This article was published in 2007, in Newsletter 75.
Some developers of the new housing estates being planned for the edges of Cambridge seem to think that people don’t cycle 5km. Very many cyclists do, and here is just one.
About nine months ago I moved house, so my daily commute increased from about 5 km to 8 km (5 miles). My old commute was from Newmarket Road, so I used the Jubilee Cycleway to the Green Dragon Bridge, through Chesterton and to the Cambridge Science Park. Largely due to the Jubilee Cycleway, I thought this was one of the best commutes you could have, since it seemed hassle-free and you can see wildlife and pleasant scenery. The distance was a doddle. The only downsides of the Jubilee cycleway were stealth dog walkers (at night), groups of pedestrians in summer and the darkness of the path in winter. All this means that you have to cycle at a pretty sedate speed and have a bell.
So it was with some trepidation that I took to the new commute from near Addenbrooke’s to the Cambridge Science Park. The commute is now largely on roads and a fair percentage further; however, because of this, it turns out it takes me barely any longer. The old commute was a tad under 20 minutes and the new commute is a tad over 20 minutes (maybe 3 minutes difference). Only once in the first week in January with the rain and wind against me, did I think, “I’d be home by now if I was at the old place”.
So why do I bike it to work? It would be quicker to drive (usually); however, that’s part of the problem with driving across Cambridge. With a fair run it could be a few minutes quicker, however there are many occasions when it would take twice as long as cycling. I hate sitting in traffic queues, it seems such an insufferable waste of time. Also we can then manage as a one-car household, which not only saves a lot of money but a lot of time that would go into getting an MOT / tax / insurance / servicing and finding somewhere to park it.
It also keeps me fit(ish) – well it’s all relative. I’m knocking on the door of 40 years old, have a sedentary office job and may go weeks without any other form of exercise, so 40-odd minutes of exercise every weekday is actually quite handy. It staves off middle-aged spread without a tedious and boring gym guilt trip. It helps if you are an everyday cyclist, so the cycle commute is the norm. That way, come rain or shine, you don’t find a trivial excuse to drive in instead.
A much under reported advantage of cycle-commuting is the social side. I will often bump into people I haven’t seen for a while (also on their bike) and catch up on old times, because you can both just stop and pull over (something you can’t do in a car, even if you had spotted them in the first place). Many is the time I have cycled over the Green Dragon bridge and got way-laid for a swift-half pint.
The new distance soon became normal, so on occasion I take a longer way home or take a diversion to do some chores (again, much easier by bike than car). So in conclusion I find that 8 km is a pretty trivial commute for an able-bodied adult, and I’d cycle further to work if the route was fast for bikes (i.e. not pedestrianised) with slow (i.e. urban speed) car traffic.