Cycling

Cycling has to be the mainstay of anyone who wants to improve their green credentials. It’s cheap (new bicycles can be bought for under £80) quick (a reasonably fit person should be able to average at least 10 mph) and is about the only form of mechanised travel which cleans the air (you filter out dust through your nostrils and clothes). Furthermore, it helps with levels of fitness, is great for independence (children who cycle are much less likely to scrounge lifts from their parents) and is a great socialiser. Cyclists normally greet one another when they pass and you can always stop for a natter if you see someone walking whom you know.

Of course, there are drawbacks. It’s no fun in torrential rain or high winds but fortunately we don’t get many days when the weather is bad. Motorists seldom give cyclists the respect – or space – they deserve and of course you are at risk of an accident. This can be alleviated by judicious use of the pavement. OK, it’s illegal, but provided you are sensible and don’t use crowded pavements you should be OK. If you are stopped by the police, be polite, tell the officer you always give way to pedestrians (which of course you should do anyway), point out how empty the pavement is in comparison with the road and ask them where they would feel safer on a bike. I offer no guarantees that this will persuade officious constabulary but it may help. Where I live, mostly the pavement is deserted but the road is a narrow, busy urban thoroughfare. Also, whenever you park your bike anywhere there is a risk that it will be stolen. You can take action to persuade the thieves to go for someone else’s bike rather than yours, by using a strong lock and making sure your bike is parked next to one which looks more expensive, but ultimately if the thief really wants your bike and thinks he can get away with it, he will. The only remedy to bike theft is to buy a fold-up and take it with you wherever you go. I ride a Brompton and put it in the trolley when I go to the supermarket.

Before buying a bike it is as well to consider what sort of cycling you intend to do, and what sort of terrain. In recent years, cycling has become a victim of hype and fashion so that models have changed and a cheap bike will most likely have all sorts of features which are completely unnecessary. In the 1960s, anyone who had a Sturmey Archer 3-speed hub gear was considered flash. In 2005, it’s hard to escape with fewer than 27 different gear set-ups on a cheap bike and if you want less, you often have to pay more. Apart from serious mountain bikers, no-one needs this sort of nonsense and a good 10 speed should be more than enough for anyone. In addition, many bikes these days are fitted with extra-large knobbly tyres, which add a good deal to road resistance which in turn makes it harder to pedal. Again, this is a feature appropriate to the mountain bike and really has no place in a normal, basic road bicycle.

Southend Borough Council is largely anti-cycling. There are a few haphazard dedicated cycle paths, including one all the way along the sea front which cost thousands and is too narrow and for much of its length could have been accommodated within the pedestrian section of the promenade, at least along the greater part of its length, but there is no borough-wide properly organised set of cycle paths and more often than not, cycle paths are put in with little regard to the requirements of cyclists. Contrast this with York, whose City Council has decided to encourage cycling as the default means of transport.

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