How cycling to work transformed my career

James Palser's picture

How cycling to work transformed my career

One of Bike Week's #7DaysofCycling is about businesses boosting their cycle-friendliness. James Palser shares his journey from commuting by car to choosing to cycle.

I’m not what you would consider your ‘typical’ cycle to work advocate. I’ve driven for over 15 years and have owned a car for all but three of those. 

I drove to work as a peripatetic music teacher every day. I spent the majority of my early twenties working as a musician, playing the drums - making cycling to gigs and venues a nearly an impossible task. 

I had viewed having a car as an absolute necessity for most of this time, until I moved to London. 

After graduating and moving to London in 2010 I needed a day job and something a little steadier than my music career had been. I got a job in education in Hackney, and living as I did in Clapham, the only way to make the journey as I saw it was to get the tube. It was a hot, sweaty, cramped experience to Old Street, then a short bus journey to the school. After a month of this I’d had enough, it was costing a small fortune (12% of my take home pay) and commuting was leaving me tired, stressed and unhappy.  

I dug out my old beater bike I’d had in university. It had served to get me to lectures nearly on time, but after a year on the harsh London streets it gave up and had to be scrapped (a snapped chain stay is repairable, but in this case, it was a mercy to let the bike go).

Around the same time in London it was becoming very cool to ride a fixie bike, so I decided to buy one on the Cycle to Work Scheme, saving money (after tax it was costing less than half the cost of the tube) and took half the time.  

In 2012, while training to be a teacher, an incredibly stressful time in my life, I had a breakdown, forcing me to drop out of the career I thought I’d be doing until retirement and to question everything I thought I knew about myself. I became a virtual recluse, not able to leave the flat for days on end and finding life very hard indeed.

Along with some professional counselling, that advocated using the bike to get out of the house and to re-connect with the world one of the things that I had in my life were a great group of friends who all connected over a shared love of cycling. It was low-commitment, we would ride around the city, and take trips further afield and have a great time, the bike really allowed me to go out and to discover who I was again, and when I was able to return to work, I was going to be cycle commuting, for sure!  

In that first job back, my employer had secure bike parking, showers for staff, and after a bit of lobbying we also got lockers next to the showers. These facilities helped me to cycle but also to encourage others to try it as well, along with excellent free cycle training offered by Hackney Council we managed to increase the numbers of colleagues cycling to work over the 18 months I was there.  

Fast forward 7 years and I’ve managed to combine my love of cycling with a career that enables others to find the joy in cycling that I did. 

James Palser, Cycle Friendly Employer scheme

Fast forward 7 years and I’ve managed to combine my love of cycling with a career that enables others to find the joy in cycling that I did, and my trusty steel Charge Plug has been my ride of choice throughout this time. 

The great thing about this bike is that there are so few parts to maintain, I’m still riding it to work nearly 8 years later (although I do wish I bought a bike with the ability to have mudguards…I’ve had many years of having a wet bottom to contemplate this).

The bike must have covered thousands of miles commuting and has also accompanied me on many adventures, including the Dunwich Dynamo and from London to Amsterdam trip. 

James Palser now has a whole new career encouraging employers to persuade more people to cycle to work and become a Cycle Friendly Employer


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