REAL BODIES: LIFE DOCTOR

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Indy Lifestyle Online
RESEARCHING THE benefits of the bike I read "Regular cycling can take 10 years off your life". They mean, of course, that cycling keeps you young, but I can't help thinking it means you get killed before your time. I can be forgiven for the confusion. Cycling in Britain is a blood sport and the cyclist is the fox.

Yet I am dead pro-cycling. It can be perfect exercise - as long as you don't have an accident. Adrian Davis, author of the 1998 BMA report Road Transport and Health, says, "Cycling uses the large skeletal muscles of the body in a rhythmic pattern. In urban cycling conditions there are rest periods 'built in' because of traffic signals etc, which allow recovery. A recent Dutch study found that among people taking up commuter cycling with low levels of physical fitness, just 3km a day was enough to improve physical performance."

In Cologne, where I am right now, I'd cycle happily. The cycle lanes are on the pavement, not the road. Everyone cycles, so it's safe. Fat old men wobble along; even tough teens smoke as they pedal.

In Britain no one does it. Fat old men on bicycles are a joke. And while we're on the subject of John Prescott, he is a perfect example of British bike attitude, assuring us from the saddle that really he is a "two Jag" man.

From this month cycling on pavements will incur a pounds 20 fine. This aims to stop those killer couriers mowing down old ladies (while maintaining the right of automated old ladies to mow down 11-year-olds on the road).

"A huge culture change needs to happen," says Mike Collins, spokesperson for Sustrans, the national cycle route charity. "People say 'It's my right to drive to the paper shop if I want to'." Let no one accuse the public of political apathy. Dammit, we'll fight for our right to clog up our arteries with inactivity and our roads with pointless car journeys.

Two thousand of the 8,000 miles of planned safe cycle routes are already open. The Thames Valley Cycle Path from London to Oxford will open 18 October. Go. Make cycling normal. The more people who get on a bike, the better it will be for everyone.

The heroic tale of an urban cyclist.

Alison Haywood, 30, technical author from Birmingham, takes us through her cycling experiences - the good and the bad - but she reckons it's still worth it.

1. Beauty. "I cycle to work by the canal, where I see the wildlife. I arrive energised. However, if you cycle in Birmingham you are considered certifiable."

2. Disease. "I developed asthma cycling through heavy traffic."

3. Robbery. "I was sitting on a bench, outside the cathedral, with the bike beside me. A well-dressed man jumped on it and rode off."

4. Slaughter. "I was cycling round a roundabout when a car pulled out and knocked me down. Drivers don't look for bikes, just other cars that might damage their own precious vehicles."

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