This month the U.K. workers will be putting their car keys down and gathering their bikes up as part of Cycle to Work Day on the 6th of August. It's a chance to dust off that old set of wheels, polish off the pedals, limber up the legs and do your part for the environment. This annual event takes place in different locations across the globe, with the U.S. doing their part on the 20th of May. It's estimated that around 6.5 million people cycle each year in England alone, so, while this form of travel is becoming ever popular, Cycle to Work Day is the perfect opportunity to try it for yourself.
Many of us grew up playing on our bikes, zipping up and down our streets trying to crack the balance code, and when we did, there was nothing sweeter. And for so many of us, cycling is not only an opportunity for a fun day out but also a great form of exercise and even a serious sport. In recent weeks the 109th edition of the Tour de France has just snaked its way through Copenhagen, Denmark, down the east coast of France through Lausanne and Col du Granon, ending with the final stage at the Champs-Élysées. There's no doubt that whether you are an athlete or in your retirement years, cycling benefits your health and well-being, even if just a short ride through the park. But it is also a cheap and effective way to travel. Through the countryside and the suburbs, it's a treat and can serve as a great alternative to hourly bus services. And cycling is especially effective in cities where overcrowding can often hinder car traffic and public transport. With a bike, you can zip past the gridlock and get to your desired destination in half the time.
So, where did Cycle to Work Day originate? Believe it or not, this event began way back in 1956 with The League of American Bicyclists, a non-profit organisation that, through advocacy and education, promotes cycling for fun, fitness, and transportation. Going back as far as the late 1880, 's the then League of American Wheelmen was the leading national membership organisation for cyclists in the United States. Not only did they promote the use of bicycles, but they were also the leading advocacy group for improvements of roads and highways in the U.S. long before the invention of automobiles. And while in the U.S., this event has now been dedicated to an entire Month in May each year, in the U.K., they decided upon the more achievable Cycle to Work Day. Perhaps for many, that one day will be the beginning of a new love of cycling and a new form of transportation for them.
No matter how often you do it cycling to work is a brilliant, effective way of getting to your office. Not only are you independent of timetables, traffic jams and parking restrictions, but you are getting your heart rate up in the process. And for those with an environmental conscience, cycling is the obvious choice as a 'green' mode of transport. Driving motorised vehicles is one of the most significant contributors to pollution with car fuels, including gases like carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxide, being released in large volumes that are seriously harmful to the environment. When we choose to cycle over travelling by car, we are significantly helping to reduce air pollution. According to environmental organisation Hubbub, 50% of journeys are only 2 miles, and that's a significant amount of unnecessary pollution that could easily be saved by getting on your bike!
Whilst cars are making strides on sound reduction in engines with electric versions, cycling also significantly helps to reduce noise pollution. Studies have shown that sudden loud noises can affect even the heart rates of caterpillars and other small insects. And for birds, this can result in fewer offspring, as well as problems with navigation, attracting mates and avoiding predators. With less noise in their habitats, animals are more likely to stay and contribute to the surrounding natural environment. So, pushing our pedals and getting our heart rate up, keeps theirs down!
According to Cyclplan, if the U.K. population took to cycling as much as our neighbours in the Netherlands, research suggests that there would be around two million fewer car commuters on the road, which could reduce the U.K.'s CO₂ output by an average of 1,500 tonnes a year. Today companies, too, are constantly aiming to meet sustainability objectives. While they may be considering it purely from a business perspective, perhaps they haven't thought of achieving it with their employees. Sustainable power comes in numbers, so engaging teams in environmental objectives is a positive way forward. So, if you take part in Cycle to Work Day and have enjoyed it more than you thought, why not ask your employer about the Cycle-to-Work scheme? They can support you to save up to 26-40% on a bike and the accessories, you'll pay nothing upfront, and the payments are taken tax efficiently from your salary by your employer. Find out more here: https://www.cyclescheme.co.uk
There are plenty of bicycles on the market, and while some manufacturers are responsive to the climate emergency, some are leading the way in creating bikes that are as eco-friendly as possible. Whilst the materials to manufacture cycles such as carbon, rubber and steel have a somewhat negative impact on the environment in terms of shipping etc. Once you begin your journey with your bike, according to the Trek sustainability report in 2021, after approximately 430 miles, you'll start to offset the carbon footprint of its manufacture. The manufacture of bikes from sustainable materials is slowly increasing using elements such as bamboo and wood. While these may sound like flimsy options, both are incredibly durable. Did you know that bamboo is also one of the most robust natural materials, and though much lighter than steel, it has twice the tolerance? Wood grows much more slowly than bamboo, but if sourced responsibly, it is both sustainable and renewable. And if you'd prefer a metal frame, then the manufacture of steel frames produces two-thirds less CO₂ emissions than aluminium and is also fully recyclable.
If you are concerned with where your bike is manufactured and its carbon footprint, you may want to consider a U.K. brand for minimum emissions. Here's a look at some of the best options:
Bamboo Bicycle Club have been perfecting the techniques of bicycle building for the past ten years. Founded by James Marr in London in 2012 through a love of bikes and engineering, they wanted to offer the opportunity to everyone to build a bike from scratch. They provide a range of home-build kits and hands-on bicycle building workshops.
Enigma Titanium says they do "everything under one roof " in their workshop in East Sussex. So, you can buy your bike without a plane in sight! https://www.enigmabikes.com
Pashley creates beautiful traditional bicycles with quality leather handles and seats. You can choose from traditional racers, even bikes with baskets or hybrid versions. They say that their bikes are “handcrafted in Britain, in the town of Stratford upon Avon". You can find out more here: https://www.pashley.co.uk
Brompton, the famous folding bikes, are a great option if you don't have space or access to a good storage solution in the home or at work. They are beautifully designed and state that every bicycle is handmade, and quality assured in their London factory. https://www.brompton.com
And if your legs are just not up to a mechanical bike, you might want to consider a battery-powered one. And though, according to the Ethical Consumer, on average, e-bikes have higher embodied emissions than mechanical ones, not everyone will have the required fitness levels to cycle to work without assistance. Cycling U.K. offer practical advice on the different e-bike options out there: https://www.cyclinguk.org/article/guide-e-cycle-batteries
Of course, not everyone will want to buy an expensive new bike, and plenty of local dealers will offer great second-hand alternatives. So, if you want to be even more considerate to the planet, why not give an old unloved bike a second lease of life? Many big cities also offer bike rental solutions, so if you are city-based, there's a chance you already use these. But the scheme is highly effective and inexpensive if you consider trying it. And if you aren't going to use your man-powered or e-bike more than a couple of times a week, then a share or hire service is a much more environmentally friendly option. See here for more details on rental/share operators. https://como.org.uk/accreditation/
So, this 6th of August, get your helmets on, gear up and take to the streets by pedal power for Cycle to Work Day. All in the name of getting fit, getting to work faster, and helping the environment. Who knows what could happen? You may realise you should have taken your bike out of the garage ages ago. You might impress your boss by arriving super early and yourself with how much pedal power you have. All exercise is excellent for the endorphins, so, though you'll be cycling to the office, you're likely to feel happy - even about that!! Just remember to watch out for the signals and pedestrians. Now all that's left is to get your cycle outfit ready, work out your route and choose your two-wheeled steed. Now let's push those pedals for the planet!
Quotes - Cycle U.K. cutting emissions:
Hubub 50% of journeys are less than two miles
Trek Sustainability Report 2021