Swapping 4-wheels for 2

Posted by Neil Harrison on 14th June 2016

As this is National Bike Week, we asked John Ireland (the Scottish Government's Deputy Director of Low Carbon Economy Division) to share his experience of switching from the car to the bike for his daily commute. This is his story.

A year ago I gave up driving to work. My initial plan was to use the bus and try to walk for half an hour a day by getting off the bus early - and sneaking out of the office at lunchtime. I had steadily put weight on over the previous two years and "sedentary" was a polite description of my workday life. I was also starting to feel shamed by the lower carbon transport choices of those I worked with.

All went well for a few weeks. I had never enjoyed driving and the release from hours of sitting in city centre traffic jams was liberating. I read more books, adjusted to longer commutes and my petrol consumption fell dramatically. I felt better too - walking helped and it was good to be more active. Then an old injury from fifteen years back started making a comeback and it got worse. By mid August, after two months, I threw in the towel and went to see a physio. Alongside the standard exercise prescription (how I loved standing on one leg at bus stops, in meetings and when talking to people) the physio suggested cycling again.

One September weekend I dusted down my old bike and bought a new set of tyres - the bike had sat in the shed for a decade and a half. I nervously cycled half a mile up the road to the local bike repair shop. It felt good. The next weekend I was more adventurous - two miles to the library. It felt even better. And then I did it - I rode all the way to St Andrews House. It felt very good (downhill most of the way). I rode home. It did not feel good (uphill most of the way with a really steep finish). The pain in my legs lasted all weekend and more. But the following week I started commuting to VQ and I have kept going since.

That was nine months ago. My petrol consumption has fallen dramatically. I cycle about 80 miles a week. That's the commuting, a Sunday ride into town and some local utility rides (picking up carry outs, shopping etc). It's a small contribution to reducing emissions and one less single occupancy car on Edinburgh's roads. It's usually as quick or quicker by bike than driving.

I have lost 12kg. I feel a lot better both physically and mentally. The knees are almost pain free. Cycling is fun and sociable - I like the conversations at traffic lights and with other cyclists at work. And I look forward to commuting, especially after a demanding day at work, rather than dreading it.