Pedalling benefits of life in the green lane

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The Independent Online
Actress Jenny Agutter, with a scream, does it. Jeremy Paxman, donning a safety helmet, does it. Even the former deputy governor of the Bank of England, Rupert Pennant-Rea, wearing cycle clips, does it.

And now they are telling everyone else to do it, too. Because, they say, it is environmentally friendly and fun, even if rather dangerous at times.

They all choose pedal power over pollution and happily espouse the views which will be drummed into the public during the month-long Don't Choke Britain campaign.

Jenny Agutter, who has just bought a pounds 35 second hand bicycle on which to whizz around London, believes the public should leave their cars at home whenever possible, especially as National Bike Week begins today. "The other day I cycled to Wardour Street in the West End from my home near the Oval and it was such a pleasure not having to worry about parking or the Tube grinding to a halt."

Not even the perils of cycling in cities, which the actress describes in detail, put her off. "Most drivers fail to notice you, mainly because so few people cycle, and they open doors onto you," she said. "I don't have a bell, I just scream at them. But wherever I feel unsafe, I get off and walk."

For Jeremy Paxman, the broadcaster, the answer to pedal pitfalls is a nationwide network of cycle routes. At the launch of a scheme to link Dover and Inverness, to encourage people out of their cars and on to their bikes, he said the pounds 250m cost was peanuts when compared with the benefits. These are expected to include reduced air pollution, safer and more tranquil cities, a fall in heart disease and jobs in route construction.

Cycle paths or not, Sir Richard Scott, renowned for trundling back and forth from his arms-to-Iraq inquiry on an old-fashioned pushbike, will pedal around London though not talk about it. "It is a convenient means of transport and exercise," his spokesman said.

Jon Snow, the Channel 4 News anchorman, cycles to work every day, taking 12 minutes door to door. He admits riding from interview to interview is a risky business. "I was knocked off at the Labour Party conference and landed on my wallet, which left an imprint in my buttocks for weeks," he said. "I think the dangers of cycling in London are exaggerated, but you have to cycle on the basis that everyone else on the road is mad. But everyone should cycle more - what they put on in carbon monoxide poisoning they will shed in carbohydrates."

Howard Davies, Bank of England deputy governor, is a notorious cyclist. Although too loaded down with paperwork to cycle to work these days, he remains passionate about pedal power, so much so that building work near the cycle shed at the Bank has had to be altered to ensure the bike racks stay put.

His predecessor, Rupert Pennant-Rea, who resigned last year following tabloid revelations of an extra-marital affair, was so keen on cycling he used to forget to remove his bicycle clips, according to his former lover Mary Ellen Synon. "It was a tribute to my simple nature that I was not put off," she wrote in the Evening Standard.

Spaces in the bike shed at the House of Commons are reserved for at least two ministers - the transport minister Steven Norris and his boss, Sir George Young, the Secretary of State for Transport.

Then there are those who jump on a bike for pleasure, like Luciano Pavarotti, who needs a sturdy frame and a wide road. And for whom jumping on is not recommended.