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My Commute by Paul Lafford

Most people in Ireland have little or no access to public transport.  There is no such thing as a Luas, Dart, Uber or even a bus. If you need to commute to work, your only option is to own a car and it does not  come cheap.

So, if you are living in the countryside, be prepared to see quite a lot of your hard earned wages fritter away, just to get to work in the first place.

Imagine though, if there was an alternative. Imagine it’s free, it’s healthy and it helps to protect the environment (if you’re into all that stuff).

If you got up a little earlier, hopped onto your bike and decided to cycle to work (stop laughing down the back, I’m serious). The government have even implemented a system with a tax break, to help you.  You can reduce the cost of your bike and equipment, by offsetting it against your income tax bill, up to a maximum of €1000. Therefore, if you spend €1000 and you’re on the top rate of tax, you could save 40%.  It’s a great way to encourage people to take up cycling and it has proven to be very popular.

I just needed to test my theory first and see if it’s practical. So, I decided to cycle to work and experience it firsthand.

I cycle a lot (just over 11,000km in 2017), so I’m at a reasonable level of fitness and the cycle to work should will not be difficult. Overall, the road has lots of hard shoulder, has relatively little amounts of traffic and I take every safety precaution I can. There are a few narrow parts on the road that concern me and I did consider a few alternative routes. However, the alternative roads are along agricultural hinterland, so it’s not really an option. Road filth and god knows what else are not ideal first thing in the morning and who wants to arrive at the office smelling like a farmyard.

So, my commute would be along the main road and for today, I would not be a club cyclist or a sports cyclist. Today, I would be a commuter, just going to work like everybody else.

When it comes to getting ready to go to work, I’m possibly the worst in the world. I don’t do breakfast and normally, it’s grab a strong “Kenco” and fly out the door.

When you’re cycling to work however, it’s different. There is a lot of stuff to be put together and in an attempt to be as comfortable as possible, I will dress to the conditions.

As I’m used to cycling, I have my base layer clothing, cycling shoes, shoe covers, helmet and all the necessary stuff. I even charge up my GoPro camera to record the event. This won’t be a morning for “lycra” or the go faster stuff, just pop along the road and get to work in one piece.

Everything Ready the night before

I have my lights all charged up since the night before, my bike is ready and I have a change of clothes in my rucksack. I have a rain jacket handy in case it’s needed and quite possibly the most important item of the lot, a can of deodorant.

It is funny to actually go into the shower “before” I head out on my bike as when I’m training, it’s obviously the other way round.

There is no public lighting along most of my commute, so I’m a little bit wary of the dark December morning. I leave the house at 8.15am and thankfully, it’s getting a little bit brighter outside. As I leave, it dawns on me that today is the shortest day of the year. However, the winter solstice is the last thing on my mind as I head out the front door.

A few words about my bike before I go any further. It’s a very basic machine, but very capable of commuting. It’s reasonably inexpensive, retailing at about €600. It is my “winter bike”, as I only use it this time of year, keeping my carbon fibre speed missile for flashing around the roads of Tipperary in the summer.

The roads are rather wet and it’s a chilly breeze as I head down through the town and immediately, I get a nice spray from a passing Bus Éireann coach. There are a few “pinch points” on the exit from town, but as I’m used to them, I keep well in out of the way and give traffic every possibility to pass me safely.

One of the biggest criticisms that motorists make towards cyclists is that they take up too much road and hold them up. It’s something I’m very mindful of and even when I’m out training for an event, I like to be on my own, out of the  way  and as little a hindrance to the public as I can. I’m also a driver with over 30 years’ experience, so I try to see it from both sides of the argument. This morning most other people are going to work or taking their children to school, that’s all I’m doing myself. Surely, we can all just go about our business safely.

As I trundle along the road, I have a nice gentle breeze on my back and if I may be so bold, it’s as enjoyable a bike ride as I have had in some time. Maybe it’s the fact that the little blinking cursor on my Garmin computer doesn’t matter, my average speed is equally unimportant and my heart rate is well within its tolerances. I’m not over exerting, as I’m mindful of not arriving at work covered in sweat, which would be very unfair on the other people in the office.

It’s not all plain sailing though and one or two people need to take a serious look at themselves. The gentleman who skimmed past me, despite having loads of room to pass safely could do with a manners test. The guy overtaking a line of traffic across a box junction AND a continuous white line might need to brush up on his rules of the road. The people who just refuse to turn on their lights or refuse to use an item called an indicator could do with a reality check too.

Imagine if those people knew I was recording my commute and I still have the footage today, with their registration plates in full HD. I dare say that they could expect a call from the authorities. If, by any chance they read this, my advice would be to cop on a little.

By and large though, my commute was uneventful and I was given lots of room and consideration by the majority of road users. One of the main concerns for me was the bypass in Clonmel, as there is a lot of road furniture in places, meaning I will have to veer out into the traffic at times. I try to use my driving and cycling experience together, to try and judge when to pull out, use my hand signals and try to stay as less a hindrance as I can. My policy is get out of the way and get in out of the way, while remaining visible at all times. It’s a skill that can be learned and it goes hand in hand with good manners and road etiquette.

Cahir to Clonmel, my commute

So, exactly 43minutes 17 seconds after leaving home, I arrived at work. If you’re interested in more useless information, I averaged 27.5kph and my top speed was 40.7kph. I burned off 348 calories and I maintained a nice healthy 138BPM heart rate. I survived the rush hour traffic, I shared the road with cars, busses and articulated trucks. With a few exceptions, my commute was uneventful and actually enjoyable.

Admittedly, I am fairly experienced as a cyclist, but for a novice; the road may be a little intimidating, especially at that time of morning. The rules of the road apply to cyclists too, so proper lighting, clothing and common sense on the road is vital.

However, I’ve proven that it can be done and it can be done safely. However, you will be placing your trust and your life in the hands of other road users and I found that not all of them respect that trust.

15 cyclists lost their lives in Ireland in 2017, a 50% increase on the previous year. That in itself is a scary thought. As a cyclist I take the news of another fatality personally, actually I take news of ANY fatality on our roads personally. I have been on Irish roads since I was a young boy, so in over 40 years, I have seen a lot…

 

My commute home that evening wasn’t quite as straight forward as the morning. When you hear an articulated truck approach from behind and he’s not slowing down, it can be scary. It’s amazing how a person, a so called professional driver, can show total disregard for other road users. When they have the company name and telephone number emblazoned across their vehicle, it shows an extra layer of stupidity.

Once I got home that evening, I was glad to have survived the journey.  What had started off as a very positive experience that morning, was anything but in the afternoon. I had done everything to stay safe, to conduct myself on the toad, to observe every rule of the road and to show respect for other road users. To an extent, this respect was reciprocated, but as they say, it only takes one idiot and your life can be over.

I weigh about 70kg and with my bike coming in at another 10kg, the odds against me and a 40 tonne truck are not good.

Would I recommend cycling to work?

Before I left home that morning, I had a shower and made sure I would be as tidy and as well groomed as possible when I got in. I took a change of clothes with me, but was still very conscious of being sweaty during the day. If employees were to commute by bike, a shower unit at work would be a necessity. Unless employers are prepared to foot this bill or get tax breaks for encouraging commuting by bike, I can’t see that happening.

In Ireland it rains, it rains a lot. One day during Christmas, I was out training on my bike. I had full winter spec gear on, but the weather turned for the worst. I got so wet and so cold, that I couldn’t feel my hands and ended up with a bad dose of flu for my sins. Imagine turning up for work in that state? Over the last few days, Ireland has been pulverised by winter storms, not exactly ideal for cycling. In the summer, it still rains, except for the fact that the rain is a little bit warmer.

The cycling infrastructure in Ireland is non-existent. The success of the greenways has still not resonated with planners and politicians. Keeping cyclists and motorists apart has to form part of the answer to the spiralling death counts.

I cycled to work in the daylight. If you are a shift worker, beginning or finishing at an ungodly hour, cycling to work is a nonstarter. Don’t even think about it.

Finally, Irish roads or should I say, certain Irish drivers. You could write an entire thesis or even complete a post grad on them and you would still never work them out. 158 people lost their lives on Irish roads in 2017 and it was infuriating to hear the authorities claiming it as an achievement. At the same time, legislators and elected politicians will stand up in the Dáil, arguing that people are okay to drive after alcohol. Bear in mind too, that in Ireland, you can turn up for your driving test, fail it and then drive home. It’s lunacy, pure and simple.

Would I cycle to work every day? Not on your life. Would I cycle to work every day to save money? If I had to, possibly, but the few quid I would save, would have to be invested in a better life insurance policy. I have a wife and child at home; they would have to be provided for, as my life expectancy would not be too long.

Getting home to this fellow is all that matters to me

I’ll take the car to work in the meantime, whatever the cost. Getting home to my family is more important than any few quid savings.

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