Robert Hanks: The Cycling Column

It's cold and dark - take a break if you like
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Kate, from my local bike shop, suggests that the theme of this column should be the barriers to cycling - all the reasons why, so often, it seems easier just to hop in the car or on the bus. But there are so many barriers: the friends who say, "Isn't cycling terribly dangerous?"; the snotty young men in bike shops; the employers who will happily provide you with a company car and a space to park it, but not with a proper stand you can lock your bike to.

Right now, the biggest barrier to cycling is the time of year. One of those who responded to my appeal for more women to write in was Verity Relves, who said: "I feel a bit of a fraud as I'm not very good at cycling once the nights have drawn in; so any advice on conquering fear of night-time cycling would be much appreciated! I've a choice of unlit back lanes or a well-lit dual carriageway which is one of the main commuter routes into Birmingham."

There are two answers to this. One is that you need to make yourself into a kind of Blackpool illuminations on wheels, though more tasteful. The consensus is that, with lighting, the future belongs to hub dynamos, but for now, stick to bright LEDs - I gather that the law changed in October, so that now the flashing kind satisfy all legal requirements. Expect to pay £25 and up for a good set; and be warned that most LEDs won't light up the road very far ahead. Potholes can be a problem.

Supplement your main lights with little flashing ones attached to your bag, clothes, head. If you don't want a full reflective jacket, get reflective things that move - spoke and pedal reflectors, ankle bands. Or buy reflective tape and plaster it everywhere.

But the second answer is that not wanting to ride your bike in the sort of conditions Verity describes sounds like pure common sense. Unlit back roads can be dangerous - cyclists do get mugged, and I've had snowballs, stones and, once, a block of concrete chucked at me, not always by members of my family. And dual carriageways are thoroughly nasty.

There is no shame in avoiding misery. Put your bike in the shed until the days are longer and you feel a bit more confident, or cut your cycling down to two or three trips a week. The worst thing you can do is to turn cycling into a penance rather than a pleasure.

The cold and dark are only half the problem of winter, though. You also need to keep your bike in shape, and the time of year when it needs most attention is also the time when you feel least like giving it. Right now, I can feel my chain starting to grind with all the grit winter throws up, and I know I should be spending this afternoon cleaning the whole thing up and giving it a good oiling. But since we had the decorators in, there isn't an indoor space where I'm permitted to fiddle with greasy, grimy things, and the concrete wilderness we like to think of as a garden isn't big enough for a shed; so maintenance work involves numb fingers, chapped lips, and small children locking the back door and jeering at me through the glass.

cycling@independent.co.uk

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