Beast of burden

Here in the UK, and in many other places that aren’t Denmark or the Netherlands, bikes tend to be thought of as a piece of sports equipment. Sure, if you cycle regularly, you’re probably a fine physical specimen with the constitution of a strapping young ox. But it’s a mistake to think of bikes as a mobile bit of gym equipment, when they can do so much more.

Load carrying bicycle by Carrie Kellenberger on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons.
Load carrying bicycle by Carrie Kellenberger on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons.

If you’re a busy person, the humble bicycle can actually be a big time saver. Steve Jobs famously said that a computer is a bicycle for our minds. Well, to turn that around, a bicycle is like a pair of seven-league boots for your legs. Need to pick something up in town? Got an errand to run? On a bike, you can slip silently through the city, dodge the traffic jams, lock up outside your destination, get what you need and then be on your way, often in less time than any other mode of transport.

A couple of panniers can hold a whole lotta shopping.
I still can’t believe how much shopping fits in a couple of panniers. Having to lug it all home also discourages impulse buying…

Bicycles are great for shopping too, in a different way to cars. Rather than one weekly visit to the soulless out-of-town megastore, bicycles encourage browsing, flitting from shop to shop like a wheeled butterfly. There’s good evidence that shopping by bike keeps money in the local area, and people on bikes spend more of it than your local trader’s association might imagine. Small, frequent shopping trips mean less waste, fewer impulse purchases, less hassle.

Bicycles foster spontaneity. They’re not constrained by timetables, and you’ll never miss your last bike. Cycling is sociable too. You see more of the world, and it’s easier to pull over for a chat.

If you’ve bought a new bike, it may need some extra bits before you can get the most out of it. A rack and panniers, for example, make carrying shopping or possessions a joy, rather than a sweaty-backed chore. Mudguards, touring pedals and chain cases make riding in everyday clothes easier. Lights – why don’t all bicycles come with these? And a decent D-lock, sadly, is more or less essential if you want to use your bike around town. The ease with which bikes can be stolen continues to be one of the few rubbish things about owning one.

If you can get a bike that’s got all of these, chances are you will never use it for sprinting to a gold time in a sportive. Instead you’ll have something much better – a truly enabling bit of technology which is equal parts pack animal, your own private taxi, and a companion for life.