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Recently I was involved in a conversation around the use of ‘cycling for transport,’ which for the purposes of that discussion largely involved commuting to and/or from work by bicycle. It was really interesting to be part of a discussion of like minded people who really enjoyed cycling and who also understood the huge untapped benefits that it brings.
Cycling is something that has become a recent passion of mine, for a few reasons. I believe that exercise needs to be part of your lifestyle, and I personally have seen massive benefits to my overall well-being from regular exercise. These have not just been in fitness and weight management though, but also in mental health, stress, sleep patterns, and general ‘just-feeling-better.’ As the stresses of work and life began to pile up, I realised that I needed to be far more active physically than I was. I used to be a runner, and that worked well for me for a few years. However in 2013 a year of physiotherapy, podiatry, bone-scans and specialists visits revealed to me that I had stress fractures in both my Tibia – which meant running was off the table for me. Desperate to find another exercise outlet, I decided to give into my Dad’s proselytising and try cycling. After a few rides, I was totally hooked. Lucky for me, I was able to get a really good kickstart by borrowing a bike off my sister-in-law, some riding gear off my Dad, and then do some initial training rides with my Dad. These training rides were great because they built my confidence in road riding, I found routes that I enjoyed, I learnt tips and tricks for riding with traffic, and I learnt about maintaining my bike. After a few weekend rides, I was ready to begin riding to work.
So the first reason that I think cycling as a means of commuting is awesome (and what really convinced me to pick it up) is that you are effectively creating time. Let me explain:
Many people finish work in the city (or where ever they work) and then jump into a car to drive home. This can take anywhere from 20-60 mins, for the bulk of Aucklanders. Some of them then head to the gym, for another 30-60 mins. Assuming they leave work at 5pm, this means that they don’t get home until 7pm.
Cycling for transport however, means that I combine these two activities into one, thus creating extra time in my life. For me, I can leave work at 5pm, cycle home, have a shower, and still be quicker than if I drove (or took the trains). And of course, I’ve already completed my exercise! Double Win!
Another thing that dawned on me once I had been cycling for a while was how much money it was possible to save by not using a paid means of transport. Of course my bike cost me (and costs to maintain), but nothing compared to paying $10 a day for train tickets or petrol and parking (as well as the cost of maintaining that vehicle). By converting the fat stored in my body into kinetic energy, I don’t need to have a gym membership, pay to get to work, and I have one less shower a day at home! Big savings! (A rough calculation tells me I could save $80 a week!)
Cycling is a great way to get active, get your pulse rate up and burn some calories. It’s also low impact which is great for people with bad knees or with stress fractures in their legs! However, there is a bigger reason that this is awesome. Every person that is more active correspondingly puts less strain on our healthcare system, which is better for all of us!
One thing I always find amusing and ironic with the usual politicking that happens around cycling is that so many people seem to be very annoyed at cyclists being on the roads – and yet are the same people who vote in favour of parties and policies that will not prioritise creating separated cycle ways! To add to that, these same complainants love to moan about the congestion on Auckland’s roads – obviously not realising that every cyclist on the road is one less car on the road!
So every time you see someone commuting via bicycle, thank them! Not only are they reducing stress on the healthcare system, they are reducing Auckland’s congestion as well.
So, back to the discussion I was involved in recently. A large part of it focussed around reasons why other people are not cycling for transport. I think that for many people, the lack of a safe infrastructure is a giant obstacle, that makes cycling just too out of reach. The second thing that I think is a major obstacle to people is the lack of showering infrastructure at many of our places of work. [A suggested fix for this is to either A) provide subsidies for businesses that provide showers, B) Create bylaws that require showers at places of work, or C) Create ‘shower hubs’ – much like a public toilet hub – where people can store their bike, have a shower, and get changed for work]
Until Auckland Council addresses these issues, I don’t think we are going to see a massive uptake in the number of people cycling to and from work!
This is why I am regularly involved in emailing councillors, signing petitions, and voting for policies that are going to increase Auckland’s cycling infrastructure. I am glad that some positive steps have been taken, and I hope many more will follow. If you want to see less congestion on Auckland’s roads, less strain on our health system, and would love the ability to create time and save money, it would be awesome if you added your voice to the mix!