The lycra commuter

18th November 2005 at 00:00
Chris Spencer is chief education officer of Hillingdon council, but the commonly used acronym for his job could just as easily stand for Cyclist Extra Ordinaire.

Several times a week, Mr Spencer (pictured) commutes the 45 miles from his home in Oxford to the west London borough by bike, leaving at about 5.30am and arriving at his desk by about 8am. "It's a fantastic thing; you arrive at work a little weary, but invigorated having had all that fresh air and exercise."

He only hangs up his lycra during the winter when the lack of daylight makes his journey hazardous, but makes up for it with some long-distance sorties at the weekends. Mr Spencer, 48 next month, was a keen runner in his youth, and the cycling is part of his triathlon training, a sport he took up competitively a few years ago. He is also a board member of Cycling England, who approached him, he suspects, after "hearing about this lunatic CEO who cycles to work".

He has big plans for his borough, and says the Building Schools for the Future is a "wonderful opportunity" to make safer, healthier journeys to school part of the massive secondary refurbishment programme. Nine months into his job, he's already overseeing cycle-friendly plans for a new high school in Ruislip.

"We have got to teach bike skills in a way that is more exciting than the old test of cycling round cones in a playground," he says. "Cycling needs to be made more fun - schools could build mountain bike tracks round their grounds, encourage BMX style bike skills and specialist sports colleges should give cycling a higher profile."

Growing up in Manningtree on the EssexSuffolk border, Chris Spencer could ride a bike by the time he was five and remembers "getting a good hiding"

for disobeying his dad and taking his first solo trip down the main road aged seven. Most children in his village got a bike for their 11th birthday, he says, as it was the way "pretty much everyone" travelled to secondary school. He'd like to see a return to those days; as a father of three he understands parents' fears about safety, but thinks they are exaggerated.

"We have to change motorists' attitudes as well. I cycle to work sometimes wearing a bib that says, 'One less car in your queue'. It's amazing how much resentment you create when there's a queue of traffic at the lights and you whizz up the outside. On the way into Oxford there's a big banner by the road saying, 'If you were cycling, you'd be there by now'. I like that; it makes people think."

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