Councillor gets on his bike after 40 years out of the saddle
THE chance to try out an electric bike for a week got one man back on the cycle route after more than 40 years' absence from any serious pedal pushing. SUSAN GOODSON writes about one man's journey on the eve of Cycle to Work Day
MOTORBIKES and cars had taken over as county councillor Peter Thornton's favourite means of transport after having cycled a lot in the late 1960s.
That all changed again in May this year when the Liberal Democrat councillor for Kendal, Strickland and Fell was offered the loan of an electric bike by a fellow councillor. He fell back in love with cycling again and says he had forgotten what a pleasure it was to ride a bike.
For Cllr Thornton, getting back on a bike comes in the year that the national scheme, Cycle to Work Day, celebrates its fifth birthday.
This year's event takes place on Wednesday (September 13) and is used to encourage adults across the UK to get on their bikes and give cycling commuting a go for one day at least.
Cllr Thornton, who is also a Lib Dem Cabinet member for Health and Care Services, uses his bike to make the regular commute to his offices in Kendal from his home in the valley of Longsleddale. If he is spending the day in Carlisle he rides from his home to Oxenholme railway station and leaves his bike there before catching the train to Carlisle.
He picks up his bike again at the end of the day to ride home. Cyclists can leave their bikes free of charge in the station's cycle rack as opposed to £12 to park a car there for the day.
The round trip is about 15 miles and takes about 40 minutes either way.
If he is working in Kendal he cycles a safe back route into the popular market town.
Talking about his new cycling experiences, Cllr Thornton said: "I hadn't done any cycling of significance for around 45 years and had been driving cars and motorbikes which I love, but after being offered an electric bike I got back on and after finding a safe route found the trip was great.
"I had forgotten how much fun cycling was and now any morning it is not raining I am on it. I won't normally choose to cycle in driving rain, although I don't mind if it is raining at the end of the day and I will cycle home from the station in the wet.
"I need to arrive at work not needing a shower. I am a middle-aged man cycling in my tweed jacket - not Lycra."
Safety is extremely important for Cllr Thornton, especially after a friend died after a cycling accident on the A590 by Levens.
He said: "It is important to find a safe road. I found a safe back road because I would not choose to cycle on the A6 into Kendal.
"Since riding again I feel a lot healthier and have lost a bit of weight and it does raise the heart rate.
"Even on an electric bike you have to work for it and once you reach 15 and a half miles an hour, which is slow, the motor cuts out and you are on your own. I do like the extra help it gives you though up the hills. While you are cycling it gives you time to think; you can let your thoughts wander or if I have a meeting I can think about what I want to say.
"When you are riding on a bike you are sitting higher than in a car and see into the fields and smell the country air rather than when you are cocooned in a tin box, but although I am green (I am a Lib Dem after all), I am not afraid to use the car.
"But by me cycling it means my wife Hazel and I don't need a second car. "There does need to be more work done to create safe cycling in town to keep cars and bikes separate.
"Safety is vital and as cyclist you need to be careful of pedestrians because they can often have head phones in so you need to slow right down and give them a wide berth."
It is not all work though and Peter says there are plenty of cycle paths in the national park or riding along the canal in Kendal.
Although he readily admits that going back to cycling hasn't diminished his love of cars and motorbikes, Cllr Thornton's own electric bike now has a firm place in the garage.
For more details about Cycle to Work Day go to https://www.cycletoworkday.org/
TOPMARK and British Cycling's top tips for safe cycling:
1. ALWAYS wear a good cycling helmet and something cyclists have also discovered to ensure they are noticed by other traffic - luminous socks. Because they are moving and flashing drivers can easily pick them out
2. Know the Highway Code regarding lights and reflectors – it is a legal requirement to have a white front and red back light lit at night and to have a red rear reflector attached
3) Plan your journey before setting off especially if there is a long ride ahead or if you are new to cycling and are likely to get tired before reaching your destination. Use quiet roads or cycling facilities, such as off-road cycle paths, towards the end of or stop for a quick break
4) Make sure to leave enough distance between you and the vehicle ahead so that you can pull up safely if it suddenly slows down or stops. Braking distances vary on bikes so know yours before setting off on the road. Remember to take into account road conditions and weather and remember that it takes longer to stop on a bike than it does in a car
5) It is good to use declines to build up some speed without exerting any energy but ensure you are in control and able to avoid any oncoming vehicles in your path
6) Be alert to what is happening around you. This includes vehicles on the opposite side of the road which can cut across your path, vehicles waiting to pull out of minor roads into the major road and vehicles moving out into your lane to avoid parked cars or swerving to avoid hazards
7) Try to make eye contact with drivers/pedestrians to check whether they have seen you or not. If the other road user is not looking at you, they may not have seen you
8) If you can only avoid an obstruction by moving out into the flow of traffic, check over your right shoulder first to ensure you have room to move out. If a vehicle is travelling too close to you to allow this, slow down until you have a safe gap
9) Always remember to follow the Highway Code