Back to Basics Cycling

Guest post by David Lesser – keen cycling enthusiast.

Our busy modern lifestyles leave us all too frequently stressed and struggling with debt. We have to work long hours to pay the mortgage and the finance on the car, run around being a taxi service for the kids and then, if we’re lucky, try to find time to go and get some desperately needed exercise in the gym.

Many of us strive to improve the balance in our lives, but any changes we make need to avoid adding to our stress and save us both time and money. My previous post described how, for many of us, cycling to work instead of going by car, could help us with all three !

So what holds us back from doing so ?

What are the barriers to cycling ?

It wasn’t that long ago when bicycles were the only real form of transport for most working people, taking them to work and back during the week, and giving them the freedom of the countryside at the weekend. A period that was beautifully portrayed in the 1949 film A Boy, A Girl and A Bike.

As more people became able to afford cars, bikes became rarer on our roads, even though many people had to struggle financially and encumber themselves with debt to afford to buy a car.

Between then and now the image of cycling has changed. On TV bikes often seem have become comic plot devices for sad middle aged men squeezed into inappropriate lycra trying to shed excess pounds. Occasionally we are treated to the sight of a middle class woman gently cycling through parks, with a baskets on the front of her bike. The only other time we tend to see bikes on TV is in sport.

The association of bicycles with sport has been a long one, but it sadly these days it seems to have the effect of ‘raising the entry bar’ for cycling – compelling us to believe we need hi-tech bikes and a huge range of accessories, even for using a bike as an everyday means of transport.

Going into a bicycle shop today you’ll be faced with rows of carbon fibre bikes, replete with hundreds of gears. You’ll be offered all sorts of extras for your safety, expensive lights, yellow jackets and light-weight helmets. All together it may well cost more than the first years repayments on a car. And it won’t even include anywhere to carry your sandwich box !

For most of us, all we need from a bike in order to cycle to work every day is an ordinary solid road bike with a handful of gears, mudguards and a chain guard so our work clothes don’t get dirty, and a set of basic lights. It’s probably a good idea to also have a simple maintenance kit too.

Is this part of what is stopping us using bikes for commuting ?

We should reconsider any preconceptions we might have about cycling, and, as with many things in our over-complicated lives, strive to get a little more ‘back to basics’, and just enjoy cycling more.

Similar articles – Half the Fun is Getting There

Photo by Indywritervia Flickr

Half the Fun is Getting There

Guest post by David Lesser – keen cycling enthusiast.

Every day on my way to work I am baffled at the queues of people sitting in their cars.

I’m lucky. Currently I’m blessed with a commute of around a mile, but at various times over the years it’s often been much longer !

I’ve previously used cars, bikes, trains and busses to get to work in the past – both urban and rural, and overall I’d have to say my least favourite method has been by car. Sitting in a car with only a radio or music to break the monotony can quickly get tedious. You tend to become dulled by the experience, and have the same to look forward to at the end of your day.

My favourite commuting  journey was Gloucester to Cirencester by bike. It’s a bit of long way so I only used to do it two or three times a week, but it was really enjoyable. It was off the main roads and I rarely saw more than a couple cars along the whole 22 miles, but I did get to be entertained by birdsong and the various country wildlife. My next favourite journey was Gloucester to Yatton by train, which I mostly spent reading. That period of my life gave me an opportunity to become really well read. It was also surprising how many people I got to talk to on the train, and would even describe as friends when I changed jobs a couple of years later.

So the million dollar question is “why do so many people persist in using their cars for commuting, making their lives more miserable in the process ?” Accepting, of course, that there will be a few people who actually enjoy sitting in traffic in their car!

The obvious starting point is a mix convenience and economics.

Let’s take a look at the economics.

The cost of motoring is high – in the UK petrol is now over £1.35 per litre. A typical newish car could expect to manage around 50 miles per gallon (urban driving), which works out at about 11 miles per litre. Now that we buy our fuel in litres, but still typically consider performance in gallons, it’s become harder to visualise the real fuel costs of motoring.

The statistics say 71% of UK workers commute by car, with the average journey to work being 8.7 miles, and taking 27 minutes – that’s 54 minutes a day, or4.5 hours a week, or nearly nine whole days a year !

Based on these averages, the average cost in fuel to get to work and back each day is around £2.14.

You also have to pay the VED (vehicle tax), insurance and depreciation for your car whether you drive it to work or not. There’s also the cost of servicing and maintenance. 8.7 miles each way per day works out at 3910 miles per year, which equates to approximately ¼ of a set of tyres, ¼ of an annual service.

So an average commute by car costs £2.58 a day, or £12.87 a week, £55.77 a month, or £592.35 a year.

So what are the alternatives ?

Walking might be a bit tricky, as 8.5 miles will probably take the best part of 3 hours each way, a bit much !

In an ideal world taking the bus would make financial sense. Where I live in Gloucester, the cheapest ticket option for a monthly ticket, the ‘Gloucester Megarider’ currently costs £44 – or £2.20 per day, a relatively modest saving of £86.35 per year. A monthly Cheltenham to Gloucester ‘Megarider’ ticket costs £60 – or £3 per day. Admittedly you can use it for other journeys, but travelling by bus gives at best only a marginal saving.

Cycling does more than a bit better economically! Depending on your journey (and your fitness) cycling. 8.7 miles shouldn’t take more than 45 minutes. A reasonable bike suitable for commuting might cost around £200, and you’ll need to throw in some lights etc. But once you’ve got the bike the fuel is free – or at least no more than the cost of your breakfast !

So is cycling to work worth it ?

Of course we all have to weigh-up our options and decide for ourselves, clearly cycling is never going to be an option available to everyone.

But it might be that you’ve never really given much thought to the possibility of cycling to work, instead of using the car, and if so it might be worth a bit more thought ? You might be able to save £500 or more a year (after tax), and you probably won’t need to renew your gym subscription either !

If you’re really lucky, you might be able to do away with your car completely, saving all the tax, insurance and other costs – it’s always possible to hire a car at reasonable rates when needed.

Needless to say the economics of commuting will only ever part of the equation, there’s also the small issues of convenience and sustainability – which will be the subject of my next post.

In the meantime, enjoy your commuting :)

Photo by MonkeyMagnus, via Flickr