If the two favourite parts of your day are the cycle ride to the office, and the cycle ride home, perhaps it’s time to consider an alternative career. Here are a few different ways to make a living on two wheels.
OK, so this won’t be a viable option for most of us, but for those who are sufficiently young and dedicated British Cycling has information on how to go about becoming a member of team GB, with pathways available through their Go-Ride scheme.
Both the Police and Ambulance Service deploy officers on bicycles who will undergo additional specialist cycle training. The opportunity to spend your day cycling will (hopefully) not be the primary reason for choosing either of these careers, but if you have a calling to this sort of work and can combine it with a love of cycling, all the better.
Bike messengers, or couriers, are perhaps the most visible form of bike based employment, certainly in major cities. A good level of fitness, knowledge of the city, and, most importantly, a willingness to report for work whatever the weather are all needed to make a go of this job. For more insight into the life of a cycle courier, read this extract from Jon Day’s account.
Companies like Uber and Deliveroo are recruiting increasing numbers of cyclists to make food deliveries, although both companies have come under fire for the terms and conditions they offer to workers in the so called gig economy.
If you love your coffee as much as your bike then you could set up as a roving barista. Velopresso have won multiple awards for their innovative three wheeled, pedal driven espresso machine. Luxury cycling brand Rapha are also recruiting baristas for their Cycling Club, as long as you have “a passion for delivering a world-class customer experience”.
For anyone with a passion for getting more people onto bikes, working as a qualified cycling instructor can be incredibly rewarding. The job involves teaching both children and adults how to ride a bicycle for the first time, or training existing riders in the skills they need to ride confidently in all situations. For more information, see our blog post on the topic.
Some observations from a Cycle Confident instructor…
“I really think this will be life-changing for me”
This comment was the verdict of a trainee at the end of a recent 1-2-1 cycling lesson. During the session we had planned and ridden her commute, a journey she had, until then, made by public transport. Cycle training had given her the knowledge, skills and, crucially, the confidence to consider making this journey by bike. This in turn will enable her to unlock the benefits of cycling to work, which all the evidence suggests will make her happier, healthier, less stressed and certainly better off.
Of course not every lesson prompts such a positive response, but I think this captures something of why being a cycling instructor is such a rewarding job. If you are considering the profession, chances are you’re already convinced of the potential that cycling has to improve lives. Training to become an instructor will enable you to realise that potential in others.
So, that’s the rose-tinted vision dealt with.
What about the practicalities…
In order to become a qualified cycling instructor you will need to complete a 4-day instructor training course with a registered Instructor Training Organisation (ITO) such as Cycle Confident. To attend, you’ll need to be 18 or over, reasonably fit, and a confident cyclist with your own bike.
The course will introduce you to the National Standard in cycle training. This is essentially the framework that underpins all cycle training, and sets out a series of “outcomes” – skills and abilities needed by cyclists to ride safely in different situations.
Having successfully completed the course you will have attained Provisional National Standard Instructor status. You can start to work as a provisionally qualified instructor, and to do so you’ll want to register with one or more cycle training providers in your local area. To become a fully qualified instructor requires a post course assessment to be carried out within six months of completing initial training – your ITO will help to arrange this.
There are a few other things to consider once you’ve decided to undertake the initial training. All National Standard Instructors must have appropriate insurance cover when delivering cycle training. A number of organisations provide this cover, including CTC, and British Cycling who offer it as a benefit of membership. You’ll also need an appropriate first aid qualification to enable you to deal with any minor bumps and bruises (not unheard of) and to know what to do in the event of a more serious incident (thankfully, extremely rare).
Much of the training is delivered in schools, under the name Bikeability. Before you can start working with children and young people you will need to complete a DBS check (what used to be called a CRB check). Again, your ITO will facilitate this process, but all of these practicalities can take several weeks to complete, so if you’re serious about starting work as an instructor it’s best to get the ball rolling as early as possible.
What’s the job actually like?
Working as a cycling instructor is immensely fun and rewarding. It can also be challenging and frustrating. And sometimes wet and cold.
The flexibility of the work means it can suit those looking to fit cycle training around other commitments, but it can also be intermittent and, to a degree, seasonal. The vast majority of cycling instructors are freelancers, so if this isn’t something you’ve done before, be prepared for a certain level of uncertainty and also the associated admin, including doing your own tax return.
Most of the work falls into two broad categories – Bikeability sessions delivered in schools, and 1-2-1 training sessions.
Individual lessons can vary greatly, from teaching complete beginners to sessions with seasoned cyclists who want advice on a particular commute. Seeing someone ride unaided for the first time, or helping a previously nervous cyclist to gain confidence to ride on the road, both offer plenty of job satisfaction.
School Bikeability courses
School training will tend to take you into a given school for one week, and in that sense can offer more reliable blocks of work. Instructors work in pairs and, as a freshly qualified instructor, you will be supporting the lead instructor. Each group of kids brings its own challenges, but even in the space of a week you’ll be amazed at the progress they make.
I learn something new from every instructor I work with, and that’s another nice aspect of the job – it’s a great workforce to be part of. Cycling instructors are generally a positive and helpful bunch, perhaps because they’re doing something they love, so if you want to see more people getting more out of cycling, why not join them, and start changing lives for the better!
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.
“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.