Have you ever thought about cycling to work and what the benefits may be? You may have a concern about the air pollution in major cities that is putting you off giving it a go. This always comes to mind when I’m sat behind a bus bellowing out black smoke whilst on my bike.
A recent study by the University of Cambridge shows that the health benefits of cycling and walking outweigh the harmful effects of air pollution in all but the most polluted cities. So that’s good news and one less thing to worry about.
Reduction of air pollution was one of the main manifesto points in the recent London Mayoral elections, with all the main mayoral candidates claiming they are committed to tackling the issue. The Royal Colleges of Physicians and of Paediatrics and Child Health say that outdoor air pollution is contributing to about 40,000 early deaths a year in the UK. I couldn’t quite believe this when I read it. The main point for Londoners of the University of Cambridge study is that –
“Our model indicates that in London health benefits of active travel always outweigh the risk from pollution,” said Dr Marko Tainio from the Cambridge MRC epidemiology unit, who led the study.
The study supports that work to reduce pollution in large cities should continue, but also that there should be further investment in getting people on their bikes or on to their feet. Less people driving, in itself will reduce pollution levels and increase physical activity. All of which are all good things!
My cycling to work story has been a little on and off. I previously lived in Birmingham and even though my commute was around 4 miles (20 minutes on a bike) I never contemplated cycling to work. The bus pass was cheap and although the journey was slow, it was fairly pleasant. However, when I moved to London, a 10 mile commute seemed like a perfectly sound option due to the cost of train tickets and the flexibility it provided me. I purchased a bike through the Bike to Work scheme and enjoyed a number of years cycling to and from work.
I later took a job that involved a 100 mile round trip motorway commute and cycling was no longer an option. I would suddenly see cyclists and think to myself how much I wanted to ride my bike to work. I never realised how much I would missed it.
I since changed roles again to a position much closer to home. Even though every day when I commuted by car, I wished I could cycle again, it still took me a few months and a fairly gluttonous Easter break for me to get back onto my bike.
I have now been commuting to work (7.5 miles one way) on my bike around 3 days a week for the last 6 or so weeks. I love it and it has quickly become a habit. I no longer think about getting the train. Yes, it’s now the summer and on cold, dark and wet nights it may be a different matter, but the effect on my wellbeing has been quite pronounced.
- There are the obvious health benefits. Any physical activity is good, and the University of Cambridge study shows cycling or walking outweighs the dangers of air pollution. Although I’m predominantly a runner, being able to cycle 15 miles a day is an extra cross training session, improving my cardio and strengthening my legs. A conservative estimate for me is that I burn around 500 calories/hour (with starting and stopping and a few hills thrown in for good measure).
- It is less stressful. Much of the stress during commuting is caused by a lack of control. I really like to be on time, so cycling provides me the flexibility and control to beat traffic and avoid possible train delays. This is a massive plus point for me.
- It’s quicker. This morning it took me around 35 minutes. Taking the train is around an hour and the car can be anywhere between 30 – 60 minutes depending on traffic and roadworks. A survey undertaken by Timeout magazine showed that a shorter commute has a big impact on the happiness of Londoners.
- I work better. I feel energised and alert when I get to work. The endorphins are still rushing by the time I get to my desk. Endorphins trigger a positive feeling in the body and can be accompanied by a positive and energizing outlook on life.
- I sleep better. The physical activity doesn’t make me more tired during the day; actually I seem to have more energy. However, when I am ready to go to bed, I’m out like a light.
- I am a little better off financially. The train costs me £3.60 each way. £7.20 x 3 days a week x 45 weeks a year = £972. If I were to take the train 5 days a week, that would come to £1620 a year. This would get you a pretty sweet bike (especially if it was tax free). I’m also less likely to pick up takeaway “hand crafted” coffee on the way through the train station when I cycle. Cycling whilst supping hand crafted beverages don’t go so well together.
- I get to tuck in to a delicious breakfast when I get to work.See my oats breakfast recipe here.
There’s the bit of extra effort required to take your clothes with you to work, and pack your pump, lock, tools and extra inner tube. Getting showered and dressed at work is not as simple as doing it at home, but these are minor in the grand scheme of things.
In just 6 weeks I’ve seen my speed and power improve. I’m covering the distance in less time. Push a bigger gear without fatiguing. Push said gear for longer. Attack the hills more instead of crawling up. Add little sprints when I have to beat the traffic lights.
A number of books and websites say that when you are looking for a new interest or passion, you should do what you loved as a child. Sometimes these things should be taken with a pinch of salt, however, in this regard; I think it is good advice. When I think back to my childhood, one of the things that comes straight to mind is playing on my bike with friends. Some summers, it was all we ever did. You may have not cycled for a long time, but think back to those times as a child and about how much fun you had on your bike. You can have a little bit of that back.
You do not need to have all the kit to give it a go. You have probably got enough stuff stashed away somewhere. You can find some trainers, shorts, t shirt, a light jacket and some gloves. A helmet would be the only recommendation, but maybe you could borrow this, or you have one lying around. You could also borrow a friend’s bike, if you do not have one. Cyclists are always willing to bring people into the fold, so I am sure there is someone you will lend you one for a day. If you are in London (or other cities with bike schemes) you could try a Boris Bike. These are spreading further and further out from the city. The bikes are for short trips so, once you have paid the £2 bike access fee for the day, the first 30 minutes of each journey is free. Longer journeys cost £2 for each extra 30 minutes. If you are feeling a bit more serious, but are not willing to lay too much money down, take a look at Gumtree. There are plenty of second hand bikes for sale. Look for legitimate sellers.
I realise that I am lucky to be able to cycle to work. I know that it is not possible or a good option for everyone, but now that the weather is improving and the evenings are longer, if there is any chance that you could cycle, why not give it a try. You may think it is a bit far or the route is not so nice, but you will likely be surprised and hopefully you will see some of the benefits I mentioned above.
Enjoy your riding!