Riding to work - does it really save time?

A rider takes it easy on the way to work
Julie Rand's picture

Riding to work - does it really save time?

The theory goes that cycling can be faster than driving for shortish urban journeys of around five miles - a perfect commuting distance. But is it true when cycling provides so many opportunities for distraction? Julie Rand investigates.

In today's hurried world, riding a bike is one of the best ways to opt out of the rat race - you can literally wake up and smell the roses as you saunter by. But if you're a cycle commuter, the ability to remove yourself from the frenzied stampede of the tube train hordes or the Carmageddon traffic jams of the motorist can mean that instead of saving you minutes, cycling can prove just as time-hungry as any other means of travel.

Take this morning for instance - at last a beautiful bright spring day, the kind that makes you feel good to be alive. I leave the house thankful I don't have to spend ages applying layers of coats, gloves, scarves etc - not even a lightweight top. But then I remember that as it hasn't actually rained for a few days, my seedlings will need watering. So I divert off the main road to the small patch of weed-covered soil we grandly call our 'allotment'. Sure enough, the few shrivelled shoots the snails haven't greedily eaten are looking a bit parched so I fling a few watering cans of water over them. No one else is around so I cycle jealously past the other, more verdant plots to rejoin the main road further on.

Then I remember that I need to make a doctor's appointment and the surgery is only a minute by bike from where I am - it's actually easier to pop in than battle with the automated phone system.  So I pop down the road, park my bike in the handy covered shelter and zoom in. Appointment made, minutes later I'm back on the bike and decide to take the nearby towpath route to work, although I'm now running ten minutes late and should really ride down the busy main road. Well, it would be a shame to waste the lovely, dry weather would it not?

I ride as fast as possible, beginning to panic slightly now. But I've not gone far before I meet my friend out walking her dog.

Julie Rand

Obviously I can't ride past without stopping for a chat - that would be rude - so we spend a few more precious minutes catching up. She has a day off to 'revise for exams' so is no hurry to go in out of the gorgeous sunshine. Lucky for some, I murmur under my breath...

Finally, I get on my way. But as it's sunny the normally empty towpath is full of other walkers, joggers and fair weather cycle commuters so progress is somewhat slower than normal. And there's so much to see - from a nest of mum, dad and 5 or 6 baby swans to a field of deliciously marked brown and white cows. However, I resist the temptation to stop and take photos - I'm riding to work, not out on a club ride for heaven's sake!

At last, I'm into town and crossing the bridge from towpath to suburbia. However what's that I can see in the distance - oh, a bike with a cargo trailer. How interesting. And there's that homeless guy who seems to be living on the river bank next to his fully-loaded bike. Must remember to go on a world tour one day too...

That's the trouble with cycling everywhere - it's so easy to get distracted by arresting sights, encounters with friends and the temptation to run quick errands that any time saved not looking for car parking, stuck in traffic jams and so on can soon evaporate. 

But at least I had the time to compose this blog as I pedalled along - so maybe it's a time saver after all!

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Comments

I regularly cycle, on a tricycle, from Beckford to Evesham along the A46 to work. This is a distance of 7 miles and it is not unusual for me to overtake the bus which passes my stop at the same time I am passing on my trike. Why then do I take much verbal abuse from motorists, not the bus drivers who actually wave, for actually being on the road? Am I not as entitled as they are to take my chosen mode of transport to work? It would appear that I am generally perceived as being an eccentric old lady whereas I just choose to try to reduce my carbon footprint and maintain a level of fitness often not seen in people a quarter my age.

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