I can think of lots of reasons why people may not cycle, such as it’s too hilly, I can’t carry my shopping, I am picking up my children, I don’t have time or the roads are too busy and dangerous. The good news is that for many of these worries there are now practical solutions.
This is Week 4 of our #CountdowntoCOP campaign, encouraging people to sign up for one or more of the 16 Count Us In steps. We will have a guest blog each week until November’s UK-hosted COP, focusing on one of these 16 steps.
This week, Susheel Rao, local sustainability consultant and Breeze champion, outlines the benefits of taking the step of ‘Walking and Cycling More’. In particular, she looks at how to get past the barriers that stop you jumping on a bike.
Did you know that a significant amount of our journeys are 5 miles or less – distances it is possible to do by bike or walking? Add to that the fact that, in the first five minutes, cars are at their least efficient, and it is clear that short car journeys are something we should all look at if we want to cut our carbon footprint.
Walking and cycling doesn’t even have to take more time for short journeys. To compare like with like, factor in the traffic and the time it can take to find a parking space compared to the length of journey (especially if you don’t have allocated parking at home). When you add in the fact that you are actually combining exercise with something else you need to do, then changing how we do short journeys becomes very compelling.
Choose walking for journeys of less than 1 mile
Where I live in Harpenden, I find it as quick (or sometimes quicker) to walk into town to the shops (or café or pub) as driving there. It’s the time it takes to park, and sitting in traffic if I am going in at a busy time. For anything up to a mile, I find it quicker and easier to walk than any other type of transport, while between 1 and 2 miles it’s a toss up between walking and cycling.
With both walking and cycling, I feel better, less stressed and more connected to the outside world and am more likely to come back energised than if I drive.
1 to 5 miles – look at cycling in a new way
Cycling is clearly a better way of getting around for these shorter journeys than a car. Yet, what stops us cycling more? How do we get round the barriers we feel prevent us from swapping a car for a bike?
1. There are bikes for every job!
Hills, shopping and children – all reasons we looked at in the introduction as to why cycling at first glance seems just too tricky. However, there are different bikes to help you with different problems, depending on what’s holding you back.
There is a whole range now of electric-assist bikes, from a standard bike, to a ‘cargo’ bike, where you may have a large basket, trailer, or even space for your children to sit. I regularly see someone cycling through Harpenden using one of these, often with her children in the front. An electric bike can help with the hills, carrying things and, of course, your speeds may be slightly quicker, saving you time.
You don’t have to go for an electric bike. There are plenty of options for a traditional bike – from the shopper bike with basket, to road bikes and mountain bikes, and just about anything you can imagine in between. If you are buying a new-to-you bike, key things to think about are:
● make sure it fits you (it is so much more comfortable riding a bike that is set up for you!)
● what you want to do – whether that is cycle on roads, tracks or trails, whether you want to carry things on your bike, whether you will be leaving it in public places.
● how much you want to spend – and whether you are happy with second-hand, or whether you can borrow a bike to see how you get on.
I suggest going and talking to someone in one of the excellent local bike shops, who will give you an idea of the best type of bike for what you want.
2. Finding bike-safe routes
We do have some car-free cycle ways in St Albans district, such as between St Albans and Harpenden, Swan Walk between Harpenden and Luton, and the Alban Way which goes to Hatfield. We also have the Nicky Line between Harpenden, Redbourn and Hemel Hempstead, although this is not fully paved. In St Albans there is the green ring, and hopefully we will soon be seeing a route between St Albans and Redbourn.
Have a look on the Sustrans website for routes around the district, and the UK.
3. Getting your cycling confidence up
If you are worried about cycling by yourself on the road, you can build your confidence by joining a group ride.
British Cycling, in partnership with HSBC, support volunteers to run rides for different ages and levels of riding experience. Go to letsride.co.uk to see what rides are happening locally.
There are usually a number of Breeze rides, which are women only, and range from beginners (usually under 10 miles, and avoiding main roads if there are any roads at all), to rides of lengths from 15 miles to 50 miles. Average speeds can be 8 mph or under to 12 or 14 mph or more. We are a friendly group of champs who run them, and we try to make them enjoyable and sociable, stopping for a drink and a snack along the way when it is possible. (COVID has reduced this recently, but that too will change). Try 5 miles to Fabulous usually running from Morrisons in St Albans; many other rides leave from either Harpenden or Redbourn. You can also join the HSBC UK Breeze Harpenden & St Albans Facebook Group.
For men, there are the general social rides on the same website (letsride.co.uk), which are again led rides of differing lengths and for different abilities, so there should be something for everyone.
4. Does your bike need servicing?
I know what happens though: you have a bike but you haven’t ridden it for ages, you wheel it out of the shed, and it’s got a flat tyre, there is a squeak and you are tempted to wheel it back in again and forget about it.
Please don’t! ☺
If you don’t feel confident yourself, take it to one of our great local bikes shops, or use one of the local mobile cycle mechanics who come to you house and sort out your bike (either there or picking it up and taking it away). There are lots locally, just a few examples (in alphabetical order) are:
Get your bike a good service, learn how to do basic repairs in case you need to (mainly a puncture) and have a Plan B to get home in the worst case that you can’t repair it (in other words a taxi service: whether that is a friend, family member or proper taxi!)
5. Nowhere to store your bike?
If you don’t think you have space in your home to store your bike, you may want to look at alternative solutions. There are a number of systems which mean you can put your bike on a wall (outside or in). Cycling News has an interesting article on different bike storage options. One example is Cycloc. You can also get bespoke safe outside storage systems for your garden or drive.
Another option is through an approach to St Albans District Council, who are currently taking requests for “bread bin” on-street bike storage in the district. Complete the short form here to express interest in an On-Street Locked Bicycle Hangar (AKA Shared Secure Bicycle Cage).
6. Feeling a bit wobbly on your bike?
Then just go for a little ride: find somewhere quiet and have a go. You don’t need much kit to get started – I strongly recommend a helmet, but other than that it’s a pair of trainers, and a bright/ reflective top so people can see you if you are on the road. Ask a friend to join you. Cycle down the Nicky line, Swan Walk or Alban Way to get a coffee somewhere different and have a chat.
As you get more confident, start using your bike for short trips, where it is a bit long to walk, or you need to get there a bit quicker. And hopefully you will enjoy it, want to do more, and then the world is your oyster -you could go anywhere!
Join in with #CountdownToCOP today
It’s easy to join in with #CountdownToCOP. Environmental groups of St Albans District have come together to set up the St Albans Climate Action Network who are hosting their own special St Albans District Count Us In page. Simply visit the page, explore the 16 steps and pledge to take one step by choosing “Take a Step”. When you register, tick that you are part of the “St Albans Climate Network” to have your step counted on the St Albans page.
Join in today and use Susheel’s advice to help you choose the “Walk and Cycle More” Step as your pledge.
You can track the carbon impact of your own actions. As more people join, we will all see our cumulative efforts across St Albans, Harpenden and the villages.
We will have a blog every Sunday until the international climate talks in November, COP26. Each blog will focus on one of the 16 steps. Look out for next week’s blog on eating more plants by Herts Ad columnist, Becky Alexander.