Despite the dark skies, this morning I arrived at work on my bike.
The New Year marks my second as a cycle commuter and one who, having swapped 50 minutes underground for a ride from east to west London past fancy houses, people on horseback and lines of trees, is reluctant to turn back to the Tube.
In London, levels of cycling went up by nine per cent from 2011 to 2012, with more than half a million trips made by bike each day. Cycling levels are expected to increase at a rate of about five per cent each year and, significantly in what remains a male-dominated activity, figures from Sport England suggest that 64,000 more women now cycle regularly since last year.
But 2013 is no ordinary year. This is post-Olympic London and a report by the London School of Economics and British Cycling measuring the “Olympic cycling effect” suggests that Team GB’s medal-winning antics at London 2012 has inspired many to take up the activity. Those who already cycled have been encouraged to do more.
Meanwhile, many took Team GB’s cycling success as their cue to purchase more cycling equipment. During the Games, retailers such as Cycle Surgery, Wiggle and Evans Cycles all reported a surge in sales (some by more than 70 per cent) and searches for bikes on Gumtree.com increased by a third.
The Mayor of London has decided to harness some of this effect, so 2013 will also be the year of the first RideLondon — a two-day summer cycling festival with fun rides, cycle challenges and professional races, which is set to become an annual event. Yet aside from the Olympics, most of us have other reasons to ride through 2013.
When TFL launched an advertising campaign last year, designed by M&C Saatchi, which showed a bike frame spelling out the word “freedom” it made perfect sense to me.
From the moment I bought my bike I have been liberated. I have been freed from waiting for buses, freed from delays on the Circle line, free to make my own way. Perhaps most importantly, the bike has freed me from the tyranny of ever-inflating public transport costs.
Any regular cyclist develops a strong bond with their bike, and this is why. The bike is a road to freedom in the City. Here is how taking to two wheels could let you live free in 2013.
If you travelled to work by bus, Tube or train this morning you will have felt the stab in your wallet as you clattered through the barriers because — as you know — London bus and Tube fares have gone up by 4.2 per cent and some rail season tickets have increased by as much as 5.9 per cent since last year.
Your weekly Zone 1-4 Travelcard is now costing you £43.60. That’s £93.60 more each year.
Even those who have switched but decided to take a Boris bike will be thinking that a Boris-biking tourist has swiped their credit card details.
In truth, prices for the Barclays Cycle Hire Scheme have doubled — meaning it will now cost you £90 a year for a subscription, or £2 a day.
Of course a bike is not free. A decent commuter hybrid bike could cost you in the region of £500. Add the gear, such as lights, helmets and reflectives and you could be talking £700. Buy it all through a cycle to work scheme and you can save up to 42 per cent (depending on your tax band) of the cost of the bike and accessories by paying for it out of your gross salary. Buying second-hand can cut costs and the London Cycling Campaign has a guide to help you do this while avoiding fuelling the stolen bicycle market (lcc.org.uk/articles/buying-a-secondhand-bike). Frank G Bowen (frankgbowen.co.uk) auctions bikes recovered by the police and GoingGoingBike.com is an auction site for second-hand bikes.
Whatever way you go, the initial outlay can be offset against rail fares within the year — and you’ll be using your bike for many more to come.
Approximate annual saving (assuming bike use of five years): £1,000-£1,900
If women need extra convincing to get on their bikes (which they evidently do, since 70 per cent of the cyclists in this country are men) then take this into consideration: since I began cycling to work I have probably eaten more chocolate yet have consistently weighed 5lb less than I did before I bought a bike.
Freeing yourself of a little excess weight is one of the added bonuses of the pedalling commute. You can burn around 45 calories per mile — about a bag of Maltesers every time you ride to work in the City from Peckham (calculate a more specific estimate at bikeweek.org.uk).
Another LSE report suggests the impact of cycling on our health can save the UK economy £128 million a year in absenteeism. It predicted that, if we had added a million regular cyclists to the road since 2010, those cyclists would have contributed £141 million to the UK economy by this year.
Your 60-minute round trip more than makes your gym membership redundant. Instead of going nowhere in a spin class three times a week for £100 a month, this workout gets you home for nothing.
If your commute does not push you hard enough, your bike still has the answer. You can join a cycling club — most of which, including the Herne Hill velodrome, have seen huge interest from beginner cyclists since the Olympics. In fact 13,000 people have signed up to British Cycling’s social cycling groups since June.
Evans Cycles’ RideIt! runs twice-monthly mass cycling rides for as little as £7.50 a go (evanscycles.com/ride-it), while clubs such as the Central London CTC offer all-ability rides around town for a £41 per year membership which includes bike insurance. You’ll be losing pounds and ounces while saving pounds and pennies.
Approximate annual saving: £1,000 for your wallet; £128 million for the economy, 5lb from your waistline.
Those of us committed to city life are often loath to admit the benefits that a blast of country air might have on our minds. Yet studies at the University of Texas suggest that being surrounded by trees can reduce our blood pressure, heart rate and muscle tension in our foreheads. When you spend two to three hours a day underground it is easy to forget that there are plenty of natural surroundings in the middle of London and I am always keen to extol the wonders of Hyde Park.
Cycling to work in the dark is made worthwhile by seeing the sun rise over the Serpentine and I am convinced that being outside for 80 minutes a day during the coldest months is my antidote to low winter moods. If you can find a route that takes you through a park, it’s worth a detour.
Ditching the waiting time for trains and buses can help you cut minutes off your commute. My six-and-a-half mile cycle ride is 10 minutes faster than the Tube journey. This will not be true for everyone (you’ll need Hoy thighs to get you from Finchley Central to Bank in less than 30 minutes) but count up the bike trips around town at weekends and the time you save by incorporating exercise into your commute and you will undoubtedly acquire free time. All the while, of course, you will be free of guilt, breezing from A to B on your zero emissions vehicle.
Approximate annual saving: 176 hours. 967kg of CO2 or 141 pine trees you no longer need to plant if you previously travelled to work (approximately six miles each way) by car, or 173kg of CO2 and 35 pine trees if you went by Tube.
Research: By 2040, Portland's bikeway investments could save us $800 million in health care, fuel costs