More Cycling in Your Life

31 August

Bike Week is the largest nationwide cycling event in the UK, encouraging more than half a million people to get on their bikes and discover the joy of everyday cycling. There are hundreds of events planned up and down the country between 10th and 18th June and to celebrate we’ve come up with a few ideas on how to incorporate more cycling into your life.

A bike resting on a happy yellow backdrop, cycling is ridiculously good for you and can lower the risk of heart disease

There’s no getting away from it: cycling is ridiculously good for you. According to studies at Purdue University, cycling just 30 kilometres a week can lower your risk of heart disease to less than half that of someone who takes no exercise. It can also boost mental health and well-being, give you more energy and reduce costs. Meanwhile, research conducted at the University of Utrecht published in 2015 discovered that cyclists in the Netherlands who spend an average of 75 minutes a week on their bikes live around six months longer than non-cyclists. The Netherlands know a thing or two about cycling: the country boasts 37,000 kilometres of segregated cycle lanes.

Despite the obvious benefits, 60% of Britons have said they never get on a bike, although would consider it if there were more dedicated cycle paths and safer roads. Incorporating more cycling into your life is easier than you think, though, and, to prove it, here are our top five favourite methods.

COMMUTING

No one likes commuting. It’s slow, busy, and, if you’re unlucky enough to find yourself on London Underground on the one day of summer, sweltering.

So, why not make your sweat work a bit harder and cycle to work? As well as helping you to get fit, it can save you time – a 6.5 kilometre journey across central London takes about 22 minutes on a bike, 30 on the tube and more than an hour by bus.

If you don’t yet have a bike, find out if your company participates in the UK Government’s Cycle to Work Scheme, which is designed to help you save money on a new work bike while spreading the cost over 12 monthly, tax-free, payments via your employer. If your commute involves a train, it might be worth considering a folding bike. Check out National Rail’s Cycling by Train leaflet for more info on train services in your area.

Got the bike? Next up is route prep – websites such as http://routes.bikehub.co.uk/ and http://routes.lcc.org.uk/ can help with this – and consider doing a practice run at the weekend. The roads will be quieter and it means you’ll have a good idea of any tricky points along the way. It’s also an idea to familiarise yourself with the Highway Code – for instance, did you know it’s illegal to cycle on pavements?

Nutrition is important with any exercise, but to breakfast or not to breakfast is a very personal affair. The key is to plan it around your ride. If your commute is less than an hour and low intensity, then a hot drink can be enough to get you out the door. But be sure to follow it up with a good balance of protein and carbs once you’re in the office, to help boost post-training recovery.

If your ride is longer than an hour, or you’re doing some serious training, you might consider making like a Hobbit and planning two breakfasts – one light one to get you going and a more substantial one to aid recovery.

If you’re planning to ride home again, then a mid-afternoon snack is crucial. Bananas are always a good option pre- or post-exercise.

Before you head out, make sure your bike is in good working order and that you have a working front white light and back red light – you could be fined £50 if caught without them. Other personal safety issues to consider include:

  • Helmet – it’s not a legal requirement but could save your life if you ever were in an accident.
  • Visibility – check out our Nightrider range to help keep you safe after dark. It’s worth wearing brightly-coloured clothes during daylight hours as well.
  • Hearing – avoid using mobile phones or headphones. You need to be able to hear the traffic around you to help spot any approaching danger.

If you fancy adding some serious training into your ride, then consider some sprints, or upping the gears at repeated intervals to build leg strength. Obviously only add these in if you are a confident cycling commuter, and be aware of the impact these exercises have on your manoeuvrability in traffic. The British Cycling website had loads of useful information on how to turn your commute into a training session.

Cycling to school is a great way to fit exercise into your daily schedule

CYCLING TO SCHOOL

Like commuting, cycling the kids to school takes a little bit of planning, but can be a great way to add exercise into your day.

Cycling can help children develop confidence, independence and learn some road safety skills and yet, research shows that, in England, less than 2% of the 8.3 million children travelling to school every day do so by bike. Compare that to the Netherlands, where the figure rises to 49%.

Cycling safety is crucial at all times, but obviously you’ll want to make sure that your kids are protected. Here are some basics to consider:
 
· Make sure that their bike and helmet fit properly – their helmet should not hinder their ability to see and hear clearly and be positioned squarely on their head; straps should be securely fastened.
· If cycling with your kids, ride behind them, or, if there are two adults, position yourselves at the front and back.
· Help your child learn some Highway Code basics and always follow it yourself.
 
Sustran – a UK charity that helps people to travel by foot, bike or public transport for more journeys – works with more than 2,400 schools across the UK, providing expert schools officers to help children develop the skills and confidence to travel under their own steam and its website has loads more information on safe cycling with children. 

POPPING DOWN THE SHOPS

We’ve all jumped in the car for that quick trip to the supermarket, or because we just don’t feel like walking into town. But with a bike, you can get in and out just as quickly, while topping up the exercise kilometres – assuming you’re not in the market for a washing machine, of course.

The key is to do it safely, which means never, ever hang shopping bags over the handlebars. This will affect your steering and could mess with your brakes or front wheel. Instead, take a rucksack. It does limit how much you can pack in, but the weight on your back is evenly distributed and out of the way.

You could boost your capacity with a bicycle basket, but just make sure it’s securely fitted. Other options include panniers, which sit on either side of the back wheel. But before you splash out, make sure your bike can fit the rack needed to rest the panniers on. If you are on a shopping mission then you could always consider a trailer.

More and more councils across the UK are boosting cycling infrastructure and promotion in their towns and cities and the British Cycling website has created a series of Cycle Commuting Guides to locations such as Bath, Edinburgh and Blackpool, providing information on cycle routes, cycle parking and hire and bike shops.

WALKING THE DOG

If you fancy pepping up the dog walk, why not consider cycling instead? Before you do, though, it’s important to check that running long distances suits your breed and that your dog is in good health. Always talk to your vet first and don’t cycle with puppies – too much running while their bones and joints are still growing can cause problems with arthritis in later life.

If you get the go-ahead, then it’s time to get pup into training: a lot of dogs consider bikes their mortal enemy, so make sure yours is comfortable around the bike before you go out. Check out US animal trainer, and Lucky Dog host, Brandon McMillan’s YouTube video demonstrating these first steps.

Plan your route carefully, avoid busy roads and mountain bike trails and start with short rides to build Pooch’s stamina and toughen up his paws. Be sure to take a snack and some water for your dog, or plan to stop somewhere that can provide these things for you.

Holding a regular lead while riding is dangerous for you and your dog – one inopportune tug will pull you off balance and you could collide with your dog if she runs in front of the bike. Instead, invest in a special device, such as WalkyDog or BikerDog, which allow you to keep both hands on the handlebars and your dog a safe distance from the bike.

Once the ride is over, keep an eye on your dog’s reaction – if it is panting and lying down for a long time then you might have overdone it – and be extremely careful on hot days. Your dog can quickly overheat, so it’s always better to ride in the cooler part of the day.

SUNDAY LUNCH PUB RIDE

If all else fails, you could always consider cycling out to your local hostelry for a spot of Sunday lunch. We’re not advocating drink/cycling here – the UK Traffic Act 1998 makes it an offence for a cyclist to be ‘unfit to ride through drink or drugs, that is to say, is under the influence of drink or a drug to such an extent as to be incapable of having proper control of the cycle’ – but it’s a great way to get out and about with the whole family.

And if you live near a river, a gentle cycle to a riverside pubs is one of the nicest ways to get combine fresh air with a good, old-fashioned roast.

Check out www.canalandriversidepubs.co.uk for lists of pubs on English and Welsh waterways, or a basic Google search will throw up an array of recommended pubs and watering holes.

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