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Why Cycling to Work Should Be Your Number One New Year's Resolution

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CYCLIST
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Getting other people to cycle is something that all cyclists do - even if they are unconscious of it. Just being out and about on a bike can inspire friends and colleagues to sling a leg over the dusty beast in the garage and hit the road.

Some cyclists are more active in promoting participation than others, and over the years I have made a considerable effort in persuading the people around me to cycle to work. I'm motivated by improving people's recognition of how easy and how rewarding cycling is, by the fact that another cyclist on the road is better for the environment, and by adding to the political weight behind improving facilities for all cyclists.

What I consistently find is that it takes a nudge, or a few nudges from different sources to get people to take the plunge, but once they've commuted by bike for the first time, they suddenly realise what all the fuss is about.

Potential cyclists always ask the same questions, which have easy answers.

Nine times out of 10, there is a perception that cycling is an especially dangerous pursuit. There is a huge amount of statistical information available to indicate that cycling is not a one-way ticket to intensive care, though there's no doubt that the city streets can appear intimidating to new cyclists. However, once you're used to the hazards of a busy road, all it takes to remain safe is to wear a helmet, be visible and remain alert. Nobody is trying to kill you.

After safety, people begin to get very hung-up about the weather. In Britain the argument is that it's either sweat-drenchingly hot, or unpleasantly wet and cold.

I've commuted in London and Brighton over the past five years, and other than a rare blanket of snow, it's always been possible to commute, even in the worst conditions, and to still be absolutely comfortable within a couple of minutes of arriving. The effects of bad weather can be entirely eliminated through straightforward preparation and a few choice purchases.

Even for my very short commute of less than four miles, I wear cycling gear and wash and change at work. This means giving myself an extra 10 minutes in the morning, and taking a shirt, socks and pants in a small rucksack (trousers and shoes stay at work), but it means that when I eventually sit at my desk, I've had 20 minutes exercise and am alert and fresh.

Finally, people are put off cycling by the cost of buying a bike, and the chance that they'll have it stolen.

If you have never cycled before, then now is the time to look for a second hand bike. Ebay and Gumtree are awash with unwanted Christmas presents at this time of year and there are spectacular bargains to be found. Measure your height and inside leg and then do an internet search for a rough sizing guide. For more serious road cyclists, this website offers a particularly good sizing guide.

Many workplaces now offer secure areas to park bikes, but even if you don't have this luxury, a decent lock and a sensible parking place will significantly reduce the chance of theft. Bicycle insurance is inexpensive and should the worst happen, it will cover the cost of replacement.

Once these initial worries been dispensed with, there is a huge amount to love about cycling to work.

This week's news that rail fares have risen by 4.3%, and by over 50% in the last decade are just one indicator that cycling can save you vast amounts in transport costs.

From where I live in Hackney to work in central London, I'm saving hundreds of pounds a year in transport costs, and over twenty minutes of journey time each way.

In addition, I'm adding to the number of cyclists on the road and reducing carbon emissions, keeping a base level of physical activity in my day-to-day life, and most importantly of all, I'm not crammed into a tube or a steaming bus at rush-hour.

Of course, not every distance is cyclable, but the vast majority of journeys are, and they will be considerably faster by bike. If you work in London, then you have to live quite far out to gain time by using public transport over cycling.

So while Britain is entering its traditional period of detox after the festive excesses, commuters ought to be re-assessing the all-round gains that can be made by taking to two wheels and celebrating rather than loathing their journey to work.

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