20 pledges for 2020: Why I’ve decided to start cycling to work
‘At best, I’ll get fit, rediscover a long-lost hobby and do my bit to tackle the growing climate crisis. At worst, I’ll end up with a broken leg and a wardrobe full of Lycra’, says Will Kirby
Out-and-out epiphanies are rare occurrences, but as I stood with my face deeply embedded in the armpit of a complete stranger in the early hours of the morning for the third time that week, I had the strangest feeling that I was, in fact, done with commuting on the Tube.
There were other signs of course – like being kneecapped by the men in suits desperate to get onto the train before anyone has got off, or the passive-aggressive call to ‘move down please!’ at every stop as I consider how I could possibly make all 6ft of myself any smaller to allow for more space, or the unrecognisable smells that could honestly be anything from last night’s takeaway to this morning’s missed shower, or being late because of another series of red signals, or the 37 suitcases I had to negotiate because someone’s decided to move house, or looking at my bank balance and realising these joys are costing me more than £40 a week. I don’t know. But whatever it was, I realised then and there that I needed to find another way to get to work.
So I did some investigating. A commute can make or break your day so it’s important to get it right. Walking was an option (healthy, free) but would have taken almost two hours each way, which would mean spending more than 12 hours a day either going from, to, or being at the office. I could jog, but, sadly, I hate jogging. The bus is doable, and a cheaper option than the Tube, but would involve three separate buses that aren’t very reliable. Which leaves me with one option. The bike.
Initially I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to join the fluorescent, Lycra-clad hordes that zoom around the capital at breakneck speeds. I’d never really ridden a road bike before, let alone had an argument with a car or a bus about who’s on whose side of the road. How was I going to fit in if I’d never even owned a pair of mirrored sunglasses and didn’t really know what Strava was?! But it didn’t take long to realise that there are some massive benefits that outweigh any nerves or doubts about taking to the road on two wheels.
Firstly, it’s healthy. Even a short cycle at the start and end of the day is exercise you probably wouldn’t otherwise have done, and it makes so much more sense to combine your fitness with your commute rather than trying to carve a slice out of your day to go to the gym. It also makes you feel good – if you take a look around the office first thing in the morning, it’s easy to spot the bright faces who’ve biked into work in amongst those who spent at least part of their morning under the ground.
It is also better for the environment. Public transport, for its many faults (see above), is certainly greener than driving myself to work every morning, but there’s only so long you can tell yourself it doesn’t have a carbon footprint. Transport for London uses more electricity than anything else in the city, consuming enough power to fuel around 360,000 homes each year. By ditching my Oyster, I can hopefully shed with it that last ounce of green guilt.
And I may as well do what I can to reduce pollution in the city where I live, even if it is on an individual scale. A recent study found the capital’s poor air quality leads to around 1,000 hospital admissions for asthma and serious lung conditions every year, and another revealed that around four Londoners are hospitalised every day due to asthma caused by air pollution. Breathing London air is like smoking 160 cigarettes a year, according to the British Heart Foundation, and when you then consider that pollution on the Tube is around 15 times worse than above ground, it’s got to be a good idea to spend as little time down there as you can.
The combination of a bit of light exercise and avoiding the toxic fumes that swirl around beneath the capital also reduces the chance of a heart attack and other cardiovascular diseases. In fact, if the same number of trips were made by bike as they are in Denmark (26 per cent of all trips that are less than 5km), it could save the NHS a staggering £17 billion within 20 years.
So, I’m going to give it a go. At best, I’ll get fit, rediscover a long-lost hobby and do my bit to tackle the growing climate crisis. At worst, I’ll end up with a broken leg and a wardrobe full of Lycra. I’ll keep you posted.