In the early 90s, I graduated, got my hair cut and got a job. I also ended up living 30 miles from where I worked, and petrol was cheap – it cost me just £1.20 a day to get to work. I stopped riding a bike for anything other than the very occasional summer evening spin.
This continued for more than a dozen years, with several jobs and house moves. I always seemed to end up driving around 60 miles a day, and had become a Motorist. The things that worried me were the price of petrol, what car I was going to get next, and the volume of traffic. Pesky, tax-dodging cyclists didn’t really feature in my thinking, because I never saw any. And not in a SMIDSY kind of way – I mean that there just weren’t any people on bikes.
By the end of 2004, I was 12½ stone (around 80kg), my BMI was just under 25, so I was starting to nudge into “overweight”, and I was starting to feel uncomfortable about my appearance when I took Daughter swimming.
At Christmas that year, Tall Friend challenged me to enter a triathlon – the Stratford Sprint, which was on in May. Despite the evidence, I still considered myself fit, and so slapped down the (very modest) entrance fee and applied myself to training.
I got my old bike out, cleaned it up, and headed out to build myself up to the Massive Challenge of the race’s 20km bike course. I got a real shock doing this, as I’d become accustomed to getting everywhere at 30mph, and trying to make the bike go that fast made me feel a bit odd. I also got sore in places that I didn’t even know existed. And I got thrilled and child-like at the sense of freedom that riding a bike gave me.
But cycling was still just for leisure. For going anywhere important (and definitely for work), the only way to get around was by driving.
Around March of 2005, I was coming home from a meeting in Sunderland – by this point I was running a small business, and had clients that were mostly within a dozen or so miles of home. It was a warm spring day, and I hit the queue for the Tyne Tunnel at about 4:30pm. The queue was about a mile long – two rows of cars, vans and lorries on the A19, going no-where particularly fast. I had the windows down and was listening to the radio, frustrated and annoyed at all this traffic.
And then something happened.
A guy on a bike came zipping down between the two lanes of traffic, and as I watched him disappear into the distance, I thought to myself,
“Bastard. If only I had the sort of job that I could ride a bike to work…
… Hold on just a cotton-pickin’ minute. I DO have the sort of job that I can cycle to work for! I just need to change how I think about things…”
And that was it. I started riding my old road bike to the odd meeting, with a change of clothes in a rucksack. I got a sweaty back, so I bought a modern hybrid bike with a rack & some luggage. I started riding to pretty much every meeting. I rode coast to coast. I started doing shopping by bike. I fell victim to n+1 and got another bike. And another. I started noticing the shocking conditions on Britain’s roads. I started building bikes from things that other people didn’t want. I rode 3,000 miles in 2006. By 2010, I hit this number some time in July, and so far this year, I’ve used the car just three times.
Along the way, I’ve learnt that:
- It hardly ever rains. Sure – there are many days in which rain falls from the sky, but that’s often while you’re indoors anyway. By the time you get the bike out, it’s stopped.
- Riding a bike is often quicker than driving – especially for trips of less than about 6 miles in town. That covers more than 50% of all commuting!
- I can get pretty much anywhere by bike
- Traffic is no longer a problem. I’m now the guy on the bike riding past all the cars in the queue
- Parking a car is a hassle. There are always spaces to leave a bike.
I’ve also dropped to just over 11 stone in weight, eat whatever I want, and apparently have the body of a 27 year old. (Though we’re not quite sure which 27 year old, and he obviously had a very tough paper round.)
The only downside I can see is that whenever I do drive anywhere now, I’m invariably late – my mind has soaked up the driving fantasies of TV adverts, and can’t seem to grasp that driving ISN’T MUCH, MUCH faster than riding!