Why People In The UK Don’t Cycle No 4 – Driving is Easier


Still simpler than cycling through Guildford

‘Driving a car is simpler than riding a bike, why that’s ridiculous!’ I hear you say dear reader. You’re right of course, but in the UK we persistently go out of our way to make the more complicated mode of transport simpler, and the simpler mode of transport more complicated.

I received a thought provoking response to an earlier post from a Lo Fidelity reader in Swindon who wrote the following,

‘….I think most people use their car because their car is more convenient. I’m a cyclist and even I do this. Two real world reasons for not cycling I’ve heard in my office:
– I have to drop the kids off at/pick the kids up from school on time
– I can’t be bothered to maintain a bike
Cars keep you dry and warm/cool, get you places quickly, don’t make you sweaty, don’t need any special clothing, don’t find hills a struggle, easily carry other people, kids and luggage/shopping.

I actually have to go to a lot of effort to cycle. If I wanted to make the 1.5 mile trip to my parents’ house right now I’d have to remember to take the lock, put some hi-viz on, put my gloves on, walk to the shed, unlock the bike, walk back down the garden, lock the back door, tuck my trousers into my socks, take stuff off when I got there and lock the bike only to have to unlock the bike and put it all back on again for the journey home. To drive I’d have to remember to put my glasses on, walk out the front door, get in the car and go.

YES, some of that is because of the bike I use and choices I make. But it’s a real faff!…’

Unfortunately, I think he’s right and has summed up British attitudes perfectly. Here is how I start the day as a cyclist;

Wake up, change The Boys’ first steaming nappy of the day, put on Endura Base Layer and Shorts plus jersey and three quarter length Endura baggy shorts (ironically to look less like a cyclist) with reflective Buff and Altura Night Vision jacket (in black) & Mavic MTB shoes, prepare lunch, get bike out of shed, walk it through house (ignoring The Wife gritting her teeth), put on helmet (only to make my wife feel better even though she doesn’t mind me not wearing one when I’m riding the Brompton) & gloves, check lights, ride to work, carry bike into office (I’m allowed to keep it inside as there is no covered parking so no need to carry a lock), shower (we have one at work), sit at desk.

Here’s how it could be if I decided to drive to work;

Wake up, change The Boys’ first steaming nappy of the day, shower (we have one at home), put on regular clothes, prepare lunch, grab keys, get in car (parked outside in the street at no cost), drive 12 miles to work, park in visitors bay, walk up to office, sit at desk.

The car sounds simpler doesn’t it? However that is me overcomplicating the simple and over simplifying the complicated.

Let’s now see how much simpler things would be if I adopted my Grandfathers cycling routine

Wake Up, wash, dress in work clothes, pick up lunch, get bike, ride to work, leave bike outside building.

All of a sudden cycling starts to look easy doesn’t it? I also bet that most cycle commuters on the European Mainland have a routine more similar to my Grandfather than me (even though he has been dead for decades), and that if they were to read my routine they would bury their heads in their palms.

My routine also allows for no spontaneity; I can’t just stop off at a pub to meet a friend because that involves finding somewhere safe to park my bike and not looking so much like a ‘cyclist’. Even stopping at a shop becomes a tiresome chore because I (and I’m sure any others in the UK through no fault of their own) become ‘locked in’ on the commute. In trying to get free of the rat race, I’ve created my own one.

The reason it’s so easy in a car is that UK politicians and society has bent over backwards to make things easy for the car from roads to parking to cost to out of town convenience. This has come at massive expense to communities, businesses and all other forms of transport that are often shoveled off the road onto crap infrastructure in the name of safety. What should be a simple bike ride into the centre of town often looks dangerous, circuitous and not worth the effort.

However, let’s look at my full routine for driving to work.

Organize finance, look for correct car, purchase car, buy insurance, check that car has MOT and the correct Vehicle Excise Duty (based on emissions), change The Boys’ first steaming nappy of the day, shower, put on regular clothes, prepare lunch, grab keys, get in car, check that there is enough fuel, pull out (although I’m loathe to surrender the space as I know it will be a struggle to park near my house when I return), get fuel, join queue of frustrated drivers trying to join A27, drive along racetrack that is A27 between Worthing and Brighton within the speed limit with full concentration thus incurring the wrath of  ‘expert’ drivers of more powerful cars, leave A27 at Devils Dyke and join queue on slip road, watch other motorists drive alongside the queue slowly to nip in where a gap appears increasing the levels of rage and frustration of motorists immediately behind, make sure radio is on Classic FM to ease frustration and wonder how and why people do this every day at great cost to their health, wellbeing and environment, park in visitors bay, walk up to office, sit at desk.

Not so easy and pleasant put that way is it? Motoring advertisers will of course gloss over a lot of that last paragraph (many new cars come with ‘free’ VED too to save you the hassle but often calling it ‘Road Tax’ even though it hasn’t existed since 1937 and doesn’t pay directly for the roads).

We need to make motoring the expensive, dangerous pain in the arse that it actually is. We need to make our towns and cities civilised again by making walking and cycling more pleasant. We need to improve the nation’s sense of health and wellbeing. We need to reduce the amount of people killed or maimed on our roads day in day out. It has to be addressed in a positive way (because it is) or else it will be deemed by the Complication Merchants as ‘A War on the Motorist’.

By the same token, I am doing my bit to make cycling simpler for me – My bike is in my local bike shop to change it to a pleasing hub geared tourer/roadster. It’s time to enjoy the commute again – and cycling.

We have to make the complicated complicated and the simple simple. It’s really very simple. Not complicated at all.

13 thoughts on “Why People In The UK Don’t Cycle No 4 – Driving is Easier”

  1. Most of the people I know who cycle as transport rather than for sport or pleasure are like me – reluctant drivers. As someone who came late to driving, just contemplating getting into the car is quite stressful and as for parking it, you can forget it – whereas with my bike I feel completely free and entirely in control. And one of the really nice things about the boris bike scheme when I used it was the way you could just abandon the bike (once you’d found a docking station) – no need to remember your lock, lights, where you’d put it, and if the weather took a nasty turn and you didn’t fancy cycling later, just hop on the tube instead. And with a completely enclosed chain, no need to tuck in your trouser leg – I didn’t even feel the need to wear a hi-vis on it as I felt plenty visible wobbling around on it as it was.

    What shocked me about moving out of London was the assumption that you will be able to park at your destination, for free, for as long as you like – even walking around the block is considered a major imposition (and this from people who regularly walk their dogs for miles). London at least makes it a bit of a lottery whether you will ever be able to park your car at all, which removes a huge amount of the perceived convenience of driving.

  2. Well to be honest my morning routine doesn’t involve changing into any gear since I ride in my everyday clothes. This however comes from my choice of bicycle – I chose utility over speed. Imagine you bought a Touring Race Car with nothing but one seat and a rollcage inside – this would give you as much utility value as a usual bicycle people in britain choose. This again comes from the perceived image of a cyclist here – lycra clad speed demon. Now if you chose a utility bicycle with a front rack or a basket, full chaincase and a child seat (perhaps double) you wouldn’t find it that difficult to go to a pub, go shopping, drop of your kids. And voila the riding the bicycle doesn’t seem all that difficult again. Now if only I wouldn’t have to go through this busy gyratory…
    There is a brilliant post http://adrianshort.co.uk/2009/08/24/save-the-planet-ban-cycle-helmets/ which describes what happened to cycling all over the world. If we only could remind people in UK what the bikes are and give them back the feeling of safety when on roads many would change their minds about biking. Utility.

  3. Motoring advertisers love to sell the illusion of Freedom and so many people have bought into it they don’t want to give up and admit it is just an illusion. We really need to start selling other forms of transport in the same way. Once people try it and find they actually enjoy it the illusion that driving brings freedom can be shattered. Or am I being over optimistic?

  4. Pfft. Wake up, put on cargo shorts and t-shirt, hoody and gloves if it’s winter, walk to font door, collect bicycle from front hallway, sail past the traffic jams and take the shortcut down the permeable blocked up street behind work, put bicycle in the bike room behind the lobby at work, locking it with the lock that conveniently attaches to the bicycle tubes. Shower at work — it takes the same amount of time whichever end you put it.

    But, yes, absolutely, I’ve been thinking along the same lines. There is no objective ease to driving or difficulty to cycling, it’s just the world that people have built for themselves. There’s no objective rule that says you build the driveway out the front and the bike shed out the back, yet nobody seems to think to plan a dwelling or development any other way.

  5. Sample day sounds very familiar including fact try to not look to much like a cyclist at least from waist down and wife doesn’t object to no helmet when riding Brompton despite fact is least stable bike I own . For me choice is bike or tube as having to go east west in London by car would take all day but choices essentially the same as journey is to long to comfortably wear civilian work clothes on all except most temperate of days even if use the dutch shopping bike which is also too slow over a 15 mile journey.

    Think more people would cycle if realised how much less stressful is than cycling but just isn’t seem as normal behaviour though I have managed to get most of my immediate collegues at work cycling so can be done

  6. We need to make motoring the expensive, dangerous pain in the arse that it actually is. We need to make our towns and cities civilised again by making walking and cycling more pleasant. We need to improve the nation’s sense of health and wellbeing. We need to reduce the amount of people killed or maimed on our roads day in day out. It has to be addressed in a positive way (because it is) or else it will be deemed by the Complication Merchants as ‘A War on the Motorist’.

    I agree with all of this – it’s a wonderful manifesto, but I do find myself disagreeing with cycling being simple. I’m not a car-loving comment troll…no siree…I’m a cyclist and someone who stands up for cycling too, but I also have many, many moment when driving a car is just easier. I know it’s less healthy, not always quicker, not always less stressful, definitely more expensive, etc, but even I as a cycling evangelist, find myself choosing the car because it’s easy.

    I think we need to break down what I’m going to call ‘macro-thinking’ (long-term, big-picture) and ‘micro-thinking’ (short-term, small picture).

    When I’ve got to be on the other side of town in 10 minutes with my guitar and a bag full of shopping, and it’s dark, and cold. I’m not really macro-thinking about my health, how much tax I’ve paid, what traffic will be like, whether or not the car needs servicing or insuring. I’m usually micro-thinking I’ve got to get somewhere, quickly, with luggage.

    And, actually, some of the things you mention don’t make it into my thoughts until I’ve already committed to using the car: Do I need petrol? Will there be parking at my destination? Or when I get home? How do I relieve the stress/boredom of being in traffic.

    And some of the things you mentioned also count for cycling. We need to finance and choose bikes, insure them (against theft), maintain them (a trip to the bike shop is, for me at least, a whole load more faff than taking the car to get serviced!), and so on.

    I’d love to be able to just jump on a bike and go somewhere. Your “grandad” routine is fine if you live somewhere where weather is consistently good, daylight hours long, roads are safe and relatively flat, bikes won’t get stolen, and you only ever make short journeys with minimal luggage. But I don’t believe that to be the case in the vast majority of British towns.

    Yes, I choose to ride a non-practical bike, but even if I had a sensible bike I would, at the moment, at least need to consider weather (wet? cold?), distance, hills, luggage, being seen (I’m keen on hi-viz after nearly hitting a cyclist myself while driving) and probably other things that are much less of a consideration when driving. Parking’s an issue too. It’s actually a pain in the bum to ride my bike to a friends’ house or to pop to my local shop because there’s nowhere to lock a bike.

    I apologise for being a little critical – this is levelled at myself as much as anyone else – but I do think that keen cyclists, in all their enthusiasm about “road tax” and health and road safety and lowering congestion and pollution – my “macro-thinking” – maybe forget the little things that make driving easier. Maybe we forget, even, that a nice Dutch-style bike is an expensive, middle-class luxury item (I know it’s nowhere near the cost of a car but…).

    So I guess, for me, the question is how do we tackle that “micro-thinking”? Joe is right: “There’s no objective rule that says you build the driveway out the front and the bike shed out the back”. So what would make making the decision to cycle easier. Here’s my list:

    Cycle storage at the front of my house – or rear-access so I can get from my shed straight onto the road
    A sensible bike with built in lock and lights (I’m warming to this idea you know!)
    Safer roads, or segregated cycle infrastructure where I don’t need to worry about being seen – perhaps 20mph speed limits in residential areas?
    The promise of parking at my destination

    Or…and here’s another idea (see, I can be positive!)…how about incentivising cycling and sustainable travel. For example:

    Sometimes, if I go and spend £50 in Sainsburys, I get 5p per litre off petrol. What if, if I cycled to Sainsbury’s, I got a discount on my shopping? Or if they refunded my bus fare?
    Similarly, we get discounted parking here in Swindon Town Center – this costs somebody, the value of the discount, right? So if I cycle, I’m not costing somebody that discount but I don’t get anything as a reward. What if cyclists got a practical, immediate, tangible benefit?

    So what have I missed? Which of those can be fixed by us? Which do we need to campaign for?

  7. I agree that on a national level, a lot of things could be done to make cycling feel as convenient as it should be. Ideally this would take the form of not pandering to motorists’ every want and removing the subsidy they receive by burdening them with the true cost of their transport cost. Whilst we are waiting for that day to come, you can make cycling more convenient for yourself too.

    In the morning I get up, do the usual morning tasks, put on my normal clothes and boots, leave my flat, unlock my bike, walk outside and get on, ride to work, lock it up and walk inside. Simple. This is possible because My landlord and employer provide bike parking, but also because I ride a roadster with full mudguards and a full chain-case. Obviously I can’t go as fast as a dentist on a Serotta, but the time lost is easily made up by the lack of need to change clothes at either end and the increased time spent washing (both me and clothes). Whilst a purely a matter of opinion, I also think the sight of a normally-dressed person cruising by on an attractive, classic-looking bicycle is good for the image of cycling with those who have not yet taken it up as a form of transport.

    1. Things like dynamo lights are a big help to replace that “Get in and go,” feeling which cars provide people. In making cycling too sport-oriented, the UK cycle market has helped cycling get into the rut it is in now. How many bikes do you see in the shops which come with the sort of accessories such as dynamo lights, racks, mudgaurds etc which simplify cycling. I hope the roadster brings you a lot of joy, I suspect it will.

  8. Another factor is the reduced and inconvenient capacity for bikes on trains – since privatisation – as well as the high rail fares.
    I’ve just been pushed onto the road again by the fact that the ticket costs more than the fuel and imposes a time limit on the journey that makes it not worth going if I use the train; that’s before the uncertainty of being allowed on with my bike (ridgeback World Voyage, tourer).
    The Government “greenwash” soon vanishes in the drizzle of real-life experience.

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