In November of last year, I very promptly quit a job that made me utterly miserable... and was left unemployed with an impending sense of financial doom. I became a food courier, cycling around the city all day, every day. Now, as a cycling instructor, my job is to encourage and inspire those around me to cycle.
The British Cycling Craze is here.
People say it started after the 2012 Olympics, and after the UK did so well in Rio, bike sales spiked.
As someone who is currently in an all-consuming, full-fledged love affair with a bicycle, this news makes me extremely happy. What would make me even happier is to spread this delirium by highlighting what makes a bike more than a commuting tool, and cycling more than a sport.
One of the main draws of cycling is the freedom it offers
The time you spend on your bike is solely and unequivocally yours. This summer I was lucky enough to go on a cycling tour around the west of Scotland, hopefully my first of many to come.
The sense of freedom and adventure when you get on your bicycle and begin a full day of cycling is like no other feeling I have ever experienced – the ability to start, stop and go wherever you like, without the constraint of a train schedule or flight times.
Even on a day-to-day basis in London, I discover new routes that expose all of the capillaries of the city every day. A place as densely populated as this starts to feel like my own adventure playground, full of quiet oases no-one knows about but me (I don't think, anyway.)
...Plus, it saves me a ton of money
If freedom weren’t enough, biking is also a sound investment in financial terms. Buying a bike does have a big upfront cost, and a bit of maintenance, but the overall burden is usually pretty small in comparison to the cost of other forms of transport.
When you add up everything you spend on train fares, transit tickets, or gasoline, I'm willing to bet taking a bike is cheaper. If you’re really ambitious, you might even be able to cut out the cost of a few short flights!
Biking also helps my mental well being
As someone who suffers the occasional ‘wobble,’ cycling has become my release. I’m not alone: others have written about using cycling to deal with grief, and studies increasingly suggest that cycling (and other physical exercise) can be helpful for people struggling with depression.
Mental health isn't just a personal issue. Not taking it seriously is damaging for the economy as a whole. A World Health Organization report published earlier this year said that the global economy loses out on a trillion dollars a year because of depression and anxiety, mostly because people feel unfit to work. The report also says that each dollar spent on treating mental health problems creates 4 dollars in benefits.
Here in the UK, cuts to public services have made mental health counselling and help harder and harder to access. Biking obviously isn’t going to solve this problem on its own, but it’s not a bad place to start. A lot of cities and councils have programs to help get people cycling, so if you don’t own a bicycle or are a bit nervous about riding one, check out your local council or city website to see if there’s something near you.
Cycling is empowering, and can tie communities together
People don't generally think of bikes as a tool for 'social change', but a surprising amount of organizations and charities work on providing marginalized people with a sense of purpose and engagement through cycling. Not only are you helping tackle the obstacles people face to integrate into society by providing them with a means of transport, exercise, and earning potential; you're joining a new community yourself.
Joining the cycling industry brought me into a truly vibrant group of people I'd never known existed. I was very privileged to have the chance to work with the charity Wheels for Wellbeing, who help disabled children and adults to discover the ‘physical, emotional, practical and social benefits of cycling’.
I have also been lucky enough to get involved with The Bike Project, a charity with the mission of refurbishing second-hand bikes and donating them to refugees and asylum seekers.
These are just two organizations I've been part of, but there are loads more, all proving that volunteering your time to get people on a bike doesn't just bring them back into the center of society – it can do wonders for you, too.
Traipsing up and down the streets of central London to get back into work ended up showing me the deeper benefits of cycling I had previously missed. Organizations like the ones I've worked at demonstrate that cycling is an incredible force for good in our lives, giving us everything from a bit of extra cash in our pockets, to a sense of community, to work opportunities.