I never used to be a very big fan of cycling. The infrequent family cycle rides that we used to go on were always too much hard work to be enjoyable and the sensation of having a car passing so fast and near while you are unprotected was not one I enjoyed. Walking was much more my forte and the travel mode of choice (although not necessarily practical for village life). However, I was still aware of the fact that the bike was generally a good idea, especially as my eco-awareness increased throughout my schooling. But it was not until my second year at university when I was suddenly living 40 minutes walk from university and the bus, although frequent, had queues so long that it took just as long to get in - cycling suddenly became the best option. This daily 10 minute cycle through every weather condition nature could throw at me on my beautiful old 3-speed road bike from Norwich Freecycle (now Freegle) slowly built up my cycling muscles and instilled in me a love (adoration even) of travelling by bike. The transformation is so complete that my summer now holds an epic cycling adventure!
Organised by the charity The Otesha Project (http://www.otesha.org.uk/) I will be joining 17 other volunteers to cycle the length of the country (Lands End to John O'Groats) stopping along the way at schools and youth groups to teach them about sustainability through plays and workshops. We will be living and breathing bicycles and carrying our lives on them for two months. Living communally, cooking local, low carbon food garnered on the way and sleeping in tents, school halls, village halls and anywhere else that will accept 17 slightly dishevelled and eccentric cyclists - It is going to be amazing!
I acquired a second-hand touring bike (fittingly also hand built in England) from Gumtree to carry me on my travels and have been discovering the new joys of long(er) distance cycling. The freedom and exhilaration of setting off into the Norfolk countryside with my trusty cycle map and properly discovering the beauty and quirks of this county that I am making my home is unbeatable. As is the sense of achievement, satisfaction and moral worthiness (!) I felt from getting the train to Cambridge and then cycling the 60 miles home for my mums birthday, rather than getting the train all the way into London and out - even if it was a bit of a challenge after a weekend of climbing mountains in the Lake district! I very much hope to be able to do more of my long distance travel by this method in the future and I'm definitely going to be getting in the practice this summer!
As well as my personal cycling experiences and plans I also wanted to share my favourite bicycle facts about their amazing efficiency. Bicycles are more efficient in terms of distance travelled for energy input than any other man made machine or animal. They are 3-4x faster than walking and use 5x less energy! (Ivan Illich, contemporary philosopher) Bicycles are also the fastest mode of transport.
Rubbish, I hear you say. Well consider the amount of time that you spend earning the money to pay for your petrol/ car insurance/ train ticket/ bus fare that you could save by travelling gratis by pedal power. Now if only economics worked on this kind of common sense logic (derived from permaculture you won't be surprised to hear).
For more bicycle facts and sustainable travel sense I would like to recommend the transport section of the amazing Otesha handbook - the ultimate guide to greening your life. http://www.otesha.org.uk/25/the-otesha-book/about-the-book.html
I will be writing some blog updates about my cycling adventures so do stay tuned.
And here is wishing you peace and bicycle grease. May all your rides be puncture free and your gradients downhill.