Get into a spin

1st May 1998 at 01:00
Feel good, look fit, gain cred. Kevin Berry promotes pedal power as the best way of travelling in to school

Never mind the obvious cost benefits of cycling to school, let's look at how helpful it can be.

No parking worries, no traffic jams, quiet streets if you prefer and no need to worry about car thieves when you are teaching. Just 20 miles each week and you will maintain the health and vigour of a 25-year-old well into late middle age. Ride to work and you are mentally alert from the word go; ride home and your stress vanishes. On each journey you will start to notice things you haven't seen before and there is a wonderful feeling to enjoy when you pass your headteacher in a traffic jam.

Now the drawbacks. You might get knocked over; you might get wet; punctures happen and people keep going on about car fumes. Well then - avoid accidents by looking round, making direct eye contact with drivers, and choose a quiet route. Remember, you can often go where cars can't. Punctures? Get new tyres regularly, run a dry brush over the tread to take out any debris and keep them at the correct pressure. Pollution? People inside cars inhale more pollutants than cyclists, it's been proven scientifically.

Best to start on a training day when most folk go to school in jeans and sweaters and don't start work at sunrise. Plan your route, try it at the weekend. If all goes well on the day plan another for a Friday and then build on it, or just keep one day a week for cycling.

On a normal working day your clothing will have to step up a couple of grades so create a flexible wardrobe. Ride in old trousers and shoes and change them when you arrive, and keep a large towel and some posh smellies at school. Look at rain-proof garments in the cycle shops, but don't be tempted to use your usual anorak or you will soon be bathed in sweat. You'll soon develop a routine.

Your bike will need a substantial lock and somewhere safe to keep it in school. Even the best behaved children can't resist fiddling with cycles and running fingers over them so keep your bike out of sight.

When it comes to choosing a bike think long and hard. Go to established cycle shops rather than city-centre stores where the assistants don't have time to chat and don't even consider buying "blind" from a mail order firm. Good cycle shops will let you have a trial run and won't be satisfied until you have a bike to suit your needs. They will often throw a set of lights and a spare inner tube into the price. Buy an inner tube to put in your saddle bag for when punctures strike, and ask to be shown how to change a wheel. Have a saddle bag or panniers rather than a rucksack - don't buy the panniers until you have seen them fitted on your bike and you're sure you can pedal without hindrance.

Mountain bikes might give you tremendous playground cred with the children but they are too much of a thoroughbred for commuting. Their tyres are built for muddy paths and inhibit speedy riding on tarmac. Racing cycles are fragile, temperamental beasts, difficult for the first timer to handle in traffic. With both types of cycle there is too much to go wrong.

A hybrid bike is part mountain bike, part traditional bike and is purpose-built for the streets. Most bike companies tout a hybrid in their range and they are a sensible buy, though some come without mudguards. Utility bikes, the sturdy "sit-up and chatter" bicycles with huge tyres, are being imported from Holland. They need precious little maintenance, are thoroughly comfortable and make an excellent commuting machine.

Make the decision to cycle early on in your career and the habit will stick.

Just one day a week will give you "feel-good" benefits and there is simply nothing better than hearing a child exclaim: "My teacher cycles to school!" You'll feel so smug.

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