My bicycle is definitely the best and most practical gift I have ever received.
Had I been given my bike in South Africa, where I’d get from A to B by driving and where my cycling experience consisted of riding around the suburbs on weekends as a teenager, it would never have come to as much use as it has here in London.
And a year ago, I would never have thought that cycling would come to be my main means of transport to and from work, come rain, shine or mud. But here I am, a Londoner (I think it’s now safe to say), and I am more often on two wheels than I am on two legs.
I really love cycling in London. In fact, if or when I go back to South Africa permanently one day, I know without a doubt that it will be one of the things I will miss most.
I’m very grateful that I live in a place where commuting to work by bike is not only possible but also fun.
These are the top reasons why I think commuting by bicycle is brilliant:
Up close and personal with lovely sights
I am in love with London and my love for this great city has only deepened through cycling. I hope that being able to cycle safely along cycling paths over or along the Thames, through Hyde Park and past age-old buildings nearly every day will never be ordinary to me. What a privilege!
Motorists (generally) respect you
I’m not saying I don’t have ‘those incidents’ – unfortunately I do, quite often. But generally, I feel that cyclists in London are well treated by other road users. There are times that the experience can be tarnished, however, and it would be great if we all – cyclists, motor bikers, motorists and pedestrians included – could show more respect and politeness on the road as it would help to create a much more enjoyable atmosphere.
I mean this for myself as well, of course. I love adrenaline and speed, so sometimes I take risks. But there are times when doing so affects other road users, and that is never a good thing.
If we cyclists just stick to the left so cars could overtake more easily, and if we indicate whenever we turn as best we could, and if we slow down when we see a pedestrian approaching a crossing rather than speed up to cross it ourselves in time, and if we look to our right when trying to get around back-to-back traffic in case a motorbike happens to be behind us (first rookie mistake I made), then we would be creating a better environment on the road for everyone.
And if motorists wait an extra few seconds to let cyclists go rather than cutting them off so they can ‘quickly’ turn left, and if they indicate before turning even if there is no one behind them but a lone cyclist, it would be a lot less frustrating.
And if pedestrians look before crossing a road and don’t cross the road when there is approaching traffic, how helpful that would be for those on the road.
And if motor bikers…. Well, I’m not quite sure where they fit in. But personal experience has taught me to look behind me properly when crossing or changing lanes in case a motor bike happens to be behind me!
Travel money less spent
It’s been about a year since I last bought a travel card and it feels great! Travelling is so expensive in London so cycling nearly everywhere has meant I’ve saved a lot on travel money.
Unfortunately, since my bike is an old model, it has needed some repairs and sometimes the bike shop even has to order parts in advance because they don’t normally stock them. But, I have been told on more than one occasion that my bike has a great frame for commuting – we were both very flattered.
I love my ‘vintage’ little bike. Even if the money I’ve spent on her means I haven’t saved as much in the end, I would choose cycling over taking the tube every time.
Rush hour minus others’ sweaty armpits
Another transport-related reason to love cycling – because I’m commuting to and from work, I’m obviously cycling during rush hour, but this is a rush hour I get to spend alone. I know most people despise packed tubes, your head under someone’s armpit and your body intimately close to a perfect stranger, but I really struggle.
I’m one of those ‘personal space’ kinds of people. You know the type – we’re not natural huggers, we go for a hand shake when someone comes in for a hug, we try putting our body in awkward positions so as to avoid touching the arms of strangers on either side.
So being in a tube is one of my top awkward London moments, and by top and mean worst. Yey for bikes!
The exercise bonus
Cycling 13 miles each day gives me the added bonus of exercise. I’m a big fan of multi-tasking so combining cycling to work with exercise is very convenient!
The cool kids wear spandex and hi vis
I’m not sure if you know this but word on the block is that the cool kids these days are covered head to toe in spandex and luminous shades of yellow and orange. OK, so perhaps ‘the block’ doesn’t extend beyond my own head space but I like to think that my transformation from high heel to spandex cyclist is a good one.
When I first started cycling – in winter – I cycled in what I wore to work that day, which fortunately consists of casual clothes. However, these outfits sometimes included platform shoes and the odd heeled boot, much to the amusement of one of my housemates, who has been cycling for much longer than me and thus wisely wore comfy, stretchy clothes and sensible shoes.
However, slowly but surely, I have come to realise that cycling in stretchy fabric and flat shoes has its definite benefits. I never thought the day would come but I am now the proud owner of padded cycling shorts, summer and winter cycling gloves and not one but two hi vis garments. Padded, head-to-toe spandex cyclists used to make me giggle but now I think back to the day of embarrassing wet short stains and non-flexible skinny jeans and I’m thankful I saw the benefits of proper cycling kit.
No waiting or traffic blockages
When I want to go to work or somewhere else on my bike, I don’t have to wait for my bike to arrive and I don’t experience tyre-to-tyre traffic. I can go as soon as I’m ready and the only thing my cycling journey may be affected by is a bike malfunction or road closures, both of which are thankfully rare.
That means, not having to hear the words xyz ‘has been cancelled’ or ‘is delayed’. It also means I no longer have to take part in those awkward ‘squeeze yourself between a stranger and the door because I can’t miss another train’ situations. And London is a happier place with one less commuter competing for that precious seat that just got vacated by the pregnant woman who had to ask a person for their seat while they pretended to sleep, or one less person looking like a dead animal squashed against the window.
Nurturing my eco-friendliness
I like to be eco-friendly. There are occasions when my green habits may appear odd to others, for example at work when I disappear to dispose of my collected recycling outside since we sadly don’t have anything in our office (could we make this illegal?) or at home when I’m transferring things between recycling bin and rubbish bin. But I’m just a happier person when I’m a greener person. And that’s why my pollutant-free cycling commute brings me extra joy.
Being part of a community
Much like early morning runners or nature hikers, cycling has introduced me to a new community in London. The same happiness I experience cycling I see on the faces of others. And when cyclists respect one another as well as others on the road, I’m even prouder to be a part of this community.
Satisfying my inner adrenaline junkie
As I mentioned earlier, I’m a bit of a fan of speed and occasional adrenaline rushes. Sometimes, this plays out in a negative way – cycling less responsibly, more dangerously and with less concern for others. But I’m not proud of that and I aim to be a better and safer cyclist at all times, especially when my patience is tested.
But the experience of cycling in rush-hour traffic from south west London to Westminster – weaving (carefully!) between traffic, fitting (visibly!) into small spaces and passing bus passengers with only a window separating us – is often very exciting. And when my inner adrenaline junkie is satisfied while paying respect to others on and off the road, it’s that much more rewarding.