what changes and improvements the government brings in, and when. In Edinburgh last week, thousands of demonstrators cycled to the Scottish parliament to call for more of the transport budget to be set aside for cycling, with the aim of making roads safer for cyclists and introducing lower speed limits.
The situation is improving though. In the last 12 months the government allocated £107m of new money to support safety and community links that encourage more cycling, as well as allowing local authorities to introduce 20mph speed limits in residential areas, and making it easier for local councils to install Trixi mirrors – used at dangerous intersections to improve the visibility of cyclists. In addition, the government’s ‘THINK!’ campaign tackles driver awareness of cyclists and other road users.
So whilst there are obvious barriers to getting more people cycling, it’s not all bleak. There is funding, there are campaigns, there are options. Cycling can be an extremely enjoyable way to get from A to B, increase levels of activity, and spend time outdoors. Get on your bike and give it a go!
by Kath Webb
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by Kath Webb
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