Being Modern: Cycling to work

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The Independent Online

Allez! AlleZ! That was the sound of the fans in the Tour de France as the pros whipped on by. And possibly the sound of the Franglais accent in your head as you strain away from the traffic lights, like Mark Cavendish, the Manx Missile himself, racing your fellow coureurs to... well, to the next set of traffic lights as you make your way to work in the morning.

At least, if you're anything like me, that's what's going on in your head. You don't have to be one of the Lycra brigade to have been caught up in the latest Tour and try to recreate it every day – nor do you have to put others in danger. (There's no jumping of lights here, certainly no jumping on to pavements, and most definitely no jumping in front of cars.) And assuming you have the right equipment, it can be awfully fun.

The right equipment, then... The Government's Cycle to Work scheme, introduced in 1999, allows employers to help staff buy cycles and safety equipment by making it a tax-free benefit, so it's all a lot easier on the pocket.

It made sense for everyone involved: the Government, as it had a healthier nation; employers, as they had fitter, wide-awake staff; and employees, as they enjoyed better health and (most importantly, obviously) better bikes, as their money went further.

Then there were the accoutrements. The high-wicking tops that ensure sweat stays on the clothes rather than the body; the helmets that ensure the brain stays in the head rather than on the road in case of accident; the padded shorts, the panniers, the mudguards, the sunglasses, the fingerless mitts... Though, of course, anyone wearing it all risks looking like a weekend warrior if they can't back it up with a turn of speed on the road.

And then came Boris bikes. Slow, weaving Boris bikes – or London's Cycle Hire scheme, as it's officially known. Yes, they've got a lot more people cycling around the capital. But is it a good thing? No helmets, no sense of where to ride on the road and, dammit, no fancy hi-vis clothing. How are they ever going to believe they're emulating the maillot vert like that? Robert Epstein