In recent years cities around the UK have become better adapted for cycle commuters, with cities like York, Bristol and London leading the way. This is such a far cry from the time when cycle commuting through cities was a risky experience that was the preserve of daredevils and cycle couriers.
I remember the first time I cycled to my place of work in central London over fifteen years ago. Although it was a sunny morning in May I found it quite an unpleasant experience. I rode through the streets ever so timidly and jumped whenever a vehicle thundered past me, then heaved a big sigh of relief when I arrived at the office cycle shed still in one piece!
Many years later, my confidence on the road has greatly improved and I enjoy the 16-kilometre cycle commute I do each way through London to work, particularly now with large numbers of other cyclists, and the recent opening of the North-South and East-West Cycle Superhighways.
I am happy to ride in other cities around the UK too, even if the cycle lane facilities available are variable. In fact, when doing foreign city breaks I also try to use the bike-sharing schemes on offer, as I find them a great way to explore the city. The Vélib system in Paris is definitely my favourite - I find it user-friendly and there, like in London, greater investment in cycle lanes and facilities has been made to make cycling around the city more pleasurable than ever.
So what’s it like cycle commuting in other cities?
Judith Sri Bakx, aged 39, Business Development Manager, commutes 12km
Cycling is undeniably rooted in our way of life, like walking and talking. By the age of 4 you go to school by bike and this is no different when you start working. Commuting to and from work on your bike is also part of letting go of the stress of your working day even if you are riding with thousands of others!
Commuting for the first time here? Don't be afraid. Hop on your bike and be indulged in cycling heaven. Keep your cool and be assertive!
Paula Gonzalez de Aguila, aged 43, Self-employed, commutes 30km
We used to say: "There are many cars, it’s dangerous, there is a lot of pollution, it’s too hilly, you’ll be all sweaty at work!"
Until six or seven years ago cycling in Madrid was not seen as a means of transport in the city, but as a spring and summer sport. Many people, myself included didn’t think it was possible to go to work by bike. We used to say: "There are many cars, it’s dangerous, there is a lot of pollution, it’s too hilly, you’ll be all sweaty at work!" But since the creation of the special cycle lanes and the bike sharing scheme, many more people cycle. It is something that I had never imagined before.
Anna Maria Diaz-Balart, aged 31, Fashion editor, Pretty Damned Fast commutes 32km
Bicycle ridership in New York has increased by 325% since 1990, and every year more bike lanes are added. It’s awesome to see the sheer numbers of people out on bikes.
I am a dedicated year-round commuter, and to experience New York City by bike is truly one of the greatest joys on earth. Commuting changed my life, got me into bike racing, and showed me a side of the city I’d never seen before. In the summer months I can go from my apartment in Brooklyn to having my toes in the sand at the beach in an hour.
I work primarily in fashion and also at King Kog bike shop. I have adaptedmy clothing for cycling, so I wear Levis Commuter jeans, a backpack, and Holdfast straps on BMX platform pedals to accommodate whatever shoe I am wearing. I keep a wicking scarf to blot my forehead before I head indoors, and use dry shampoo to combat helmet hair.
You have to by hyper vigilant in New York. The city streets are in terrible condition, drivers do not care about cyclists, and everyone jaywalks. It can feel a bit like a video game dodging everything that comes at you!
If I leave my bike outside I always lock it with a heavy duty Kryprotnite lock, have Pinhead locks all over my bike, and a length of chain in an inner tube locking down my saddle.
Donna Navarro, aged 38, Blogger at Ordinary Cycling Girl, commutes 32km
Cycling in central Nottingham can be variable. There's a mix between safe, designated cycle paths and city canal cycling and more hazardous main road cycle lanes where car drivers and bus drivers are not always respectful of cyclists. Like with most cities, you certainly need to have your wits about you and ride more defensively. Nottingham also has the tram network, a new addition, so planning your route beforehand is definitely key!
Like with most cities, you certainly need to have your wits about you and ride more defensively.
The City Council has recognised the existing flaws and is investing £6.1 million to improve the cycle network. So over the next twelve months, Nottingham will be the proud owner of its first city centre two-lane cycle route, which is something to look forward to!
Tips when riding generally, and more specifically around Nottingham: Give parked cars a wide berth as not everyone remembers to check for cyclists before swinging their car door open; make yourself as visible as possible day and night; always anticipate unpredictability from pedestrians and other road users; ride cautiously around the tram network and maybe save thinner road bike type tyres for the amazing weekend road cycling Nottinghamshire has to offer! You can plan your commute using city cycling routes like The Big Wheel website, which is a good resource showing all city cycle routes and quiet roads.
Eszter Nagy, aged 32, Web marketing specialist, commutes 10km
I work as a web marketing specialist and cycle 15 minutes to get to work. We have a good system of cycling lanes. You can reach pretty much any part of downtown or the touristic areas on a bicycle.
The Buda part of the city is hilly, but it's much nicer than Pest, and has lots more trees, parks and better quality air. Also, there are many organizations that promote biking, like the Cycle to Work campaign by the Hungarian Cyclists’ Club, that promotes a healthier and happier community and environment by maximizing cycle commuting to work.
My top tip is to try and soak in what you would miss if you were on a bus
Budapest has a public bike-sharing system with around 100 docking stations at a reasonable fare, so you don’t even need to own a bike. My top tip is to try and soak in what you would miss if you were on a bus, like hidden little alleys, and enjoy the freedom of moving easily.
Rachel Hideg, Proofreader and Editor, commutes 50km
"I see familiar faces each morning and I love getting smiles from them as we pass each other"
I cycle to work each morning on a comfortably flat route between Budapest and Szentendre. Budapest has a vibrant cycling culture: 15,000 people joined the recent I Bike Budapest ride. The city has a new public bike-sharing scheme, and new cycle lanes and paths are being created, so there is a growing number of people on bikes.
On my commute I see familiar faces each morning and I love getting smiles from them as we pass each other in opposite directions when riding along the River Danube. This is a nice way to start the day.
Beth McCluskey, University Technical Officer, commutes 60km
My commute starts from a small town called Greystones in county Wicklow and finishes at St Stephens Green in Dublin city centre. It takes 60-70 mins depending on the wind direction, with the last 30 mins of the inward commute being on a bike lane on a very busy dual carriageway. I have at least one near death experience every day. I’ve had several accidents, all of which have happened while I was in the bike lane. It wouldn’t be a commute I would recommend for a novice cyclist.
There are lots of cycle lanes in Dublin but a lot of them are very badly designed and maintained. They are probably ok for children cycling to school and very nervous cyclists but in general they are not a realistic option for the serious commuter who travels in excess of 20km/hr and more than 2km.
Apparently there are 10,000 bike journeys every day into the city over the 2 canals between 7am-10am.
The Dublin bike-sharing scheme has been the most successful one in Europe and has been great for city cycling as it has improved driver behaviour in the city since there are now so many more cyclists on the road than before. Apparently there are 10,000 bike journeys every day into the city over the 2 canals between 7am-10am. That’s an average of 100,000 per week!!
For novice cyclists Dublin would be quite a scary place to learn the skills of city commuting. Phoenix Park would be a good place to learn as there are hire bikes available and off-road cycle paths.
My tips for cycle commuting: be hyper vigilant for cars turning left, and move as close to the right-hand side of the lane as possible; use hand signals to show you are going straight on. If that fails and the car starts to turn, slow down and if you can’t stop try to turn left with the car. Stay in control and try not to panic. This is what I do, though it has taken many years to master!
Una May, aged 47, Director of Participation, Sport Ireland, commutes 32km
I commute from Celbridge to Blanchardstown and almost all of it is on cycle paths, with about half on a completely traffic free canal tow path (the Royal Canal). It’s an absolutely lovely way to start the day when the conditions are right but in winter it gets very muddy and is unlit which is a small bit off-putting – I could handle the unlit bit with decent lights but would hate to end up sliding in the mud and ending up in the canal in the dark!
On a sunny day a big challenge is dodging the fishing rods and trying not to swallow too many flies in the evening going home! My favourite part of the cycle is the game I often end up playing with a heron which flies ahead of me and then stops and then flies ahead again!
Commuter tips: Always have spares of the obligatory undergarments in a drawer at work because without fail you’ll forget one of them one day! Try to be patient and don’t put yourself under time pressure – it’s not good if all the benefits of cycling are wasted because you’re so wound up by the time you get to work.
Barbara Bonori, aged 39, Self-employed, commutes 20km
I have always cycled, and have never had a car. I am self-employed so during the day I cycle alot – to clients, to the supermarket, to the gym, to go for a pizza or to go shopping. Of course I also cycle to Upcycle Bike Café my favourite place, where I work using the free wifi, meet friends or watch cycling on TV.
Getting around Milan by bike is not difficult as it’s completely flat and the city isn’t that big. There are many quiet streets with 20mph zones so it is possible for cyclists and motorists to comfortably share the road. There are a few cycle lanes but they are not that reliable. It’s better to find quiet streets through word of mouth from other cyclists or through.
My tips for new commuter cyclists: Beware of tram lines and big paving stones and cobbles, particularly in the rain as they can get really slippery. Never leave the bicycle unattended. Secure it with a good lock (better still, two!) to a solid immovable object. And if you don’t have a bike, that’s not a problem. Milan has a bike sharing scheme with lots of docking stations!
Mandy Simmons, aged 50, University Careers Information Officer, commutes 24km
I split my journey to work, driving the first 14 miles from Knaresborough to Poppleton, then I pick up my bike and cycle the final 7 miles to work. York is a pretty good cycling city and going by bike is a great way to beat the traffic. There are lots of cycle lanes (not all great quality!) and drivers are patient as they are used to seeing lots of cyclists on the road. My route takes me along the river side which is beautiful and very peaceful in the early morning. A lovely start to the day!
Tine Nielsen, aged 51, Product Manager, commutes 20km
Use good cycle manners and accept that we all have a place.
There is so much focus on cyclists’ needs that really there is no need to have a car. Cycling saves me thousands of Kroner per year. Of course I appreciate the health benefits too, as after a heavy day at work the ride home clears my head before I get back into family life mode.
My top tips for commuters: Be prepared to share the cycle lane with large numbers of other cyclists and keep to the right hand side of the lane if you want a leisurely ride, to let faster cyclists past. Give pedestrians priority at bus stops. The city centre can be a jungle - motorists, pedestrians, busses ... other cyclists, often with their babies and small kids on their bike, so use good cycle manners and accept that we all have a place.
Aoife Glass [formerly of TWC and still our good friend!], Journalist, commutes 72km
My commute goes from Weston Super Mare to Bristol and back, mostly down gorgeous country lanes, bar one scary single carriage A-road which I can't avoid. The last part of the journey is along some lovely cycle paths, built along the railway line and away from the roads completely, which is bliss!
The last part of the journey is along some lovely cycle paths, built along the railway line and away from the roads completely
Bristol was named the UKs first cycling capital as it is well set-up for cyclists, with lots of cycle lanes. The Mud Dock cycle shop and café, has bike storage and showers for bike commuters who don't have facilities at work, and Temple Meads train station has a Brompton Dock and a mobile bike workshop most days. There are public bike pumps located all across town too.
My commuting tips for Bristol? So many people cycle here, riding every conceivable type of bike - so don't be intimidated. However, with the steep hills in the city, either strong legs or plenty of gears are a must. Good lights are a must too, as is a very secure lock, as sadly Bristol has a problem with bike theft.
Lorna MacDonald, Edinburgh Bicycle Cooperative member, commutes 32km
I’m very lucky that most of my route is on cycle paths with a few busy city roads and one long stretch on a country road which is unfortunately a bit “wacky races" (my least favourite part).
Always, always ride preventatively
I pretty much breathe a sigh of relief when I get onto the cycle path but there are still hazards to be dealt with. Other users such as runners/walkers/school children and dogs don’t always mix well with cyclists. I once ended up with a dog in my front wheel through no fault of my own; the poor thing was ok thankfully. So I’ve still got to keep my wits about me! But, I never ever regret the decision to cycle. You just feel so much better when you get to work - and get home.
My top tips: Always, always ride preventatively and assume that car doors will open and dogs will not just heel when the owner wants them to! Make absolutely sure you can be seen even if you’re not going to win a fashion award - and good lights are literally a life-saver. Learn the basics (puncture repair) and carry the kit. Oh, and get puncture-resistant tyres - worth the money and small bit of extra weight. Accept that some days you’ll be soaking and some days you’ll be basking but you’ll always feel better when you get in the door.
Joanne Lester, Civil Servant, commutes 10km
I’ve commuted in Manchester for 12 years and have seen many changes on my commute to Salford quays, like the new dual protected cycle lanes on Blackfriars road and the ‘armadillos’ that protect the cycle lane to prevent cars from encroaching. These do make me feel safer,but the bollards near bus stops leave little room for the buses and it remains to be seen how well this will work.
Some of the roads had a lot of rubbish and debris on them, but I have recently seen road sweepers cleaning up the area, and there are more cycle routes gradually developing. I am glad I read a book on defensive cycling 20 years ago and as a result I refuse to be intimidated when cycling on the roads.
Berlin and London
Annaleena Piel Linnå, aged 37, Film-maker and designer, commutes 10km
I usually go to Berlin for the film festival. It's hideously cold and the venues are far apart. Unless you're Spielberg, you end up spending most of your time waiting for public transport, so I prefer to rent a bike.
The bike costs £50 a week and comes fully equipped with a basket, lights and a lock, and I instantly blend in with the locals. Berlin is very flat, so three gears are all you need.
Cycling culture in Berlin is done very much by the book. No maniacal bike couriers. No jumping red lights, or riding on the pavement. I actually got pushed off the sidewalk the one time when I turned into a one-way street and thought I'd get away with it – the pedestrian crossed the street expressly to put me calmly but firmly in my place!
What's happening now in London with the new segregated Superhighway has been in place in Berlin for decades. Pedestrians have full respect of cyclists, and vice versa. I have heard that even driving lessons come with a cyclist awareness module. So go native, and get on a bike in Berlin!
Rebecca Charlton, Journalist and Presenter, commutes 16km
I spent a good few years commuting through central London, along routes that included busy junctions like Elephant and Castle, Hyde Park Corner and Shepherd’s Bush roundabout. I really had to be on the ball and really anticipate the whole time but I learned a lot.
Last summer I filmed with BBC Crimewatch at Shepherds Bush and had the chance to spend a day with an HGV driver. We rode around the notoriously hectic roundabout by Westfield Shopping Centre with GoPros on and he couldn’t believe how close people were passing, how big the potholes were and how nerve-wracking he found it.
The benefits of cycle commuting are endless, but I think you have to be prepared
The benefits of cycle commuting are endless, but I think you have to be prepared. Planning your route means you can potentially avoid junctions which are notoriously tricky to negotiate. If you know where you’re going, at which points you need to change lanes or make a decisive move it’s far easier to make it clear where you’re headed, and ride with confidence. Never take unnecessary risks, be visible in every way and use eye contact. Having good bike-handling skills, knowledge of the roads, and always looking and anticipating help you get the most out of your commute.
For me, cycling across the River Thames, seeing the sights of London never gets old, and I feel very privileged to work and cycle in this amazing city.
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