Pricewatch has frequently extolled the virtues of cycling. But we recognise that we have sometimes got our timing wrong and have raved about the health and financial benefits of two wheels over four in the dead of winter when the last thing most people want to hear about is anything remotely outdoorsy.
We have learned from our mistakes and this time we are going to highlight the new and old benefits of cycling while it’s still summer and when it is – hopefully – not lashing rain, because there has rarely been a better time to get on your bike in Ireland. Here are just some of the things the bike has going for it this year over any other.
1. In recent weeks Pricewatch has spent quite a bit of time cycling up and down Dublin's quays. To describe the experience as a joy might be an overstatement but it has certainly become a lot more pleasant and less terrifying than it was pre-Covid due to the introduction of proper cycle lanes and signalling aimed at reminding motorists they no longer have the roads to themselves. Until Covid, Dublin City Council was making heavier work of building better cycling infrastructure than a drunk man on a unicycle trying to pedal up Croagh Patrick. But in recent months it has shown itself able to move fast when it wants, or has to and across the city more attention is now being given to the needs of cyclists. Parking spaces and loading bays have been annexed for pedestrians while cycle paths, protected by bollards or wands, have been installed in several locations. The development has been replicated in some urban centres across the country.
2. The days of people piling on to public transport like sardines during rush hour to rub shoulders and cough and splutter on each other are gone for the foreseeable future. In these pandemic times the benefits of cycling, particularly for commuters, are self-evident. You might not be totally immune to contracting coronavirus while on a bike but it is a pretty effective social distancing measure.
3. When the Government published its snappily titled July Stimulus Package late last month it contained several measures aimed at encouraging more people to swap cars, buses or trains for bikes. There is a programme aimed at supporting local authorities to develop an enhanced cycling infrastructure which promises to expand street resurfacing in urban areas to get rid of pot holes while also improving road layouts to facilitate cyclists. There will be cash to deliver about 30km of street and cycling improvements in major cities as well as investment in urban cycle parking. There is funding for schools for the installation of new or additional cycle parking and a grant scheme will be introduced to assist with the costs of installing active travel facilities in workplaces such as bike storage, showers and drying facilities. In rural areas, hard shoulders on certain wide regional roads will be given over to cyclists and walkers. These are to be dubbed "greyways" and while we can see what the person who coined that term was trying to do, it does sound a bit grim.
4. From greyways to the Green Party. The Greens are back in Government and that can only be good news for cyclists. Last time they were in power they rolled out the cycle-to-work tax incentive scheme which allowed commuters to buy bikes at discounted rates of almost 50 per cent in some cases. As part of the stimulus package the tax incentive, previous capped at €1,000, is raised to €1,250 for non-electric bicycles and €1,500 for pedal-assist electric bicycles.
5. During the lockdown, traffic largely disappeared from our roads and anyone who had to drive was able to glide through towns and cities effortlessly. Then as the country reopened things started to return to normal and normal is not good for commuters. A report from a couple of years ago found that Dublin was one of the worst cities in the world to be a driver, with commuters spending almost 250 hours stuck in cars travelling at less than 10km per hour each year. That is more than 10 days of your life. If you work for 40 years you will waste more than a year in your car. Obviously there are many people who have no option but to travel to and from work in a car. But there are many more who could cycle if they so choose and if it was made easier.
6. You are not going to get as wet on your bike as you think, if you are unfamiliar with cycling. According to weather experts, if you cycle to and from work every day you will only get rained on four days out of 100 along the east coast. The odds of getting wet are increased if you live in Donegal, Galway or Kerry but wet gear has come on in leaps and bounds in recent years.
7. A car that commutes just 8km to and from work every day generates a tonne of noxious gases over the course of its life, not including the pollution generated by its production and the plastic and rubber required to keep it going. Bicycles are virtually carbon-neutral.
8. When it comes to saving money on transport, aside from walking there is nothing better than cycling. If your commute is just 8km each way and you usually drive, then you will travel 3,760km to and from work over the course of a year. If your car has a fuel consumption rate of 9.5 litres per 100km you will use about 370 litres of fuel on that commute. If a litre of fuel costs €1.35, the cost of your car commute comes in at about €500, add €300 to cover tyres, servicing and repairs and the total cost is €800. The total annual cost of cycling to and from work is closer to €50.
9. Did you know that the bike was a symbol of gender equality? No? Well it is. Towards the end of the 19th century, women took to cycling in big numbers. Out of necessity they had to modify their clothes, so out went long, hooped dresses and in came bloomers – much to the chagrin of whiskered menfolk, incidentally. But the bike did more than enrage angry white men. It also gave women a huge degree of independence and allowed them to travel greater distances, faster. In the words of US reformer and activist Susan B Anthony, "woman is riding to suffrage on the bicycle".
10. Cyclists are healthier than drivers and that's a fact. Research published in the Lancet a couple of years ago showed cyclists to be slimmer and likely to live longer than their car-driving counterparts. Looking at biological data from more than 150,000 people and studying the health of half a million others aged between 40 and 69, researchers concluded that getting on your bike was better for you. People who commute on bicycles have a significantly lower body fat percentage and body mass index in middle age compared with car drivers. Men who cycle weigh an average of 5kg less than those who drive, while the average woman cyclist weights 4.4kg less than a woman driver.
11. Need more on the health benefits of cycling? A slow cycle at just 15km/h burns about 400 calories in 60 minutes. Pick up the pace and cycle at 22km/h and you will shed 700 calories. Cycling dramatically increases aerobic fitness, reduces the risk of heart disease and strokes, and lowers blood pressure and cholesterol while boosting energy levels. And because it is a low-impact exercise you can do it until you are 110. If you don't believe us, or the Lancet, ask the Danes. Danish research has shown that its cycling citizens live seven years longer than those who don't cycle.
12. When a city bike scheme was first mooted for Dublin many assumed it would never work as the bikes would end up dumped in the canals after being stolen. The naysayers were proved wrong and the scheme has been a runaway success, with similar bike rental schemes set up in Cork, Galway, Limerick and Belfast. They operate from on-street stations and have recently been joined by dock-less options including Bleeper bikes.
Counting the cost of cycling
The bike: You can probably buy a bike secondhand on a website such as donedeal.ie for less than €50 or you could probably spend in excess of €10,000 on one if you were so inclined. Generally speaking, a bike which will be grand for the daily commute will cost between €300 and €600. But if you are buying on the cycle-to-work scheme the more you spend, the more you save in tax so you may as well treat yourself to a good one for which you can expect to pay about €500.
Helmets: Bicycle helmets which cost €10-€35 can be found in the likes of Argos while cycling shops sell helmets with prices topping €200. If you are a casual, commuting cyclist you probably don't need the most expensive option but nor should you buy the cheapest one – it is your head you are trying to protect after all. Budget for about €40 for a decent helmet and make sure it has the CE safety mark.
Lights: Cateye loop lights are bright, neat and fit easily into a pocket or bag. They are fitted with powerful LEDs that are visible from many angles and are looped around the front or rear of a bicycle, so no brackets are required. They can by bought in any bike shop for about €15. Mounted cateye lights are also popular. Typically, these have wider beams and will run for as long as 80 hours on constant mode and up to 320 hours on flashing mode. Some can be recharged through a USB cable while you sit at your desk.
Locks: If you spend €10 on a lock you are wasting your money. Any self-respecting bike thief will be able to snip that in less than a second. Making your bike impossible to rob is impossible so you just want to make it harder to rob than the bike next to it. Look for brands such as Abus and Kryptonite and be prepared to spend at least €40 on a lock. Ideally, you will have two locks: a "D" lock and a coil lock. A casual bike thief might have a bolt cutter – to snip coil locks – or hammer or angle grinder for a D lock, only the most serious bike thief will carry both.
Pump: You can buy a good bicycle pump for €10. A mini pump, which will do the same thing as a regular pump while taking up less space, costs about €14 while a stand-up pump is about €25.
Clothes: Accept the reality that it will rain sometimes and while you can buy rain gear for less than €20, it will not stand up to a downpour. A good waterproof jacket will cost about €70. It is breathable and made with a lot of fluorescent material for enhanced night-time visibility. Endura Gridlock Overtrousers are available in most good bike shops. They are easy to get on and off, have zipped pockets, reflective elements and are very waterproof and breathable. Be prepared to spend at least €50 on a pair of trousers.
The cycle-to-work scheme explained
What is it?
It is a tax incentive scheme aimed at encouraging employees to cycle to and from work. It is pleasingly simple and can save a cyclist in excess of €500 depending on the price of the bike and their tax band. The way it works is employers pay for bicycles and bicycle equipment for employees after which the employee pays it back through a salary deduction over the course of up to 12 months. The employee does not pay any tax, PRSI, the USC or any other levies on those repayments.
But I don’t want to spend €1,250 on a bike?
The allowance does not just cover a bike. It also covers the purchase of a helmet, bell, lights, mudguards, panniers, locks, pump, puncture repair kits and reflective clothing – basically anything that can be connected with your bicycle.
How do I actually pay for it?
Typically an employer pays the bike shop after which they will take money back from your salary over an agreed timeframe, up to 12 months.
But who buys the bike?
You do. You visit a particular shop as agreed with your employer and pick out what you need. The shop invoices your employer. That is crucial, the tax exemption will not apply if you pay for the bicycle and are reimbursed by your employer – they must pay for the bicycle.
What happens then?
You repay your employee but the cost is deducted from your gross salary and before income tax, PRSI, pension levies or the universal social charge are deducted.
What happens if my fancy bike is stolen?
That is a problem. Last time Pricewatch availed of the scheme, the bike lasted less than a year before some ne’er do well thieved it. Because you can only avail of the scheme once every five years we had to wait a full four years until we could do it again.