Some inventions change the course of society, the internet perhaps being the most obvious these days. But right up there with the best of them would have to be the humble bicycle.
Invented by Karl Drais in 1817, the basic form of the bicycle has remained more or less unchanged since the addition of pneumatic tyres and a chain drive. Like the coat hanger and the bic biro, the enduring nature of the object is testament to the simple brilliance of its design.
No surprise then that the Design Museum is celebrating the bicycle in its current exhibition, Cycle Revolution, which runs till 30 June. The show allows you to get up close to some of the most iconic bikes ever ridden, including Team Sky’s Pinarellos from the 2015 Tour de France and The Lotus Type 108 ridden by Chris Boardman at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games. You can also track the evolution of machines used to break the hour record with the bikes used by Eddy Merckx (1972), Francesco Moser (1984) and Sir Bradley Wiggins (2015) all on display. It’s not all about elite performance though, with a Brompton, a Breezer and even a Raleigh Chopper also on show.
Get your own bike a health check
Cycle Confident will be outside the Design Museum on the weekends of 19-20 March and 9-10 April, offering a Dr Bike service. There will also be cycle training taster sessions, all free of charge.
If your own bike is not quite in museum quality condition the Dr Bike sessions are an opportunity to get it checked over by an experienced bike mechanic, who will make any necessary minor adjustments or quick fixes there and then. If something a little more major is required they’ll explain what’s needed so that you can take your bike along to a local bike shop armed with all the information. Reserve your place here, or just drop in on the day.
The cycle training taster sessions will last around half an hour and can be tailored to all ages and abilities. If you want to continue your training, and are a London resident, the chances are that further free training is available at a time and place to suit you.
Find Your London
The events on 19 and 20 March also form part of the Mayor of London’s Find Your London festival, celebrating London’s outdoor spaces. There are lots of other bike related events taking place as part of the festival, including the chance to join a cycling choir, or to pedal-power a cinema.
So whether you’re on a Pinarello or a Chopper, or something in between, pedal down to the Design Museum and come say hello.
A recent press release from Brunel University contained the startling claim that London cyclists are 6 times healthier than those who use other means of transport for their commute. Unsurprisingly such an eye-catching claim generated plenty of press coverage as the story was picked up by the Evening Standard among others.
The most obvious question raised by the headline is what measure of health is being used, and what does it mean for one person to be six times healthier than another. Is their resting heart rate six times lower? Is their aerobic capacity six times higher? Will they live six times longer?
The answer is contained in the full report, which can be found in the Journal of Public Health here. By analysing Sport England’s Active People Survey the author discovered that ‘utility cyclists’ (more on this term later) were 4 times more likely than others to meet UK guidelines on amounts of physical activity. For those living in inner London the figure rises to 6 times, which leads us (sort of) to that press-friendly headline.
Of course, undertaking a certain minimum recommended amount of physical activity will not make somebody 6 times fitter than a person who does not. Indeed, someone who just exceeds the threshold may well be only marginally more healthy than somebody who falls just short, or indeed may be less fit once other dietary and lifestyle factors have been accounted for.
Nevertheless, we should be willing to forgive the misleading reporting as long as the overall effect is to communicate the important underlying message. Which is that an individual’s choice of transport can have a dramatic effect on their health. Or more succinctly: cycling to work will make you fitter. All the evidence suggests that it can also improve your psychological well being, as well as your bank balance.
Build exercise into your daily routine
So how much physical activity should you be doing? Government guidelines suggest that adults (19-64) should aim for 150 minutes of moderate activity per week. One way of doing this would be to cycle a 15 minute journey each way, 5 times a week. When you consider that the average cycle commute in London is 9.3 miles, and so more likely to be around 45 minutes in each direction, it becomes clear that the majority of London cycle commuters will comfortably exceed the recommendation.
The great thing about choosing what are known as active travel options (walking or cycling) is that they incorporate exercise into your daily routine, increasing health using only time that would otherwise be spent sitting in a car or bus, or squashed into a tube carriage.
What is utility cycling?
Interestingly the report only accounts for activity classed as ‘utility cycling’. This is defined as ‘cycling for purposes other than…health, recreation, training or competition’. Riding a bike as a means of transport is the original and still the most common form of cycling, but this captures an important point – that to reap the health benefits offered by cycling you don’t need to don full lycra and head for the Alps, or spin a stationary bike in the gym, or ride endless laps of the velodrome. You can simply choose a bicycle as your everyday way to get around.
This basic insight has important implications for wider society, and for policy makers. It demonstrates that promoting cycling as a transport option has massive potential for improving public health. It also suggests that putting money into making utility cycling a more attractive option, for example through better cycle infrastructure, offers a fantastic return on investment.
If you are considering commuting by bike in London but need a little help and advice to get started, a 1-2-1 training session can be a great way to overcome any doubts or fears you may have. It’s not guaranteed to make you six times fitter, but it will be several steps (or turns of the pedals) towards a healthier lifestyle.
George Osborne’s promise at the end of last year to stick with the government’s £300 million commitment to cycling will have been a huge relief to training managers, safety campaigners and environmentalists across the UK. But how should local authority road safety officers and transport managers view the news?
Well, the Chancellor’s Spending Review pledge doesn’t represent a windfall because there’s no new money on top. Neither is it the policy back-pedal that some feared. Instead, it buys ‘breathing space’ for the cycle training sector … time that must be used wisely.
Concerns over cuts to funding should be viewed as a warning shot across the back wheels. Even though funding may be generally secure for now, who knows when cuts may come – or when pressures from other services could eat into cycle training budgets at local authorities? In that scenario, pitching for funding could become intense as competition for cash gets tougher and the qualifications more stringent.
As any ambitious cyclist knows, the key to success (and avoiding pain later) is to get into training. And – with future budgets in mind – that’s also true for anyone at a local authority involved in delivering cycle training.
Now’s the time to sharpen up
The best response from council cycle training teams is to use early 2016 to strengthen their programmes by embedding industry best practice. As part of this, they should sharpen their ability to pitch for funds, whenever any opportunity arises. This is a priority.
So how can council teams build a stronger business case – turning an ‘average’ funding application into a compelling one? Here are a set of actions that can make the difference.
Five ways to win more funding
#1 Build your submission with rock-solid data
Qualitative data is helpful but the economics tend to get decided on numbers. It’s important you’ve kept records of previous sessions – and can prove you did exactly what was asked, such as the numbers trained and how you delivered excellent value for money at your local authority. Also show that, going forward, your whole strategy is based on hard data and key performance indicators, such as low drop-out levels, costs staying within budget and successful outcomes.
#2 Demonstrate that demand for cycle training is growing
If the public demands more training, then decision-makers will often be swayed. Public surveys are influential – like this one from Manchester which reports on most people’s wish that cycling spending would quadruple. At a simpler level, can you show how quickly your training places are filled in your borough? Do you have any feedback results showing customer satisfaction and how many trainees are willing to recommend your sessions to their friends? Are there ways you can prove demand for what you want to offer?
#3 Show your training is ‘inclusive’, reaching every demographic
Again, data helps here – if you can show that your local authority training attracts people from every gender, age range and background. You can also demonstrate your plans for widening the appeal of training, perhaps showing flexibility and innovation in terms of times, locations and themed activities.
#4 Have your submissions on stand-by
Don’t simply work towards the big opportunities. Have projects and submissions lined up already in case internal funds become available suddenly – for example, at the end of the financial year where under-spends can be addressed.
#5 Think long term
Having a long-term strategy is vital to avoid a ‘boom and bust’ approach to cycle training. Relationships with funding organisations and a clear understanding of how you’re meeting underlying changes in demand will give you a greater sense of purpose and authority. You want your expertise, confidence and sense of mission to shine through in your submissions.
Funding is never guaranteed but these five tactics will help, especially if your council has a knowledgeable cycle training partner at your side. The best partners will already have the processes in place to capture and use data effectively – and even help you to craft your funding submissions, based on their industry-wide experience of ‘what works’.
Get further help – and download the free eBook today
If you work for a local authority, then it’s worth downloading your free copy of the e-book Cycle training: Switching into top gear. Funding is one of many areas touched upon in the guide, which includes a checklist as to whether you’re following best practice in every area of cycle training. It’s ideal if you want to use today’s ‘breathing space’ to improve everything you do, so you’re ready for anything.
What do we want out of 2016? How about getting fitter, saving money, spending less time stuck in traffic jams and reducing our carbon footprint? With cycling, it’s all possible … you could call it the grand slam of New Year’s resolutions! But what’s stopping thousands of people from leaving their homes on a shiny new bike … perhaps for the first time in years?
If you’re a local authority road safety officer or transport manager, then you may be concerned about why cycling hasn’t already taken off the way it might have done. After all, you’ve got the wind behind you, in terms of economic, health and environmental plus points.
So what’s going on – and how can your efforts coax more cyclists to pedal confidently onto their local streets?
A while back, the government’s British Social Attitudes survey discovered that 67% of non-cyclists thought that cycling was too dangerous. Even 18-24 year olds – the adults with the most energy allegedly – were highly cautious, with almost half expressing major concern.
Fewer injuries than gardening
Those emotions can be pretty entrenched, even when the facts say something different. CTC, the national cycling charity, believes that traffic volumes, speeds and other factors can make cycling feel and look more dangerous than it actually is. In fact, CTC reports that people are more likely to be injured playing tennis, using a rowing machine … or gardening.
So how can individuals get past their fears – and what can council teams do to help them on their way?
London has been leading by example. More people are now riding bikes than at any point since records began – with numbers growing at 5% in a year. Over 600,000 cycle journeys are made every day. Behind these impressive figures is an exciting story that’s continuing in many London boroughs.
Confidence-building is key
Many of these London councils are focusing on training for everyday bike owners of all ages – to build each person’s confidence, ability and road sense, so they overcome their fears and have a great cycling experience. And when you look closely, you can see a correlation between the heartening upsurge in cycling in the capital and the behind-the-scenes training that’s been gathering pace. In 2010/11, fewer than 500 adults and children received training across half a dozen or so London boroughs. Roll on to 2015/16 and that number is on course to hit 18,000 people being trained per year.
Every tiny details matters
But these forward-looking boroughs don’t simply stick up the posters and then put out the cones. Successful cycle training doesn’t work like that. It’s about all the tiny details that make every training session exceptional. This takes energy, planning, saddlebags of imagination – and usually some outside expertise and resources from a thoughtful cycle training partner.
The London experience shows that attention to detail really matters, from how to target specific groups and come up with fresh ideas, to making it easy for people to find out about sessions – and place a booking. If people enjoy the end-to-end experience, they won’t just be cycling regularly – they’ll encourage their friends and family. Used wisely, social media can play a part in that too.
Practical policies, ongoing funding, quality of service, innovative ideas and giving great value can all be achieved when local authorities apply best practice consistently. But what does best practice look like? Road Safety Officers can get the answers by contacting us for a free copy of Cycle Training: Switching into Top Gear, the best practice guide. As well as touching on the highly positive UK cycling scene, the eBook charts the phenomenal success of London and provides a checklist so UK local authorities can rate themselves and work towards best practice.
The start of a new year is a great time to review the cycle training provision in your area. The eBook helps you to identify the gaps in the cycle training provision in your local authority area – and suggests how you can have your best year yet.
“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.” – Alfred Wainwright
The vagaries of the British weather can throw up surprises for cycle commuters at any time of the year, but it is the cold, dark winter days that will provide the greatest test of riders’ resolve. With winter feeling like it finally arrived in earnest this month, it’s worth investing in a bit of preparation and the right gear. That done, anyone can enjoy the benefits of travelling by bike all year round.
There’s no denying that your bike has it a lot tougher in the winter months, so you need to show it a little more love and attention. It’s a good idea to get a thorough service in order to make sure that everything’s in good nick, particularly the brakes (which must be set up well to be effective in the wet) and the drive train.
Once everything’s running smoothly regular maintenance is vital to keep things that way and to get rid of the grit and grime that is thrown up from wet roads. You won’t always feel like spending an extra five minutes cleaning your bike once you get home, but making the effort once in a while will be worth it in the long run.
Nothing makes the cyclist’s heart sink like the dreaded P-word, so to avoid having to utter it, invest in some tyres with decent puncture protection. It’s also a good idea to check your tyres every so often for bits of grit, stone or glass that have lodged in the rubber. Often these don’t cause a puncture immediately you ride over them, but can work their way down over time, so a quick once over can actually prevent flats. Wider tyres will give better traction in slippery conditions, as will running them at a lower pressure. A recommended pressure range for tyres is given on the sidewall.
When riding on wet roads the biggest enemy to your comfort is the water sprayed up from the wheels that, if unchecked, will soak your back and legs in no time. Mudguards will stop the worst of this, particularly if they are the close fitting type (see this guide), and the cyclist behind you on the road will have reason to thank you too.
If you don’t already own them you’ll want to go shopping for a waterproof jacket and a pair of gloves. Even on the coldest days you should avoid wearing too heavy a jacket. You might be surprised by how much warmth you generate cycling and a thick overcoat will soon have you overheating. The jacket doesn’t necessarily have to be a cycle specific product, although these will tend to be cut differently (long in the arms and long at the back) to suit a stretched out riding position.
Hands are particularly susceptible to wind-chill and so as soon as the mercury starts to drop it’s on with the gloves. Specialist cycling gloves will have extra padding on the palm, dampening vibrations from the handlebars. Another useful feature built in to some gloves is a section of towelling material that can be used to wipe away sweat and rain.
Good lights, front and rear, are essential for winter riding. Bright clothing also improves visibility, although if fluorescent jackets don’t meet your style criteria a less garish garment with some reflective elements built in might offer an acceptable compromise.
The other important way to make sure you are seen is to ride confidently. Riding too close to the kerb, dipping in between parked cars, and filtering on the left of queuing traffic will all reduce your visibility to other road users.
Riding in the wet and the dark presents its own challenges but shouldn’t be too daunting for the confident rider. Many techniques which are good practice in all weathers become even more so during winter.
As noted above, for reasons of visibility it’s never a good idea to ride too close to the kerb. What’s more, in poor conditions, rainwater, grit and other debris collect in the part of the road adjacent to the kerb and can cause punctures and accidents. Potholes should be avoided, as, when filled with water, it can be impossible to gauge their depth. Take extra care also when riding over painted lines and metalwork in the road, as these can become much more slippery when wet.
If you find yourself riding on ice, as can sometimes happen, try not to panic. Stop pedalling, ride in a straight line, and avoid braking if possible as grabbing a lever will tend to be the quickest way for you to meet the ground.
What’s my motivation?
Years of experience cycling every day in London confirms that complete soakings are less frequent than you might think. You can expect somewhere around 6-8 of them in a whole winter’s worth of Monday to Friday commuting.
And when the going really does get tough, try to focus on the benefits you will have already accrued through you choice of transport. The money saved, the fitness gained, the calories burnt.
So you see, there really is no such thing as bad weather.
When I first started commuting by bike in London fifteen years ago, it seemed a fairly lonely pursuit, with fellow cyclists few and far between. Nowadays if you travel on a busy route into the capital you’re likely to find yourself in a peloton several dozen strong, packed into the advanced stop box at traffic lights.
Cyclists travelling into London during rush hour will outnumber drivers doing the same within the next few years
So claims a recent report from Transport for London, if current trends are maintained. The full report can be found here, and the BBC has covered the story in the form of an experimental new video format (less exciting than it sounds).
TfL described the change in commuting behaviour as “a feat unprecedented in any major city”, which might be overdoing it a bit, but there’s no denying that the period in question, 2000 to 2014, has seen an enormous shift in the ways in which people choose to move around London.
Numbers of drivers entering central London each day have more than halved over that period, in no small part thanks to the introduction of the congestion charge in 2003. Even more dramatic has been the rise in numbers of cyclists, trebling from 12,000 to 36,000, with an acceleration in that growth from 2008 onwards.
This is good news for the city as a whole for a number of reasons. It should help to improve London’s poor air quality, as well as having an overall positive impact on the health of the population. Evidence of more cyclists on the roads also creates greater impetus for higher levels of investment in cycling infrastructure to accommodate their growing ranks.
We’re safer in numbers
For each individual cyclist there is a further crucial effect – the more cyclists there are on the roads, the safer cycling becomes. A number of studies has shown that steep increases in cycling can actually result in a reduction in the number of cyclist casualties on the roads. This study for example, which compared a number of cities in the US and Europe, concluded that motorists are less likely to collide with someone cycling or walking if more people cycle or walk.
The precise reasons for this are difficult to pin down, but it seems likely that motorists adjust their driving in the presence of greater numbers of bikes, because they are more aware of cyclists, are more accustomed to how cyclists use the roads, and perhaps because each driver is statistically more likely to also be a cyclist.
The “safety in numbers” effect has an obvious if initially counterintuitive outcome; that increasing the number of cyclists on London’s roads is an effective strategy towards making cycling safer. Of course the number of deaths and injuries to cyclists remains unacceptably high, but statistically cycling is not a particularly risky activity, and the more people get on their bikes, the safer it becomes.
Cycle Confident has been named winner of the Outstanding Educational Service category at the 2015 Global Business Excellence Awards.
Cycle training provider, Cycle Confident, has been recognised by The Global Business Excellence Awards for its innovative and inclusive approach to cycle training and for championing the safe and widespread use of bicycles on London’s roads.
The company, which is London’s largest cycle training provider, was the winner in the ‘Outstanding Educational Service’ category at The Global Business Excellence Awards. Previous Global Business Excellence Award winners include The Royal Bank of Scotland, Vodafone, Transport for London, Thomas Cook and Bupa.
The GBE awards has a large panel of independent expert judges who select winners according to strict criteria for each category and sector, focusing on financial results, innovation, customer, employee, investor and community benefits.
Commenting on Cycle Confident, the chairman of the judges said:
“With more and more cyclists taking to the road in London, Cycle Confident is doing a brilliant job at providing road safety and bicycle mechanics training to youngsters, adults and older riders. It is also providing much-needed training for HGV and van drivers helping them to become more aware of cyclists on the road. Anything that is being done to make our roads safer is great news and Cycle Confident has to be commended for making a major contribution to road safety across the city.”
Due to its high profile, the Global Business Excellence Awards attracts a wide range of entries from across the world, from large international PLCs and public sector organisations to dynamic and innovative SMEs. The winners all have one thing in common – they are truly outstanding at what they do.
Upon receiving the award, Cycle Confident managing director, David Showell, said:
“This award recognises not only the tireless and outstanding work being done by everyone at Cycle Confident, but also the increasingly important role that education and training play in keeping cyclists safe on city roads. While we are hugely committed to the community focus wherever we work, we also have sights set firmly on the global scalability of the benefits we’re achieving. We are immensely proud to win this award which recognises the impact Cycle Confident is making on this sector.”