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Driving less, cycling more (and all without wearing lycra)

I’m guessing everyone reading this knows that riding a bike instead of driving a car is good for the environment. It’s also great for your health.

This week’s blog is written by Catherine Ross, Chair of the Sustainability Festival, and trustee of Sustainable St Albans.

But, it’s not easy to start. If you aren’t a bike rider then becoming one can be really daunting.  I know, because I’ve become one (very, very gradually).

In 2010, I didn’t own a bike and hadn’t ridden one since I was a teenager, apart from a slightly hysterical trip on a tandem on holiday. Now, in 2019, I cycle regularly.  Cycling is my main day-to-day way of getting around.  I’m not a leisure cyclist in lycra on a Sunday morning; I cycle to the station to get my train to work, and then I have a beaten-up old bike in London that I use to get around at the other end.  In St Albans, when I need to pop to the shops, or get my youngest to school, it’s bikes we use.

We still have a car, and it gets used for longer journeys, or when we’re in a rush… it’s not that I never drive but just that I’ve swapped a bunch of my car-miles for bike-miles and enjoy it.

So how, over 8 years, does that change slowly happen?

Step 1: The blindingly obvious; get a bike and get it working.  

If you’re going to ride a bike, you’re going to need to take the plunge and buy one or get it out of the shed and services.  Back in 2008, I didn’t want to spend money on a new bike, in case I chickened out and never rode it, so I got a cheap one from eBay for £50.  More recently, I get good second-hand bikes from Richard at Botox Bikes in St Albans, who services them before selling them on, so I trust they will work well.  woman repair bike.png

Buying second-hand is good for your wallet and good for the environment. 

If you’ve got a bike, and need it serviced, you can take it to Cycle Tech at the station (Wednesdays and Saturdays) or any of a number of bike servicing places.  Invest in a decent lock too; it’s too, too annoying when your bike gets nicked.

Step 2: Keep safe by making yourself visible. 

Drivers don’t want to hit you, and the key to safety is visibility. I go the whole hog; Hi-Viz jacket and bright lights, both on my bike and on my helmet. Be seen, be safe.

Step 3: Start small but start

11-5 5mtf highfield rollingChoose a small, achievable goal, and decide when you are going to attempt it. I decided to start by walking my bike down to the Alban Way bike path and just riding up and down the path, getting gradually steadier.  I didn’t ride on the road at all the first few times.  I was very wobbly, after 30 years not riding, and felt safer on the bike path. I practised indicating when I was on the bike path, and it took quite a few rides to get good at it.

Step 4: Gradually, gradually do more, as you feel ready. 

I took it really slowly, and built-up gradually.  At first, I started by riding on the pavement to get to the bike path.  (Pedestrians have right of way on the pavement, so I always slowed down and gave them space.) When I felt ready, I started riding on quiet roads, but I would get off and walk the bike over roundabouts and difficult traffic light junctions (especially when I needed to sit in the central box to turn right). For the first couple of years, I never rode at night. Then, over time, I got steadier and more confident, and did more. Now I can ride just about anywhere, including my previous nemesis: the double roundabouts on Hatfield Road!

Top tips: Plan ahead and work out routes you feel comfortable with. 

Often, there are three or four ways of getting where you want to go, and some will be quieter than others or avoid junctions you don’t like. Over time, I’ve worked out routes I feel happy with.

And finally, don’t be put off by the idiots.

Just as there are considerate people and selfish people, so there are considerate road users and selfish road users; some of them in cars, some of them on bikes.  Most times when I’m out on my bike, I’ll meet some of each. You need to be very aware of who is around you.  You need to be on the lookout for the careless drivers who open their door on front of your bike, and the aggressive ones who overtake you and then turn left across your path. You also need to watch for the aggressive cyclists who will cut across your path or appear from side roads at high speed.  And keep an eye on pedestrians who might step out.  As you ride more, you get a sixth sense of what’s likely to happen.  Keep your brakes covered when necessary.  You’ll have some hairy moments but keep the bigger picture in mind;

Every mile you ride is good for the planet, good for your wallet, and good for your health.

Catherine Ross

See cycling events happening during #SustFest19 – and come along to the St Albans Market Take-over on Sunday 19th May when we will have push-bikes with a road closed to try them out – and electric bikes too!

On Wednesday 29th May St Albans Cycling Campaign group presents a talk by Caroline Russell, London Assembly member – on Healthy Streets – how people-friendly, less traffic-dominated streets make our towns and cities into sociable, economically vibrant places, where everyone can choose to walk or cycle, and breathe clean air. See programme ‘talks’ for info

During SustFest 11th May – 1st June there is a Wheelie-Good’ offer for cyclists at The White Lion on Sopwell Lane, St Albans – you will get a half-price drink or free loose-leaved tea – if you cycle there!

Bike Rides:  On Saturday 11th May women are invited to join ‘Five Miles to Fabulous’ bike ride- starting 9.30am meet at Morrisons Car Park St Albans, or on 31st May there is a Breeze round Herts cycle ride for women at 40 miles with stops for tea and cake. See programme for more info and booking

If you fancy a longer ride ‘ Cycle  Chilterns’ is a 62 mile bike ride on Sunday 12 May starting out at 9.30am outside the Blacksmiths Arms, St Peters St, St Albans AL1 3HG, or a 60 mile ride ‘Wheeling to Wing and Back’ on Sunday 26th May meet up 9am. Booking needed for these bike rides – see programme

And for more cycling inspiration see this  Herts Cycling Map 

For more information and more maps on cycling locally see St Albans Council web pages on cycling





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