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Making biking to work, work!

June 8, 2009

As previously noted on this blog, national Bike to Work week starts on June 13th (this Saturday) and continues through to the 20th.  I will be doing my best to cycle into the office on the days I am here, but sadly I won’t be joined by my colleague Kate Lockhart.  Kate, Opun’s Design Excellence Manager, is the other cyclist in the office, but is enjoying annual leave during Bike to Work week.  As compensation, we held a “bikeless breakfast”, giving us a chance to discuss the issues around biking to work, and to try to identify what should be addressed to make cycling a reality for a greater number of people.  Here’s our three point plan.

1.  Get the basics right

Time and again, the research shows that simple changes can make a huge difference to people contemplating getting to work on a bike.  Without putting these basics into action, however, the idea of getting on a bike seems a distant one.  So, make sure that there’s a shower available – a lot of offices do have a shower, but it may not be well-maintained, or it might be hidden in an obscure part of the building.  Hunt it out, and clean it out – then publicise it!  If you don’t have a shower in the building, could you work with the building’s owners to redesign a cloakroom in order to incorporate a shower? Or could your organisation partner up with another local company, to use their showers in return for another service or commodity?

Cyclists also need to be able to store their mode of transport securely, and undercover.  Sheffield bike stands are an acknowledged design classic, and if they are protected from the rain, so much the better.  If a secure area can be provided that is indoors, and well away from potential vandals or those determined to nick your front wheel, this is the best solution all round.

Finally, cyclists need somewhere to store their stuff – the wet weather gear, the shoes, the helmet… Again, this needs to be somewhere secure, and preferably it will enable the items in question to dry out, making the journey home that much more pleasant.

2.  Help overcome the obstacles

Once the basics are sorted, potential cyclists may encounter some other obstacles, which a sympathetic employer can help overcome.

Obstacle: Cycling is really dangerous!
Solution: Have a look at the safety statistics for the area – cycling isn’t as dangerous as you might think. Becoming a cyclist makes you a better driver too – you become more aware of other road users. If safety is a real issue, think about campaigning on design issues to make the landscape safer (such as the introduction of cycle lanes or other practical steps).

Obstacle: I don’t want to cycle home in the dark
Solution: Can you be flexible about the times you need to be at your workplace? Can you get agreement that you’ll cycle to or from work in daylight, working remotely during some of your working day?

Obstacle: I don’t want to cycle up a big hill
Solution: Can you spend some time with colleagues who know the area, using online resources to examine alternative routes? Don’t forget, as a cyclist there will be cut-throughs, contraflows and other routes you can use that won’t be available to drivers. And have a look at a map with contour lines, to try to establish how much you will have to climb and whether you can take an alternative route which has a slower climb, or a climb on quieter roads.

3.  Add the incentives

There are many reasons that you might want to consider biking to work.  Here’s a way to add incentives to a couple of those reasons:

The health incentive

Cycling to work provides an easy way to get fit that can fit into your working day.  So why not add incentives like getting your cardiovascular fitness measured just as you start, and again after 6 months? Some employers offer health insurance as an employee benefit, can the employer negotiate incentives based on cycling, such as a discount on premiums, or vouchers to spend on sports equipment?

The financial incentive

The obvious one to offer here is the opportunity for employers to help their employees purchase a bike through the Government’s Cycle to Work Initiative.  This enables employers to get tax breaks for assisting their employees to buy a bike to use for commuting – for more information see this website.  The employer gets a bike (and safety equipment) at a reduced rate, spread over a number of months – it’s officially a win/win situation.

If you’ve already got a bike, then now’s the time to look seriously at what you can save by cycling, adding your own incentives.  My alternative form of transport is the bus, costing £1.60 per journey or £3.20 per day.  So, each day that I cycle to work, I note that I’ve saved £3.20 per return journey, and can add my own incentive to that: £3.20, I can buy a magazine.  Cycling to and from work 3 days a week saves me £9.60, or a nice lunch out.  Five return journeys a week is £16, and I can start looking at buying an item of clothing, going out for drinks, taking my other half to the cinema, or going out for a meal.  If you normally drive to work, you can estimate your saving in fuel (as, unless you give up your car, your tax / maintenance / insurance costs remain).  Either way, you are able to reward yourself with the tangible benefits of your cycling.


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