Friday, July 25, 2008

Yellow Triangle

A heart-warming tale from the CTC’s updates, which reports a mother’s story about her son’s management of Asperger’s Syndrome.

“My son Will has Asperger’s Syndrome which for him manifests itself with deep depression and anxiety. Earlier this year at an appointment with his psychotherapist, he asked Will to express himself by colouring-in paper to convey his feelings. He coloured the whole page black and used sharp, thick, heavy lines to represent his anxieties but in the bottom corner of the page was a small yellow triangle. The psychotherapist asked "what does this represent?" and he replied "riding my bike".

Will explained that when he is out riding his bike, everything seems ok and manageable. As a result, we decided that we should ride bikes as a family and we now have at least one long bike ride a week.”

I think that Will is certainly on to something good there. Not only a productive way to help manage Asperger’s Syndrome, I think the yellow triangle feeling can be enjoyed by all bike riders, in the right time and place.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Better Off By Bike

Transport for London recently released the statistic that one in three adult Londoners has access to a bicycle, but only half of those used it at-all last year!

Hang on, people buy bikes starting from the £70 to £99 price range. That means practically everyone can afford a bike. So revise TfL's statistic to read "three in three" people have access to a bike. Pretty much 99% of London can cycle.

Buying a cheap bike is about the same as an evening’s restaurant bill for a few friends eating out in London or the money you could lose on the Tour de France should you choose to bet online. Price is definitely not an excuse; in fact the costs of buying and maintaining a bike are among its strengths.

Photo: Dan Chung

Credit to Boris for making real-life journeys by bike, when the temptation to be ushered in to a taxpayer’s city-hall car is always an option. However, one thing I don’t like is TfL’s obsession with cycle lanes.

It’s because cycle lanes are measurable, and boy do they love measuring things at TfL! It gives them something to talk about when about FIFTY people descend on meetings to hear themselves chatter about PC-BS and PR.

The fact is, you don’t need a cycle lane to cycle anywhere. If there’s a road, cycles are entitled to use it. So what that bikes sometimes have a slower top speed than other vehicles? – So does a tractor. Deal with it.

Any budget for cycling is good, but in a rush to coat London in yet more signage, giving more things to measure, it results in some cycle lanes not fit for purpose. For example, this one which encourages cyclists to ride in the door zone (the most hazardous part of the road where vehicle doors are opened in to the path of the cycling public). An experienced rider will ignore the lane and ride safely, but would a recent convert?

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Saturday, July 19, 2008

London Bike Ride and Bike Routes

Quick jump:
Commuting bike rides

What’s the best bike ride in London? Most of us perceive the limitation of bike routes as being restricted by how far we can cycle from our home base in London.

Actually, I am always impressed by hearing other cyclist’s distances. When people tell me they commute a 60 mile bike ride to London, I am amazed; it sounds such a big number, twice a day!

But that’s at one end of the fitness scale. For us more average Joes, there’s an instant decision which can massively expand the choice of bike rides available in London: Take your bike on the train.

Commuting by bike in London during peak-times, really requires a folding-bike when using trains for an integrated journey. Most train operators have restrictions on the number of conventional (non-folding frame) bikes allowed on their trains at certain times. Check here for the relevant train operator’s cycle policy.

Commuting bike rides in London

What is more important to you? Your average cycle speed? High or low interaction with traffic? Scenic cycle routes? The greatest or least distance to cover? All these questions need to be considered to find the best bike ride to work, by those criteria.

Bike routes are a very personal thing: Even if Granny Gloria and Courier Kate are next-door neighbours, their respective bike rides to the same destination are going to be very different if Kate wants to carve through the traffic jams, and Gloria wants to stop and feed the ducks!

It’s worth reviewing the layout of the relevant cycle route network nearby. Because it's amazing what short cuts can be found from bike routes hidden from main roads, presented on bike route maps.

What are the best bike routes from x to y?

These resources will help find the best bike route you're looking for.

London cycle route maps – hard copy

Bike budi, people share their best commuting bike routes.

London cycle routes from

Sustrans - Shows maps overlaid with national cycle network paths and routes for your bike ride.

TfL Cycle route guide
- hard copy.

Camden - Great online map showing National cycle network and London cycle network bike routes. It also has pre-planned bike trips, e.g.:
Waterloo to Clapham Common,
Edgware to Streatham,
Camden to Bloomsbury,
Wood Green to Southwark,
Highgate to Parliament Square,
Farringdon Road to Leyton,
Walthamstow to London Bridge,
Tottenham to The City,
Tower Bridge to Poplar,
Camden to Victoria Park.

And many other routes (to which you can add), involving;
Bow, Peckham Rye, Aldgate, Crouch Hill, Tufnell Park, Brockley, Crystal Palace, Hyde Park, Whitechapel, Mill Hill East, St James Park.

Leisure bike rides

Where are good places to cycle in London? Making full use of free-time, evenings and weekends to get out and brush-off the stresses of life, I guess we’re looking for a bike ride far removed from the hustle of the London roads. Something of an antidote, a little bit of healthy escapism.

The nicest bike rides seem to head for water, whether it is the connectedness of the river Thames towpath, the tranquillity of city lakes (e.g. Hyde park, Richmond park), or the calmness of still water (Royal docks, canals), it appears to be an attractive destination for London bike rides. - London’s canal bike rides. Grand union canal (Watford, Slough, Brentford), and Regents Canal. Easy flat bike rides.

Cycle trip to the O2 (the dome) - a quality stretch of National Cycle Route Number 1, the best bike route ever? After Greenwich, it continues all the way to Dover. See: Sustrans.

Regents Park (NW1) Inner and Outer Circles – are great for near-traffic free cycle training.

Royal Docks – Near city airport, good road surfaces and not to traffic heavy.

North downs, Surrey - Great escape from the city, big hills and stunning views.

Favourite places to cycle in London

TfL canvassed some opinions about people's favourite bike ride. Here are the results:
1 Rivers - Thames Cycle Path /Canals (Regents canal)
2 Richmond Park
3 Hyde Park
4 Epping
5 Regents Park/London Zoo/Primrose Hill
6 Embankment
7 Hampstead Heath/Parliament Hill
8 Lea Valley
9 Greenwich/Blackheath
10 Hampton Court
10 Oxford Street area
10 The City
10 Waterloo
10 Hackney/Dalston/Leytonstone/Old Street
10 Greenwich Park
11 Home
12 Westminster/Victoria
13 Kensington/Chelsea
14 Richmond
15 Trent Park
16 Playstation ramps
17 Work
18 Windsor
19 Battersea Bridge/Park
20 Highgate
21 Alexandra Palace
22 Tate Modern
23 Croydon
24 Eastway (Hackney)
25 Bromley
26 Dulwich Park
27 Victoria Park
28 Walthamstow area
29 Priory Park
30 Southmere Park
31 Compton Fields
32 Gladstone Park
33 Middlesex University
34 Putney Heath
35 Kew Gardens
36 Wimbledon Common
37 Virginia Water
38 Gower Street/Euston
39 Dollis Valley Barnet
40 Trafalgar Square
41 Within CCZ
42 Tower Bridge
43 Herne Hill
44 Isle of Dogs
45 Sydenham Wells Park (Lewisham)
46 Harrow Lodge Park
Source: TfL - Bike Cycling Show Feedback

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Bike to Work - Companies

Continuing from the main Bike to Work article, if you have decided you want to take up this tax incentive and save potentially 50% tax-free, then you'll want to know where to look next.

If you work for a large company, the chances are that a bike to work scheme will already be set up, because it has been running (although not very well publicised) since about 2005.

The bike to work scheme can be outsourced, so that the whole thing (the finances, the buying of bikes, etc) is handled by a dedicated company which specialises in running the cycle to work tax incentive scheme.

These companies include; Evans Cycles, Halfords, Club Cycles, Booost, and Cycle scheme.

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Bike to Work Scheme

“Cycle to Work” is a UK government tax incentive encouraging employees to bike to work, reduce their engine pollution and dramatically improve their health and wellbeing.

Britain loses about £12 billion due to sickness and absenteeism at work as recorded by the Health and Safety Executive.

Driving in London is an absolute joke. By the time we’ve paid for the congestion charge, the exorbitant parking (fees and fines), then paid our ransom to the mighty OPEC on the forecourt, we are left stuck in traffic jams, frustrated, often late and always heavily out of pocket. 40% of all car journeys (nationwide) are less than five miles.

The above facts are why so many people are starting to ride bikes to work.

Bike to work - Benefits

Employees who engage in the bike to work scheme, not only save money and get a brand new bike, but also gain advantages in the workplace, which are of interest to the employers.

Cycling to work has proven that employees who bike to work:

  • Work effectively for long periods. The frequency of cycling even short trips, builds stamina that can be useful in the working day.
  • Adopt a more positive attitude to their work. The energy used in cycling to work raises mood levels during the day.
  • Take sick days half as often as employees who don’t bike to work. Because the regular cycling maintains the body’s immune system, healthily.
  • Are less stressed compared to their colleagues who do not bike to work. The physical effort can be as big or small as you want, but the act of cycling during the week, releases stress. It is a very harmonious sensation to travel under one’s own power.
  • Are more productive. If employees are feeling more energised, less stressed, and healthier; it’s most likely they’re going to have a good day.

Lilleshall Sports Injury and Human Performance Centre Report.

Everyone is eligible “on the condition that bikes are used primarily for commuting or work related travel.”

In reality, you could buy a mountain bike, occasionally ride your bike to work and also use it for a nice off-road bike ride if you want. Or perhaps buy a half-price sleek, light, racing bicycle via the bike to work scheme, use it sometimes to ride your bike to work and at weekends enter road races, or cycle long scenic touring bike rides. The point is, you don’t HAVE to bike to work everyday, as long as you do sometimes, you can also use the bike for whatever you want in your free time.

The bike to work scheme can double your budget. So when glancing over the high-tech, super light, bicycles which are “out of your price range”, suddenly, by buying it through the bike to work scheme, such bikes now become a realistic possibility, within your new price range.

Bike to work scheme finances

How it all works:

1) The employee checks that their VAT registered employer runs a bike to work scheme. (If the employer does not; the employee makes considerable noise, directed at HR using the phrases “carbon footprint”, “global warming”, “reduced absenteeism” and “corporate responsibility”).

2) The employee then chooses personally whichever bike they want, plus accessories (lights, shorts, hi-vi, etc), from an approved supplier (typically large stores with lots of choice, like Evans Cycles, Halfords BikeHut, etc).

3) The total cost of bikes and bits will not exceed £1,000 inc. VAT. (Above £1,000, the employer would need to hold a consumer credit licence).

4) The VAT registered employer claims back all VAT on the bike and bits.

5) It is possible that the employer provides the employee’s bike for free.
However, after buying the bike & bits for the employee, the bespectacled bean-counters in the accounts department will most likely recover some of the value from the employee’s monthly pay slip.

6) You approve a regular sum to be taken out of your salary each month. This will be small since it is spread over time. E.g. For a £450 bike, it ends up that you only pay £21.28 per month, which is no dent in anybody’s pay packet. This is the employee leasing (or paying back the loan) from the employer.

There is no interest rate, it is not expensive, the employee simply pays off the VAT-free sum.

Salary sacrifice is available to everyone, but is not allowed if it takes the employee’s gross pay below the legal minimum wage.

Because the value of the employee’s monthly salary sacrifice is not subject to income tax or national insurance, the employee is on a winner here. For example, the combined retail value of a great bike with accessories in the shop sells for £999. The employer makes it VAT-free, (about £825) so this sum does not get taxed in the employee’s pay slip. If that employee is a 40% taxpayer, they’ve saved a further £330! Brilliant! It makes the actual cost of the bike and bits only £496.

7) At the end: To avoid the tangle of being classed as Hire Purchase, the official line is that the employer “leases” the bike to the employee for a set period (e.g. 12 months, 18 months). At the end of that period, the employer may (but is not committed to) offer the employee to buy a used bike from the bike to work scheme.

In reality, of course the employer is going to sell the bike to you, and this will be for a nominal price such as £10 / £20 (since you have already paid off the VAT-free loan), because they don’t want a garage full of ex-lease, bike-to-work bicycles laying around in a warehouse somewhere! In addition, the bike and cycling equipment is very personal; because you chose it, it was bought to suit your tastes (design, bike colour), usage (on / off road), and height (frame size). It makes a lot of sense that you keep the bike.

For information on companies who operate bike to work schemes, visit the bike to work companies page.

Other bike to work resources:

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