There’s no time like the present. This is an oft-quoted platitude but, in my view, true of cycle commuting today. The thought occurred to me while I was in the middle of my daily commute through south Manchester into the city centre. It was the hottest day of the year and the normally matter-of-fact ride was a complete joy. The schools had broken-up and I could already feel the traffic easing down for the summer. It was a lovely day and a lovely ride – but more, so much more.
I’ve written before about the role that cycling has played in my life. My daily 14 mile return journey is no longer taxing. How come? Practice. Yes, I’m lighter than I used to be, in training for some big events and I have more kit and better bikes than before, but when it’s all boiled down it’s simply putting one foot in front of another. Want my advice? Give it a month. I’m reminded of the advice given to me by an wise old owl with whom I sometimes ride. I asked him how I could improve my riding. “Just ride your bike sonny,” came the reply in dulcet Scottish tones. So that is what I’ve done. It’s what I do.
Good weather and showing off aside there are many other reasons why there’s never been a better time to get on yer bike. The current boom in cycling has created a virtuous circle of more cycle lanes than ever. More cyclists on the road means better bike awareness from all road users even if the relationship between cyclists and motorists is not always a calm one. There are plenty of tracks and paths that you can use, and if you’re not sure how to get to where you need to be there are resources available to help.
The Government’s cycle to work scheme can pat itself on the back. This scheme enables employers to offer discount bikes to their staff as part of a tax-exempt deal. Some will say that the tax exemption is not as good as it used to be, and others will talk about the long-winded hire purchase arrangements, but either way there is no doubt in my mind of the scheme’s impact across the country. The Cycle to Work Alliance undertook a survey of those using the scheme in 2011 and reported that, as a result of using the scheme, 70 per cent of respondents had reduced the miles they drive – and 64 per cent reduced the distance by up to 50 miles per week. Do those sort of miles and you’re into another virtuous circle where you could lose a pound or so of weight each month. And the money saved in petrol alone could buy you a pretty decent bike. That’s before you even think about car parking, wear and tear and depreciation on the vehicle.
The Government has also addressed cycle provision in work places. Planning laws and building regulations now insist that new offices have showers and cycle parking facilities. Demand is now so high that many commercial office operators are finding that potential occupiers expect good quality bike provision. My office in central Manchester has converted the old showers in the basement into secure bike parking and installed a shower in our office suite.
This quiet revolution won’t stop anytime soon. Yes, we can beat the rest of the world in competition and yes, the North has some great facilities in its cities and unparalleled surrounding countryside. But but more is being done. Take Manchester, for example. The city’s ambition and a new government fund will see a further £20 million invested in making cycling easier and safer for Mancunians and demonstrates that we’re not resting on our laurels. Another £23.8 million has been allocated for the rest of the North.
So, in view of all of this, I think it can safely be argued that there is no time like the present. If you’ve ever pondered cycling to work, then give it a go. And give it a month. If you get through your first winter, you’ll be flying.
By Andy Groves
In Andy’s next article, he will divulge some of the challenges he is setting himself over the coming year. Any thoughts on this article or any others are gratefully received through Andy’s Riding the North twitter page @riding_north.