Illustration by David Sparshott
Eight surprising reasons to keep cycling even when lockdown is over, by Alan Anderson, author of Back on Your Bike
Like everyone else, I was ecstatic to hear the news of a likely-looking vaccine against COVID. I miss my family, I miss travelling, and more than anything I worry about what this year has done to all the children who, like mine, won’t get back a lost year of school nor have easy playtime with friends. I worry about everyone who, like me, lost their job as a result of the virus, yet wasn’t eligible for any of the government’s support schemes.
But you’ve got to acknowledge that these weird, horrible months of lockdown and social distance have had one massive benefit. More people than ever are now riding bikes around our towns, cities and countryside.
Where I live, in Hove, the window of the local bike shop was empty for months: as soon as stock came in, it was sold. When people couldn’t buy a new bike, they had their old one serviced, so the repair shops were fully booked, and skilled mechanics were in great demand. The local ‘last-mile’ cycle delivery service recruited new riders as home shopping boomed, and the community bike workshop opened seven days a week to fix up free bikes for key workers. And, not before time, the council took the opportunity to roll out wide, safe bike lanes on main roads. You can see the same things happening across the country: conspicuously visible results of the sudden growth in bike riding.
This is indeed some small consolation for what we’ve all gone through and great to see – but not as great as the everyday sight of a new cyclist tentatively getting to grips with their machine and the road. They are changing their life radically for the better – because the best consequences are personal and directly affect everyone who rides.
Here are eight wonderful reasons why we should stay on our bikes, even when we don’t have to anymore:
- The hormones of happiness: The rhythmic gentle exercise of pedalling a bike stimulates the production of hormones like serotonin, anandamide, dopamine and norepinephrine. These all make us happy, so if you’re feeling blue, go out for a spin.
- Nice legs! Cycling works out every muscle below the waist – so you’ll tone up your bum and calves alike.
- Immune resistance: Steady, regular exercise boosts levels of blood immunoglobulin and many different types of white blood cells. This in turn makes you more resistant to disease and infection.
- Brain building: Riding triples the production of a protein called BDNF which helps form new brain cells, strengthens the old ones and improves your memory.
- Mindfulness: Everyone knows how great mindfulness is for the soul: the steady, undistracted focus of a bike ride will get you there.
- Carbon footprint: The CO2 equivalent footprint of a bicycle’s manufacturing is less than that of a kilo of beef – and if you commute six miles each way by bike instead of by car, the CO2 saving over a year works out about the same as twelve large trees.
- Better cities: Cities with lots of cyclists, and quiet routes for them, are happier, quieter, wealthier and healthier. Copenhagen and Amsterdam are the famous examples, but a host of progressive cities around the world are following their example.
- Longer lives: Commuting cyclists have spectacularly lower mortality rates from cancer (by 40 per cent), heart disease (by 42 per cent) – and ‘everything else’ to boot (by 41 per cent). Want to boost your chances of a long, happy life? Ride more.
If you want to know more about all of these benefits – plus plenty of mechanical help, riding advice and other cycling upsides – then pick up a copy of Back on Your Bike, available everywhere good books are sold.