You don’t need us to tell you that cycling to work is good for your health, but we’re going to do it anyway. With stats (opens in new tab). Cycle commuters have a 46% lower chance of developing heart disease and a 45% lower chance of developing cancer compared with people who drive or use public transport to get to work. If we had a mic we’d drop it right there, but we don’t, so on we go.
Better health is just one part of it. You’ll also save money and probably time as well, because cycling is quicker than every other way of getting around in cities. Except maybe helicopter, but then finding a free helipad near the office can be an absolute nightmare during rush hour.
This year, Cycle To Work Day (opens in new tab) falls on Wednesday 15th August and we hope you’re already planning on joining in the event by biking to your place of employment. But cycling on just one day a year isn’t enough to improve your health, finances and life, so we enlisted Chris Bennett, head of behaviour change at walking and cycling charity Sustrans (opens in new tab), for advice on how people can make cycling to work a habit, rather than a special occasion.
How do you rebuild your confidence on the bike if you haven’t cycled for a while?
The first thing I’d suggest would be to speak to a friend and see if you can go for a ride with them. It could be at the weekend or in the evening, but ideally you’d ride the route or some of the route to work, just to build a bit of confidence.
You don’t need to go the quickest route while you build up confidence. If you’ve previously driven to work or taken the bus you’ll know the busy roads, but quite often there’s a quieter route. At Sustrans we are behind the National Cycle Network – we have a good map of that on our website (opens in new tab). Try to avoid the busy bits, and particularly things like roundabouts. Route-planning apps are ideal when looking for traffic-free routes – things like traffic-free cycle paths, canal towpaths and parks, which are all really good and much easier.
Should you cycle commute every day when you start?
I’d ease into it. There’s nothing wrong with being a fair-weather cyclist. Start doing it on the nice days or when you have time the night before to prepare, or when you don’t have a nine o’clock meeting.
Also the roads can be a little quieter on Fridays or during school holidays, so then could be a good time to start. That’s one of the reasons Cycle To Work Day is in the middle of August, because the roads are noticeably quieter this time of year.
Also, if you normally get the bus, mixing it up a bit can be quite nice. The day you get the bus and listen to a podcast can feel like a nice change from cycling. Try to make it fun and do what works for you.
Do you need to build up your fitness before you start?
Everyone is different and it depends how long your commute is, but most people do live within five miles of their workplace, and that is a reasonable distance to cycle for most people. It can take time to build your fitness up if you’re completely new to it, so try it out in advance and maybe go on some shorter bike rides separately before you cycle to work. But the main thing is to do it at your own pace. It doesn’t have to hurt, you don’t have to race, and you don’t even have to cycle up all the hills. There’s no harm in pushing it uphill if that’s the bit that’s making you really tired.
There’s also been a big rise in use of e-bikes recently, which recent studies have shown have nearly all the same physical benefits. It can make it a bit easier for people who are less fit, who are cycling a bit further or who have a particularly hilly route.
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Do you have any tips for when motivation starts to fade after the first few weeks?
A little treat with the money you’ve saved is a great idea. That can even be a different bike! When people start off they don’t want to invest a lot in a bike straight away, but if you are cycling a bike that’s too small or a mountain bike, you are making it tougher on yourself. Rewarding yourself with a newer, better or more suitable bike after a few weeks once you’ve got into it is a nice idea.
More generally, just try to reward that good habit and be as positive as possible. Think about all the money you’ve saved and the calories you’ve burned, to remind you of all the benefits of it. Check your bank balance and think about how you can spend the money you were spending on petrol or bus fares before. Enjoy that money instead!
People can be tough on themselves, but if they have cycled for a few weeks that’s brilliant. Be proud of yourself and keep going.
Do you have any other advice as to how someone can use the motivation of an event like Cycle to Work Day to make a permanent change to their routine?
Setting achievable goals is really important. In the first few weeks people can say they’re going to cycle every day and the first time they don’t cycle they feel like they’ve failed, but really you just need to set more realistic goals. Cycle a couple of times a week and aim to build it up over a few weeks. It’s a good way to build motivation rather than disappointing yourself.
Think about what you gain from it. You’ll be fitter and healthier, save money and most likely save yourself time. For most people it’s the quickest way to get to work if you include waiting for the bus, or traffic and parking. And also consider the time saved by getting a big chunk of your physical activity done while cycling to work, so you’re potentially saving time elsewhere.
The other thing is to make it social if possible. Cycle with somebody else or chat to people about your cycling – about gear or routes, that kind of thing. There’s a great social element to it that all cyclists should enjoy.
Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.
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