Health: Is cycling to work really worth the risk?

Yorkshire Evening Post reporter Jonathan Brown cycling to work. Picture by James Hardisty.
Yorkshire Evening Post reporter Jonathan Brown cycling to work. Picture by James Hardisty.
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There is nothing more mind-numbing than being sat in a traffic jam on the way to work.

Squeezing on to a packed commuter bus isn’t much more enjoyable, and cycling in and around Leeds city centre is dangerous and not worth the risk – or is it?

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Like many others, I was inspired by the Tour de France Grand Depart to give cycling a go last year albeit on country roads, so I can vouch for the benefits of a sport which is high intensity but low impact.

When cycling, around 70 per cent of your body weight goes through your handlebars and saddle as opposed to your ankles, meaning there is less pressure on your joints and less chance of sustaining strains or joint pain – anyone can do it.

Dr Carrie Ferguson, lecturer in exercise physiology at the University of Leeds, believes that cycling is potentially more beneficial than running.

“With cycling you can make it what you want,” she said. “Building it into part of your every day life makes it easier to do but of course the harder you exercise and the more that you do, the greater the health benefits.”

She explained that while regular cycling has been found to help reduce body fat, improve sleeping patterns and lower the risk of Type 2 diabetes, there is also evidence it can make commuters more alert and reduce the risk of chronic diseases. In fact researchers at Cambridge University reported that the NHS would save £250million-a-year if just one in 10 journeys nationally was made by bike.

Nevertheless upon straddling my own bike and setting off from my north Leeds home to the YEP office for the first time, my main aim was to make it to work in one piece.

Riding on country roads is one thing but commuting is a different ball game, particularly in a city centre full of double decker busses and taxis.

You are exposed on a bike, with little protection from the elements or traffic – there are no seat belts or airbags. Dressed head-to-toe in high-vis with a bike bedecked with reflectors and lights, I was taking no chances.

Despite my fears the daily 6km commute has so far been really enjoyable. I’ve felt fresh on a morning, while cycling to work takes 15 minutes compared to the traffic-dependant half hour drive.

Also, aside from the odd car parking in a cycle lane, I’ve rarely felt endangered and the work being done in Leeds is testament to that. Projects such as the £29million Cityconnect cycle superhighway to Bradford show Leeds is taking note.

Leeds Cycling Campaign’s acting chair Martin Stanley does feel more work is needed though. He said: “When your commute is something you would let your kids or parents do is when you know we have made progress and we are not at the stage yet.”

PLANS TO MAKE THE MOST OF CYCLING SPIRIT

The Tour de France left a two-wheeled imprint on Leeds.

Hopes of a sustained cycling legacy are hoped to become a reality through more public-funded schemes such as the 23km east Leeds to Bradford Cityconnect scheme.

Other key routes are hoped to be transformed and made more cycle friendly and 20mph schemes in all residential areas are intended to support that.

Efforts to embrace the activity led to the 2011 Census showing that the numbers of cycling commuters increased by 42 per cent since 2001.

PIC: Simon Hulme

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