Taking pleasure in small things
By Andy Chivers
People on bikes might appear a little bit smug and self-satisfied when they say how easily they got from A to B, which can be pretty irritating to non-cyclists. Our aim to get more people on bikes just annoys those whose job prevents them cycling, or whose ability to ride a bike is compromised. Cyclox always remembers that for some the car is unavoidable, but for those who do have a choice we want to make choosing the bike more attractive and easier.
There are lots of reasons for choosing to cycle: health, air quality, noise, congestion, climate change etc. I would like to offer another reason that bikes win all the arguments for most people for short journeys: cycle paths have a tiny environmental footprint compared to roads designed for cars, lorries and buses. Though I complain repeatedly about the overgrown cycle paths all around Oxford, I can also see that these narrow tracks are evidence of how little space a bike needs. And though smooth tarmac is a delight, we can also tolerate all sorts of road surface, from cinder tracks to compacted soil.
And it isn’t only that we cope with the narrowness and the variable surface, but our need for traffic lights, painted lines, road signs, speed humps, and all the trappings of roads designed for motors is minimal.
People who object to cycling won’t like me extolling yet another of its virtues, but as we struggle to achieve a reduction in our use of fossil fuel, remember that before any cars have driven along it, road building itself releases carbon dioxide. We should welcome any opportunity to tread lightly on the planet, and riding a bike or walking are prime examples of environmentally-friendly travel.
A recurring topic of conversation after our isolated existence over the last 15 months is that ordinary events have now become special. Riding a bike enhances that – we can notice the scent of blossom, the sunlight through the trees, while confident that we will reach our destination on time, relaxed, and in a positive frame of mind.
All this is easier to write when the long summer days are warm and sunny but whatever the weather, as we squeeze along narrow cycle tracks, we can feel some pride that we are traveling in a way that minimises the harm to the environment.
An amazing 66% (2/3) of car journeys are under 5 miles which takes less than half an hour by bike.
It’s not only other street users who suffer the pollution of these journeys, but the occupants of the car are also exposed to a harmful ‘pollution burst’ at the start of their journey because the emissions controls take 5 minutes to activate.
So remember, these narrow, poorly maintained cycle tracks may not encourage new cyclists but – as you gingerly negotiate some mud-covered track or narrow bit of shared-use pavement with all sorts of obstructions – your carbon footprint benefits, and with it, the rest of the world.