I’ve owned nine bikes while living in London. Eight of them have been stolen. I’m also painfully aware that cycling can be dangerous (traffic); uncomfortable (too hot, too cold, too wet); and inconvenient (it’s hard to carry a business suit to work without creasing it). Despite all these negatives, I’m an enthusiastic cyclist and a supporter of initiatives designed to get more of us commuting to the office, including cycle to work schemes and the mayor of London’s efforts to create cycle superhighways and easily-rentable bikes.
Why? It’s fun. It’s also good for us. Most of us sit in offices all day and in houses all evening, so cycling to and from work is an efficient way of getting some exercise in while doing the inevitable commute. More exercise means better cardiovascular health, better mental health and less obesity-related illness. It’s also better for the environment and – depending on the cost of the bike and how long you can keep it before it’s nicked – much cheaper than driving or catching public transport to and from work.
Employers who offer cycle to work schemes as part of their employee benefits package can find it an attractive option, but they need to do more than just put it on a list to make it worthwhile for employees. Essentially, this is about minimising the disadvantages I listed above. There is not much that companies can do about danger, although lobbying officials to create more separate cycle lanes is a good start, and there could be a place for encouraging people to look at actual rather than perceived risks. You could even point people towards safe riding courses, if they’re offered in your area, as these can help riders develop better technique and greater confidence. Of course, car drivers should also be made more aware about bikes - cycle and motor - as part of their test training, but again that’s a bit outside most companies’ ability to change. Learning to ride a motor bike has significantly helped my own road awareness.
Uncomfortableness, well, again there’s not much you can do about the British weather. But inconvenience is definitely an area where employers can make a difference. No one wants to turn up to meetings sweaty, so clean shower facilities are important. If possible, employers can provide a locker as well, so that people don’t have to carry all their work gear in on a bike every day.
Then there’s security. People with expensive bikes won’t want to ride them to work unless they are absolutely sure there is somewhere that they can store them safely. Employers need to think about whether they can offer their cyclists space in a locked garage, or work with the landlord to find somewhere safe inside the building.
In fact I think that there’s a lot that the new mayor of London could be doing to help here, too. He needs to create secure lock-up bike parks that are monitored by CCTV 24-hours a day so that people feel comfortable leaving a bike worth £1,000 or more there; it shouldn’t be too hard, given how many CCTV cameras there already are in the city. So, if you’re listening, Sadiq Khan, how about you give it a go?
Read about British Cycling's proposal for tax breaks for employees and employers to encourage greater adoption of cycling to work here.
Sally Duckworth, CEO, You at Work