Getting out on my Bike

Over a year ago I decided to get rid of my car and share a car with my wife. The aim was to share the daily 10 mile return commute to work and on the days I didn't need a car at work I had hoped to cycle. I live near the Union Canal and my workplace is only about 4 miles along the canal- so no excuse really. I wish this article was about how I took to cycling really easy and have been cycling regularly since. However, it is only since the beginning of the year that I have been getting into the habit of cycling and this article is about how I overcame some of the usual barriers to cycling. I make no claims about being a super cyclist, but I have enjoyed cycling more regularly and I would like to encourage as many people to consider cycling.

Inspired by Copenhagen
There were two things which encouraged me to cycle more. Visiting Copenhagen in December with Friends of the Earth Scotland and seeing so many people making the most of the great cycle facilities was the main inspiration to get on my bike more. The second source of encouragement was listening to the Guardian Bike Podcast and reading the newspapers bike blog: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/series/bike-blog

Starting to cycle more during the winter requires a bit of preparation. I have a hybrid bike with full mudguards which makes cycling in the wet a bit more comfortable without water in the face or a streak up the back. As my main cycle is to work I usually wear waterproof over trousers so that I can wear my work clothes to work and not get covered in water or mud. In Copenhagen I liked that people used their bikes with their usual clothing and there wasn't much Lycra on show. There are some tips I have found useful which enables me to cycle to work or a meeting and arrive fresh and clean. I always have a complete set of waterproofs which provides a shell against the rain and wind. I quickly learned that you need to avoid wearing too many layers of clothing even in the winter. Even when it is cold outside you soon heat up when you pick up a bit of speed wearing a waterproof shell. I also bought a couple of bike bags which can be packed up the night before with waterproofs, spare clothes and shoes, ready for the morning cycle. Preparation is key to cycling in the rain or the cold. If there is any excuse not to cycle in the rain it is too easy to jump in a car.

There is research into cycling which shows that cyclists who commute regularly do not get caught in the rain as much as people would think. If your start time can be flexible, by even ten minutes, you can often avoid cycling in the rain. In the first three months of the year, cycling up to four days of the week, I only cycled during a rain shower on three occasions- two of these were cycling to Friends of the Earth events. That is not to say that it only rained three times over these months but when I needed to cycle rain was not an issue. When it has rained I have actually enjoyed the experience of taking on the elements and arriving at my destination dry under my waterproofs. I have not had a puncture yet but I am aware that this will only be a matter of time. I carry a spare inner tube and have already been in a position to share my spare to enable a fellow FoE member to cycle home when his tyre exploded.

When not using the canal paths I have been surprised by the response of fellow road users. I have found car drivers to be considerate and the only criticism so far is that I have often been given too much room on the road and cars have held up traffic waiting behind me. I always wear a hi-vis vest when cycling on the road and use a number of lights at night giving drivers no excuse not to see me. As I prefer to be on the road with cars as little as possible I have worked out a number of regular routes using Callendar Park as a hub to a number of Falkirk destinations.

I have enjoyed cycling and would like to be on my bike more. Promoting cycling will be one of Friends of the Earth Falkirk's local campaign issues this year and we have a number of ideas to encourage people to cycle more. The first is an event where people can bring their underutilised bike and be talked through a check up and given tools and advice to fix any minor repairs or safety concerns. We hope to adopt a couple of cycle routes and ensure they are litter and glass free and we have already had a couple of cycle events which have been good for getting out on our bikes as a group.

Norman's cycle types
1. Be Safe/ Be Seen
Always wear a helmet and hi-viz jacket when cycling on the road. Don't give drivers an excuse not to see you.
Always use lights when cycling at night.
2. Be Prepared
Prepare your waterproofs, lights and tools the night before your commute so you don't have to scrabble about in the morning
3. Choose you own route
You don't have to use the road route- be creative and find your own short cuts and off road options.

Norman Philip