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Cycling - benefits

So what are the benefits of cycling?

I see cycling as three main areas, transport, leisure, and health. Some people might argue that there is also a sporting area, but ďI donít do sportĒ. These three areas have distinct advantages to cyclists.

To me, the main reason for cycling is as transport, it is a way for me to get from A to B.

Around town it is the fastest option available. My 7 or 8 mile commute is always ridden in under half an hour, it is driven in any time from 30 to 45 minutes depending on the traffic congestion (occasionally it takes even longer, when I swear never to drive ever again - last time was over a year ago); the public transport option is laughable, over an hour last time I checked.

Another advantage of cycling as transport is that it is truly door to door. If I drive I have to worry about parking, but if I cycle there is usually somewhere closer than the car park that I can lock my bike. If I take the Brompton itís even easier as I fold it up and take it in with me.

Cycling also integrates with other transport options in a unique way. For example, no other option lets me integrate with trains so easily. I ride to my local station and catch a train to London. There, whilst everybody else is now reliant on a third transport option, I get back on the bike (usually the Brompton) and cycle to the next station to catch the next train. Last time I did this I made up so much more time than the underground that I caught an earlier train then predicted! At the next destination, when the other commuters are looking for yet another transport option I just jump on the bike and ride to the office. Once at the office, while the imaginary alternate commuter is paying the taxi fare I am folding the Brompton up and stowing it under my desk.

Sometimes there are better routes available to cyclists. Cars are restricted to the road network, so around town may be forced to take the longer route thanks to one way streets, ring roads and bypasses, or even just plain old congestion. Bicycles are usually unaffected by these since there are either cycle networks that take shortcuts (although they may be of poor quality), or the rider can jump off and push the bike past a restriction. As for congestion, when has that ever held up a bike? Itís easy just to filter past with a grin on your face.

Actually, whilst on the subject of congestion, are you aware of how many car journeys are under five miles? (69%) or how many are under two miles? (43%) These distances are easily cycled, and if more people were to do so then weíd instantly have less congestion.

Moving on to my next area of cycling and its benefits, leisure.

If I fancy a trip out by car, all I see is a remote view through the windows of a blur; I donít really experience the surroundings unless I park up and get out for a walk. Even the ďdriving experienceĒ and the ďopen roadĒ are things from a long and distant past.

Whilst walking, I see quite a bit but only in a small area. Unless I walk rapidly (which is too energetic for my liking) I spend my entire time in the same small location.

But whilst cycling I see a much greater area. Without expending any energy I travel at least four times as far as whilst walking, if not faster. I am higher up, so I see more (for example over hedges and fences). Although I am travelling faster I am still capable of seeing and hearing my surroundings, and it is no problem to slow or stop should I want to pay more attention since a cycle never causes an obstruction to traffic.

Whilst out leisure cycling the social interaction is greatly increased.

Leisure cycling is also a family activity. The whole group can head out and enjoy themselves. In a car that always seems to involve one parent driving and everybody else either playing I Spy or watching the in car DVD system. By bike each family member is an individual unit interacting with their surroundings and taking an interest, maybe even heading off in different directions as and when they want to.

Cycling is not age dependant, anybody can ride. I can clearly remember being an independent cyclist and visiting friends (in the same cul-de-sac) at the tender age of five. I couldnít drive until seventeen though thanks to legislation. This age independence of cycling is of great benefit to both the leisure side of cycling, as well as the transport side. Anybody can head out to have fun, or just head out to go somewhere on purpose.

And for both those options let us not forget the cost. Every time I ride to work it costs me nothing in actual monetary terms, or if you include the purchase price and maintenance costs then it costs a decreasing amount on each ride. A friend, who did ride quite a number of miles a year, once worked this out at under two pence per mile and still getting cheaper with every turn of the pedals. For a driver, every journey costs money for petrol, and if you include the other running costs then the mileage cost doesnít really decrease much over time; cars are expensive beasts to run! (At the last check the AA calculated about forty five pence per mile, but petrol and insurance have gone up considerably since then.)

The final benefit I see with cycling is the health benefit. Cyclists live longer, ten years longer according to one study. Cyclists are fitter. I see no problem with walking up ten flights of stairs when the lifts break at work, but my colleagues wonít do that easily or voluntarily. I wonít join a gym as I canít see any point in it. The government recently recommended spending at least half an hour each day exercising. I do double that and itís called a commute to work (and donít forget that because itís quicker to cycle than to drive I am really saving valuable time here as I get longer at home in the morning and evening, and donít need to go out again to the gym so get even more time).

There is currently an obesity problem and many people are trying to find a solution. They are all on the right track by advising on better diets and increasing exercise, but not many people have spotted the simple solution of getting on a bike and travelling by it; no extra effort, a huge benefit in return.

 

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Updated 04/11/04