Coronavirus: a huge boost for cycling to work

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It was one of the few joys of the coronavirus crisis. As the threatening trucks and cars disappeared, groups of family cyclists – parents accompanied by sometimes unstable children – resumed the prohibited routes. Less confident adults wobbled on old mountain bikes.

At the end of the lock, the bike seems to do much more than help people pass the time. On May 9, Transportation Secretary Grant Shapps announced plans to create an emergency £ 250m “active travel fund” to finance the construction of wider sidewalks for walking and new separate bike paths . Money is the first critical installment on a £ 2 billion plan to help staff return to work by private means alone, which can keep city centers from being harassed by long lines of space-hungry cars .

The cycling element nevertheless raises questions for many British adults. Since only 4% of commuter trips in England were by bicycle before the lock, most have no idea of ​​the most basic practical aspects of the mode.

© Michael Brooks / Alamy

A key issue is knowing which bike to buy and how to finance the purchase. The government is promoting the benefits of the Cycle to Work program (see box). It’s a very tax-efficient way to buy a bike, but it requires administrative effort.

Commuter bikes

Clare Hey, editor-in-chief at Simon & Schuster who coached many colleagues in starting the travel cycle, says that many feel intimidated by stores full of disconcerting choices.

“I think there is probably some nervousness about going to a bike shop and knowing what to ask for,” said Hey.

Bike shop workers were left with thousands of potential commuters puzzled, nervous about starting to cycle and often unrealistic ideas about how they can do it cheaply.

Roger Graver, manager of Islington’s branch of Velorution, a London-based chain that primarily sells high-end commuter bikes, says many buyers insist on looking for a “basic bike.”

“People say” I’m starting over and I have a lot to spend, “” said Graver.

The main warning from experienced bike shops and commuters is that while a decent transport machine does not have to be extremely expensive, ambivalent beginners often spend so little that their travel plans literally collapse. Neither experienced commuters nor bike shops recommend machines that cost less than around £ 350.

Chris Kenyon, founder of CyclingWorks, a corporate campaign to promote the commuter bike, warns that cheaper bikes are unlikely to have components good enough to withstand the rigors of regular travel reliably and safely.

“Don’t buy a crappy bike,” he warns.

Part of the secret is to avoid shopping online. Customers cannot verify the size of bikes purchased online, cannot take them for testing, and have difficulty obtaining redress for any warranty issues. A local specialized bike shop will usually make sure that the bike is suitable for the cyclist and will follow up after a few weeks. It can offer a free maintenance period and will be on site to replace brake pads, chains, tires and cables when they start to wear out.

© Mint Images Limited / Alamy

Graver says customers often ask for help from Velorution to set up online bikes that are clearly the wrong size and poorly made.

“It is not easy to configure them so that they are as we would like them to leave the store,” says Graver.

Make and repair

The problems are clear at Brixton Cycles, a bicycle shop in south London. Staff, including Lincoln Romain, a member of the cooperative that owns the business, are working frantically to fix customers’ existing bikes, many fresh out of cellars or gardens. A socially distant queue of new customers is patiently waiting to assess their options for purchasing bikes.

Still concerned about a customer’s Ridgeback bike, Romain says that amidst the current high demand, Tuesday’s weekly supply of stocks could be widely sold by Friday. Staff should encourage customers to quickly decide if they want a particular machine, as it will likely go away if they leave to think.

“Placing clients is not a good situation,” says Romain. “It’s almost like,” You just have to decide “. “

Nevertheless, within the limits of what is available (and by limiting the field to purely pedal bikes), commuters and bicycle retailers suggest that new commuters should probably buy some sort of hybrid – the fusion of technology from mountain and road bikes that customers probably imagine when asking for a “basic bike”.

Hybrids have a flat handlebars, rather than the sportier types. According to Mr. Kenyon, this means that a nervous jumper can look around him more easily than when he is bending over drops.

“A straight riding position makes the difference,” he says.

Romain recommends disc brakes – where the brake pads work on the discs on the axle, rather than grabbing the rims of the wheels.

“They last longer [than pads on rim brakes] and keep going and you don’t worry, “he says.

Graver advocates hub gears, with the gear mechanism hidden in the oil-filled hub of the rear wheel. They tend to be more expensive and heavier than the simpler derailleur gears, which are more common on British bikes. But Graver says the hub gears – a hallmark of the ever-popular Brompton folding bike – are hassle-free.

“Some customers say, ‘I just want to get on my bike; I don’t like doing mechanics, “he says.

Prices can, however, add up. Trek, the American manufacturer, recommends a retail price of £ 450 for its FX2 disc, a hybrid that Brixton Cycles recommends to many new cyclists. Like many basic models, the machine would benefit from the addition of mud flaps for rainy days and a basket or support for transporting luggage.

Women often prefer to replace a female-specific saddle when purchasing a bicycle designed for men, while puncture-resistant tires such as the Schwalbe Marathon Plus can virtually eliminate the risk of flat tires.

Passionate cyclist: FT journalist Robert Wright © Charlie Bibby / FT

Meanwhile, the starting price for the bike Chris Kenyon recommends – the sturdy steel-framed secret services, built by WorkCycles of Amsterdam and sold by Flying Dutchman in Camden, north London – is £ 975. Custom machines currently take eight to ten weeks from order to arrive in the UK.

Mr. Graver’s favorite is the Friedrich, a thing of beauty with an aluminum frame built by Schindelhauer in Germany and costing £ 2,495. If you spend as much on a bike, make sure it’s covered on your home insurance policy with a padlock that meets the requirements of your insurer.

However, for those who have long enjoyed cycling, the technical considerations and the costs are less important than their feeling of discovering cities on two wheels. Bike shop staff and long-term commuters take little incentive to get into rhapsodies on the subject.

Clare Hey expresses the joy of watching experienced bicycle commuters pass this passion on to new people through her buddy program.

“This is the most satisfying thing about it – opening up freedom to other people who haven’t tried it,” she said.

Save on the cost of your new bike with salary payment

The government hopes that commuters will be ready to assume the cost of a new bicycle in part because of the Cycle to Work program, which allows them to pay for bikes through wage deductions from pre-tax income.

Depending on your tax bracket, the combined savings of taxes and national insurance could represent up to 31 to 48% reduction on the retail price of the bicycle and certain authorized accessories, such as helmet, padlock, bicycle lights and protective clothing.

Total spending before the tax cut was previously capped at £ 1,000, but this limit was removed last year – in part to allow customers to buy more expensive electric bikes.

To take advantage of this, your employer must subscribe to a cycling program. The suburbs rent the bike to the employer or plan operator for 24 monthly payments (taken from their salary before tax) amounting to the original purchase price. At the end of this period, they can make a final payment to purchase the bike and equipment at a highly amortized price.

However, it could be difficult to use the system at present due to the high inventory turnover in many bicycle shops. Some retailers are hesitant to put bikes aside until they receive the voucher that the program will pay for the bike – and, under current circumstances, there is a risk that the bike will be sold in the meantime.

However, cycle retailers also offer alternative financing methods, in part due to their frustration with the high commissions that larger work cycle programs extract. Velorution organizes its own work cycle program – Velo2Work – with employers, offering the same tax breaks. Other retailers – including Brixton Cycles – offer financing programs that allow buyers to pay in installments.

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