Pedal power: ditch the headaches and cycle to work

Cycling to work
Cycling to work

Biking to work is easy with the support of employers

Commuting to work by bike is easier - and the reasons not to do it flimsier - than you think. Here's our guide to dealing with the excuses and improving pedal power in your workplace

You arrive at the office on a Monday morning, cheerfully invigorated from your cycle ride in, and run into a colleague. 'Oh, I drove past you on your bike this morning,' she says. Then, inevitably, you'll hear: 'I don't know how you do it - I could never cycle in myself.'

If you've ever had this conversation, you'll know that there's a few reasons that people always give for why they wouldn't cycle to work. The good news is that most of them can be solved, with a little help from your employer.

There's a business case, as well as an environmental case, to be made for encouraging more people to cycle to work: a recent study estimated that increasing cycling by 20 per cent by 2015 would save employers £87 million by reducing absences, and that cycling to work reduces mortality by 39 per cent. Marshall some of the information below, recruit a few other office cyclists to work with you and get your management on board to bust those excuses.

'There's nowhere safe to leave a bike'

A lack of secure bike-parking is a major factor in discouraging people from cycling to work. Happily, it's both easy and cheap to create basic, secure bike-parking in a small corner of existing carpark space. According to the Cycle Friendly Employers website, a single carpark space costs approximately £2,000 to construct and maintain. For the same money and space you could park at least 20 bikes!

Sheffield stands are usually the best cycle parking option. They're cheap (around £50 per stand, which parks two bikes), robust, secure and easy to use. If your employer is considering other options, make sure that whatever is chosen, it's possible to lock both wheels and the frame of each bike to the stand (unlike the old-fashioned 'wheelbender' racks); also that there's room to fit bikes in properly and that the stand itself can't easily be cut through by a thief.

'I'd want a shower when I got in'/'There's nowhere to get changed'

People can be concerned about arriving at work hot and sweaty, especially in the summer. Showers and lockers can make cycling in seem much more appealing. They may be a little more expensive than bike parking, but there's often space somewhere for a ground-floor shower cubicle. Certainly, if your employers are doing any building work then that is definitely a good time to talk about installing showers or changing rooms! It may also be possible to get a grant for showers or lockers - check with your local authority.

'I haven't got a bike'

Some people don't cycle purely because they don't have and can't afford a bike. The Cycle to Work scheme makes it possible to get a bike much more cheaply: depending on your employer and your tax band, you can save 40-50 per cent of the full retail price. The employer effectively buys the bike and loans it to the employee, who pays for it via salary sacrifice (in much the same way as some employers offer season ticket loans). This means that neither employer nor employee pays tax or National Insurance on the money, which is where the discount comes from.

At the end of the loan period, the employer will usually sell the bike to the employee for a 'fair market value' (this has usually been 5 per cent, but recent HMRC advice means that it may now be 18 per cent). There are many scheme-providers, who will handle all the details on behalf of the employer, making it incredibly easy for finance or HR departments to set up. If possible, encourage your employer to use a scheme like Cyclescheme, which allows you to use any bike shop that will take its vouchers, rather than going through one of the schemes run by a particular chain of shops. This gives people more choice in what bike they can get, as well as supporting independent bike shops.

'I wouldn't feel safe cycling on the road'

You'll certainly have heard this concern before from non-cyclists. In fact any risk from cycling is far outweighed by the health benefits, but to make it safer still, on-road cycling lessons are helpful. A couple of hours with a trained instructor can massively boost a new - or even an experienced - rider's road-awareness, confidence and safety. Your local authority may provide subsidised bike training already, in which case you can encourage people to take advantage of it. Alternatively, you could see if your employer is prepared to provide some subsidised training. Either way, speak to your local training provider to get them to help out with promotion.

'I don't know a good route'

If there are busy roads nearby, newbie cyclists may be nervous about finding a pleasant route. If there are a few existing cyclists around, you could try setting up a 'cycle buddy' scheme. Nominate a day when experienced cyclists are prepared to meet up with inexperienced cyclists near their homes (match them up with people they live close to!) and ride in with them. For extra inducement, see if your employer will subsidise a 'bike breakfast' on that day, with muesli, muffins and bananas - and of course some coffee! - available for anyone who's cycled in. If you have fewer existing cyclists, you could look at offering maps and route guidance instead, perhaps one lunchtime the week before the bike breakfast.

Whatever you do, make sure you promote it heavily, and keep in contact with your management to make sure they know how well things are going. If a few minor changes have some success, you'll get more traction for bigger improvements. And, of course, one of the best and easiest ways to advertise cycling to your colleagues is for them to see you riding cheerfully past the fuming queues of traffic each morning - so do carry on enjoying your own cycle commute.

Juliet Kemp is a freelance journalist

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