Tired legs and other excuses

There are lots of excuses for not using your bike for transport, especially during the winter. Here are a few and my thoughts as someone who is trying to move past them.

The problem: For me this is a busy time of year and at times things get you down. So quite often you have to go out but your legs already feel tired (probably along with the rest of you). Sometimes the thought of riding to a meeting, service or errand just feels too much. After all how can I ride when my legs feel like lead? However, the reality is very different.

The Reality: Firstly, when we don’t cycle much and don’t live in a cycling culture it is easy to forget that you don’t need to be fit or strong or at your best to be able to cycle. When tired just use lower gears and go slower and you will find that you still make good progress (and all the advantages over driving still apply – cost, reliability, convenience). Many people come to cycling for sport or exercise but cycling for transport is quite different. It does not matter if we average less than 10mph (after all in major cities in the UK cars average a lot less than 10mph).

The problem: It is cold and the car will be warm.

The reality: The car won’t be warm for a while. Meanwhile you are going to be outside getting cold while you scrape the ice of it. When you get to the destination by car your body will not have warmed up, your blood won’t be moving around much and you are going to feel cold.

So far I have been cycling in temperatures down to at least -9 this year. I can honestly say I have never been cold while cycling. I have been wearing good gloves, a hat and scarf and thermal t-shirt but nothing very amazingly expensive or unusual, certainly nothing that looks out of place when I go to a meeting or shopping or whatever. The only thing I have not done much is cycle in a business suit (as mine is very thin material).

I don’t have to do any preparation to ride the bike in the cold, just dump the stuff in it, push it outside and ride away. I will be well on my way before you have de-iced your car. By the time I arrive my blood is gently pumping around me and I am awake, alert and ready to get on with things.

The problem: The culture. People are so indoctrinated by the car industry that they become concerned for your safety while not realising the danger to their own health by driving nor that the danger for cyclists is from drivers like themselves. This means cyclists always have to justify their means of transport to others.

The reality: Studies show that cyclists live longer and that places with high levels of motorized traffic are not good places to live. Car drivers kill many people  every year. The best things that a car driver can do for my safety are drive less, drive slower and give more space. Meanwhile by cycling each day I continue to (slowly) lose weight, get fitter, feel happier, save money and get more done.

The problem: Snow, ice and salt are all bad for bikes. If I ride my bike it is going to need lots of maintenance and cleaning.

The reality: I have now ridden my bike for 39 days in a row. That is all but 2 days in the last 80. I have been riding 50 to 100 miles per week. In that time I have done almost zero maintenance (fitted some upgrades; cleaned/oiled & tightened the chain once; spray washed the brake pads once) and I have not washed the bike yet.  True if you ride a fancy road bike in bad weather then you are going to have to clean it and service it.

However, if you ride a bike designed for year round use (hub gears, hub, roller or disc brakes, fenders, …) then it will work day in and day out.

So I can come in at 10:30pm having ridden through fresh snow, park the bike and know that in the morning I can just hop back on and use it again. I can do this day after day.

Summary: The problems are not with bikes but my brain. It tales time to educate my brain into making the better choice for me (ie to cycle) the default and to ignore the car. After working at the daily cycling habit since the beginning of September I am making progress and it does become easier and easier.

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  1. Glad that you are triumphing over the obstacles – but you didn’t actually mention that falling off (without the right bike tyres) is more likely on ice. That’s a problem in my book!

    • Rachel,

      Agreed it is a problem. But I have found it much less of a problem than expected. This is the first year I have done much cycling in snow and ice. I have ridden every day and many days up to 20 miles. So far I have had one spill and I was fairly sure it was coming well in advance. I was saying to myself “I don’t think I am going to make it round this corner on this adverse camber in this sheet ice” so I was going slowly and when the bike slid out sideways I just stepped off and just about kept my balance on the ice.

      What really worries me is falling off in front of a car that can’t stop or having a car slide into me. Doing my best to avoid these by staying on cycle paths when I can and keeping well out so that I am not in the icy gutter. Plus being very cautious at junctions being willing to walk when sensible.

      I have noticed that practice has helped a lot. I am much more comfortable now than I was on my first few rides. I can even deliberately lock the front wheel and let it slide a foot or two without falling off. However, I am coming to the conclusion that the Bullitt Cargobike is better than any of my other bikes in these conditions.

      On the other hand Jane has been on a few rides with me as well to Rothley and into Leicester. We just go slow and are prepared to walk the most tricky bits. So far no falls. At the moment neither of us have special snow tyres but our tyres are quite big (I think around 36mm is the smallest) and none of them are slick.

      • Accepted, Dave. Not meaning to be deliberately difficult. Just that I’ve met two habitual cyclists recently who’ve changed their practices because of past experience on ice – and I think it would be less than generous to categorise them as resorting to this as an “excuse”. Also, falling off 4 times in 25 years is a rate I find acceptable (particularly when two of them were down to my own stupidity). But one spill in two weeks (even granted that yours became a near miss) is a higher rate than I think many habitual cyclists would find acceptable when you think of the potential consequences. I’m all for maximising cycle use, and I agree with all the other points you make. But I just think that not acknowledging the genuine reasons people have for leaving the bike in the garage in extreme weather can start to undermine what is otherwise an excellent argument. (And this honestly isn’t my just being defensive about leaving my own bike in the garage – it’s had its first outing again today :o) )

        • Rachel,

          I don’t see you as deliberately difficult. I agree some of these excuses are personal to me, but I know I use them.

          Statistically the one spill in two weeks is not quite fair. It is a couple of years since I last had a spill of any kind. Although to support your view, 3 out of 5 of the last spills I have had have been on ice (one other was on loose gravel and the last was when I let go of my handlebar by mistake in Cornwall this summer) – that is in the last 10 years or so.

          Still despite my fears, in none of those cases was it dangerous and no damage apart from to ego and some bruises.

          All 3 falls in ice were on roads that had not been salted/gritted and there was nobody in sight (with the one last week I would have stopped earlier if there had been a car nearby as I knew it was a dodgy corner but was experimenting).

          I agree totally that people have safety concerns as their number 1 reason for not cycling. That is why I am so in favour of good separated cycling facilities that are properly designed and maintained. If cycle routes around Leicester met Dutch standards and had been gritted and swept as in the Netherlands and Copenhagen then we would have all been able to cycle safely throughout the last two weeks.

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