Guest Post – Get on your bike!

Note from Sasha:  I met Pippa in Prague in 2006.  She moved to London in 2007 and really inspired me to get out there and DO stuff.  She is one of the most active Londoners I know – language courses, sports, exhibitions and gigs.  The perfect HPL guest writer!  Anyway, like many Londonders, I have a bike (traditional ladies bike with wicker basket from Brixton Cycles – I absolutely love it) but am too much of a wuss to cycle to work.  In this first HPL guest post, Pippa argues why more Londoners should get on their bikes.  (If you’re a keen cyclist – also check out Nandos Bike Club).

Having grown up in a city spread over the foothills of a mountain, cycling had never been something I found particularly enjoyable (give me a billycart anyday). When I moved to London, on my daily bus commute I used to peer through the forest of armpits and out the window at the seemingly death-defying cyclists whizzing by and think ‘crazies’.  So when my work introduced the cycle to work scheme, it was really only the thought of saving money that motivated me to get off the bus and get a bike. I was also motivated by the fact that riding would chop about 20 minutes off my commute.  Yes, twenty extra minutes of snoozing = motivational.

I made a deal with myself before I bought the bike. I thought getting on a bike every morning would be a bit of a struggle.  And what would I do about showers and work clothes?  And what about all those cars and –gulp- buses?  The deal was, I had to make myself cycle three days a week, and I could reward myself with bus trips on the other two days.  I really wasn’t sure I’d keep this deal with myself, and thought I might need to send someone round to rough me up and ‘remind’ me to get back on my bike.

But oh my goodness I LOVE cycling!  I love it so much that if I need to leave my beloved bi-wheeled beast behind (eg on those rare occasions I have a half-pint of low-alcohol beer on the way home) (Note from Sasha:  I have never known Pip to drink anything low on alcohol in my life...!)  I actually head back into work over the weekend to pick it up, just to ensure my Monday morning wake-up burst of energisation (is that a word? It makes sense to me).  These days a bus trip to work is not something I would consider a ‘reward’.

I love it so much I rode through winter (even some of the snow days).  I love it so much I have become a ride-to-work evangelist.  I love it so much I agreed to write a guest blog hoping to convert many more people to my cause. I now ride past people waiting at bus stops, smile to myself, and think ‘crazies’!

Why do I love it so much?  Well, now my bike is paid off, my commute is pretty much free (apart from the fun accessories and regular services I see as an investment), I feel wonderful getting a short burst of exercise at the beginning and end of a largely sedentary working day, I love discovering the nuances of back-street London, random shops, quirky bars, peaceful and suprising green spaces.

I have also discovered London is (largely) flat, and if I keep to a leisurely pace for 9 months of the year I can cycle in my work clothes. Many workplaces have bike racks or lockers and even showers if you work up a sweat, and there are so many people cycle-commuting these days, you can band together and ask for facilities many workplaces will supply or ‘discover’ showers and changing facilities on the premises. And if not, (can I say this here?) disabled toilets offer space, privacy, mirrors and the ability to at least have a bird bath if showers are not available on your work premises. 

I suppose the opposite of working up a sweat is cycling through the rain.  I have heard the statistic, that if you cycle commute every work day for a year, both directions, on average you will only get rained on twelve times.  This is an unsubstantiated statistic, but in my experience I do find it somewhat believable.  I figure my options are a) get wet (earn kudos), b) leave bike at home (done that once or twice), c) invest in waterproof trousers (I’m still considering this). And on the way home with a steaming bath and perhaps a glass of warming vino beckoning, it doesn’t really matter, does it?

So what are the dodgy bits? I find Black cab and white van drivers can sometimes be scary (I’m referring to the vehicle colours here), but it just takes a bit of time to find the right balance of caution/confidence on the roads.  I also wish that those who cycle through red lights would stop, and think about what the implications for the rest of us who do obey the rules but sometimes get treated like we don’t. 

And pedestrians. Riding past hundreds of harried city pedestrians at peak hour is a bit like Frogger. These people are ‘obviously’ in a hurry, but pose a danger to themselves as well as to cyclists as they step off the pavement, or cross roads of stationary traffic only to pop out in front of a cyclist whizzing down the bike lane. 

But overall cycling positives far outweigh the dodgy bits. So let me evangalise a bit more.  Spring has just sprung, the leaves are budding, the snow has finally stopped, the clocks have just changed and there are months of bright long evenings stretching ahead of us.  So why not invest in an alternative transportation and hopefully be as surprised as I was at just what cycling can do for your mood, your wallet, your wobbly thighs and your mental health?

  • Transport For London offer 14 brilliant, detailed and free cycling maps of London, which show signed cycling routes, quieter routes recommended by other cyclists ,greenways through parks and along canals, off-carriage way alternatives to busy roads and stations with cycle parking 
  • Many London borough councils offer free or subsidised 1:1 cycling lessons to help build up confidence cycling on roads.  Some also offer guided ‘commutes’ during the summer months –contact your local borough council. 
  • A number of small firms offer onsite bike servicing. Why not get a group of cycling friends together for a sociable day of snacks, chats and bike services?  Janis at havebike.co.uk also offers bike maintenance workshops to give you more confidence keeping your bike in good condition.
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11 responses to “Guest Post – Get on your bike!

  1. I lover cycling but like many people have pointed out it’s cyclists smugness that puts others off. It’s really hard not to be smug though when you overtake a massive queue of traffic or whizz past frustrated looking people at bus stops. It can be dangerous, but the more cyclists that take to the road the less dangerous it becomes for the rest of us. Good article.

  2. Cracking little article. Far better than the dross that Boris publishes on TFL website. I think the ’12 times a year’ rain thing may have come from me Pip. And I would stand by it were it not for the terrible March we just had. Might have to up it to 15. I do commute every day though and I’m dry far, far more often than wet.
    Good to see you have taken to the riding thing so much and I hope your chain is no longer squeeky.

  3. Love it! Good article and it was nice to be reading once again about the first few days someone discovers cycling in London. It is also good to hear the cycle to work scheme having such a positive impact. Oh and p.s. like the phrase “bird bath”!

  4. Keep on doing the great job of promoting cycling. It’s so nice to see this article and I hope it encourages people to get out there and ride. Great job.

    Darryl

  5. Thanks for all your comments which I will leave Pip to answer. I was wondering as the self-professed “wuss”, what you think of the recent reports of cyclist deaths in London. I was reading yesterday’s Evening Standard about the woman killed under a bus on Oxford Street and it scared the bejesus out of me. Is London really as unsafe to cycle as the media is making out, and is there anything would-be cyclists can do to lessen the danger?

    Sorry to put a dampener on this uplifting post!!

    Sasha @ The Happiness Project London

  6. the part in this article on police cycle training where the guy mentions you should cycle at the inner edge of the cycle lane to assert yourself to traffic is interesting http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/green-living-blog/2010/apr/14/wrong-police-bike-training . Generally you just have to learn how to be road confident and look over your shoulder and around you a lot and not be too stupid

  7. Thanks for all your comments guys, I hope the word spreads…

    Pablo, it was you who gave me that statistic, – I can update the blog to say it is now a substantiated fact!

    Sasha, that’s a scary story about the cyclist killed on Oxford St, but I suppose a fair reminder about the dangers. I definitely think cycle training is a sensible investment, and also raises the enjoyment factor exponentially. Alternatively, I would suggest finding a cycling friend when starting off to help you through your first few journeys. I was lucky enough to have a friend to ride with, and after being tooted and shouted at on my first trip (wrong lane –oops) and spending half the commute in tears, I was encouraged to continue, and to get back on my bike the next day, and just look where I am now…

    Andreas and Darryl, I didn’t realise there were so many cycling blogs out there, although I suppose it isn’t surprising given the number of us on the road. I’ll keep my eye out for your updates!

    Pippa

  8. Thanks Pippa, we look forward to having you drop by our site. Yes, there is a lot of great cycling blogs out there….we’re actually working with another group right now that will be putting together a cycling directory and also honoring the top cycling blog sites. If you’d like more information, please contact me at darryl@lovingthebike.com.

    Darryl

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  11. I love the flavour of your blog – hopefully it’ll encourage many others to “take the leap” and try out cycling. Two thoughts:

    Did you ever get around to trying the repair kit? Well worth practising changing a punctured inner tube on a dry, warm day, so that when it happens for real on a cold, wet night you feel ready and save yourself a long walk! On the other hand, there’s always a mobile phone and the number for a taxi!

    I’m intrigued by your comment about a bike path on Battersea Bridge. There’s shared use on the pavement along Embankment on the Chelsea side, but there’s nothing that crosses the river, which is a shame given how horribly busy and narrow it is. What were the cabbies referring to?

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