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Clean Air Day 2023: The joy of an Edinburgh cycle commute

"The joy of an Edinburgh cycle commute" Bike leans against stone wall alongside road lined with trees.

Andrew Arnott, Climate and Sustainability Analyst at the University of Edinburgh, reflects on the simple pleasures a bike to work and back can bring.

Why ride a bike?

Ask a child why they ride bikes, and they’ll tell you it’s because “it’s fun!”.

They won’t say boring, practical things like how it’s the fastest way to get around the city, nor that it’s great for physical and mental health. They won’t even mention the positive impacts on climate change, and they care little for the inflation-busting, cost-of-living-crisis-compatible low running costs.

The kids are right! Used in the right way, the humble bicycle is a bringer of joy and slayer of negativity.

My cycle to work

Andrew cycling to work, wearing red helmet and jacket on country road

Andrew cycling to work

I wouldn’t change a thing about my cycle to work.

The smooth hum of wheels on tarmac. The satisfying click-clunk of a smooth change of gears, before the magic of sprocket ratios at the back wheel converts the small amount of energy put out by your legs into seemingly ridiculous amounts of speed. The buffeting of wind on your face as you zoom down a hill, almost feeling like flying, your eyes scanning the ground far ahead for the best line.

That stretch of road, just outside Dalmeny where in winter the sun rises behind Arthur’s Seat as you cycle in in the morning, and in summer you look out through gaps in the dense tree foliage, across ripening fields to the iconic bridges of the Forth.

The primitive pleasures of watching the seasons arrive, take hold, and then each fade away again in turn as the next season enters into your life – a constant reminder of our journey around the sun and the transformational effects it has on our landscape, all too often missed or ignored from the inside of a motor vehicle or office.

The smell of wild garlic on the city cycle network in spring. The sound of bird song through the summer. The rush of autumn wind in the thinning autumnal trees. And the epic silence of a calm, frosty morning in winter. The simplicity of “I get the news I need from the weather report”, as Simon and Garfunkel said. What’s the wind doing? Will it rain? Was there frost overnight? It’s a privilege to have these as influences in our lives as year-round cycle commuters.

The privilege of cycling

It’s a privilege to be able-bodied enough to ride a bike. The exclusivity of that privilege is reducing, however, with more and more bikes and trikes aimed at those with reduced mobility. Long may this trend continue.

It is a privilege to ride a bike for my commute. Even when pulling on layers of warm and waterproof clothes to head out into the storm, I find the exhilaration of facing whatever the weather throws at me more appealing than a dry yet traffic-filled drive to work.

I’ll take the wind and the rain, (when it occasionally comes), the sun and the dark, the sights and smells, the puffing and panting, the warm glow when you get into the office, the joy of gently tired legs when you get home. I’ll take that any day.

Related Links

Clean Air Day 2023: The University of Edinburgh staff opting for car-free commuting

Walking to and around the city of Edinburgh

Transport policy, plans and reports

[External] Clean Air Day 2023

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